Play Poland 2012: Looking Back to the Future
Kieślowski the master, Andrzej Wajda, Agnieszka Holland – the names of Poland’s great filmmakers echo through the decades, acting as both soaring inspiration and crushing burden to the contemporary generation. So much so that the 2012 Play Poland film festival (running across the UK, including Edinburgh from 18 Sep-5 Dec) pays tribute with Andrzej Wajda: Let’s Shoot!, a chronicle of the great man’s struggle on the set of his epic Katyn. But times have changed since the heyday of these ‘Polish Film School’ members. The country has opened, it has bloomed. Quite simply the world has moved on.
“This tradition of Polish cinema...of taking big issues and speaking in the name of the nation, it doesn’t interest us anymore because we are more concerned with our own families. We start as a young generation to look at ourselves and start to realise what moment of history, what state of being we are now.” So says Bartosz Konopka, whose new feature Fear of Falling (25 Oct, Filmhouse) is key in the Play Poland programme. A new freedom has pushed more insular issues to the fore, not insular as a nation but as individuals, the intricate, personal concerns of the everyday rather than the broad brush political canvas. This growing distance between generational concerns is the symbolism inherent within his highly personal film of a son dealing with his father’s failing mental health.
Art mirrors Konopka’s life in this case, the subject painfully close to home. “He was my father so he was an important figure for me, he was a kind of idol in childhood. Then I observed how he was falling apart. How he resigned from life and how the life resigned from him.” The film is highly affecting and although individual to both Konopka and Poland’s wider social issues is, in many ways, universal. The excruciating role reversal of father and son is cruelly realised. The older man crumbles in the face of modern living, his eccentricities unwelcome in a society where time is money. “It’s a kind of anarchy that we cannot afford because we are so much in this race of rats [sic]... there’s no time, no space for this type of romantic adventure.”
Play Poland is also showing Konopka's earlier documentary Rabbit à la Berlin (in a free screening with Q&A at Filmhouse, 24 Oct). Here is the true story of colonies of rabbits who lived happily within the killing zone of the Berlin wall. A surreal rabbit’s eye view of a horrifically absurd reality which existed within our contemporary world. “For the east Berliners, they were a kind of symbol of freedom because the rabbits were free to dig under the wall to the west whenever they wanted to. When the wall fell down it was like a disaster for them because they couldn’t adjust to the new environment. They were living behind a wall in a very secure zone. They didn’t have the tools and behaviours for the new world.” This metaphorical tale shows these herds of animals living with heads down, unaware and unwilling to comprehend their reality.
These are but two features in a well curated festival of film, animation and related events (many are free!). 80 Million (18 Oct, Filmhouse) and The Winner (1 Nov, Filmhouse) are two more works to look out for in what for many will be a festival of discovery. There are respectful nods to those greats of the past but also strong new voices. As Konopka tells me: “It’s nice that we have this tradition and we can learn from this older generation, but on the other hand you have to free yourself from this influence and you have to look for your own language.”