The Second Run label has been doing a great job releasing vintage films from the former eastern bloc & they've really excelled themselves here. Four films from the so-called "Polish Film School" 1957-1960 on 4 discs, restored & looking good in rich black & white & new sub-titles, each with an illustrated booklet containing a lengthy informative essay, plus a few extras on the discs.
These films are "classics" in the sense that they had a big impact in Poland at the time and also met with acclaim internationally. However I doubt they've been seen in UK for decades - at least I don't recall ever seeing them on the art-house cinema circuit or late night TV. The reason might be that the Polish Film School was quite early, instigated by a mid 1950s post-Stalin cultural thaw in Poland but fading out in early 1960s after "discouragement" from the authorities. I guess it then became overshadowed by all the later new waves of the 1960s, including the Czech & Hungarian.
Many people will have Polanski's "Knife in the Water", Wajda's "Ashes & Diamonds" war trilogy and a few of the other previous DVD releases like "Saragossa Manuscript", "Mother Joan of Angels" & "Passenger" - and that's about it - so this box set should, at a stroke, give a big boost to the vintage Polish cinema collections of most of us. The four films are as follows:
Kawalerowicz: NIGHT TRAIN (1959). A mysterious, equally traumatized man & woman, strangers, are thrown together in a sleeper compartment on a crowded train - what will ensue: a one night stand or a murder? This is what we want from the Polish Film School! If you like "Knife in the Water" you'll love this - mostly filmed in the confined space of a train carriage with incredibly stylish cinematography & jazzy vocal soundtrack. There are nods to the Hitchcockian thriller, but it's really more of a psychological observational piece with lots of funny eccentric secondary plots & characters (including, inevitably, Cybulski) and, as often in eastern bloc cinema, some surreal & sinister allegorical overtones. Brilliant film.
Munk: EROICA (1957) A second world war movie with a difference - setting out to systematically undermine & dismantle standard myths of heroism. The first part is a black comedy about a drunken man reluctantly getting embroiled in the Warsaw uprising; the second part is a more sombre piece about Polish soldiers in a Nazi prison camp being tortured by each other's irritating habits rather than by the German guards. It's hard to believe this was made in Poland in 1957 - it certainly wouldn't have got made in UK or USA. The disc also includes an evocative short colour film by Munk about a little girl wandering around Warsaw's old town.
Wajda: INNOCENT SORCERERS (1960) Young beatnik types listen to jazz, discuss their existentialist angst, ride scooters & smoke a lot of cigarettes. A very new wave style film which stars EVERYBODY - Lomnicki, Cybulski, Polanski, Jerzy "Deep End" Skolimowski, even composer Komeda - as himself! There's a long elaborately choreographed Godard-style central scene of a couple in an apartment. The characterization & dialogue is rather stilted & contrived compared to, say, French or Czech new wave films, but maybe it's misleading to compare - this mannered theatricality seems to be part of the Polish style. Even if, like me, you don't quite "get" the film (on first viewing) it's still worth watching for its great cinematography & the scenes of Warsaw streets & clubs and the zany antics of the jazz group with Polanski & Komeda (did Dick Lester see this film? the way the group are filmed off & on stage seems to prefigure the Beatles in "Hard Days Night"!)
Morgenstern: GOODBYE SEE YOU TOMORROW (1960) A young Polish guy (Cybulski) feels his backward cultural inferiority in a brief fling with a chic French girl visiting Poland - he calls her his "girl from another planet". Similar in style to "Innocent Sorcerers" but the elliptical & mannered style seems more appropriate to this film, set around a theatre & apparently written by Cybulski based on his experiences in such a theatre troupe. A strangely haunting film.
It really does help being able to see 4 closely related films in one batch like this - overall a very well put together box set.