Reviews of Polish Movies on DVD 1990-1999 by Richard J. Brzostek

Historia Niemoralna

Immoral Story (Historia Niemoralna) (1990)

Director: Barbara Sass;

Immoral Story (Historia Niemoralna) is a film about a film. The movie starts out with a director asking an actress named Ewa (Dorota Stalinska) to be in a film about Ewa's life. Ewa had some rough times and this film will be how she tries to build herself up again.

Ewa is a self-centered middle-aged actress. She believes the world revolves around her and her ego. Unfortunately for her, she is in a career slump. The story is about how she tries to pull herself out of the mud. Perhaps it's a bit of bad luck or the influence of her acquaintances, but as a fly stuck in a web she cannot seem to get free easily. Her personal life mirrors her career problems; she has just as many problems with the men as she does with work.

Just as the drama and great music pull you in, you are reminded with a short segment showing the director and her assistant editing the story. The director is more concerned about making a story than she is in presenting a flattering portrait of her actress friend.

Don't let the title of the movie mislead you; the story may be immoral on more than one level, but it is done without gratuitousness. The drama in this movie is on par with Polish films finest. If you love drams, Immoral Story is for you.




Jeszcze Tylko Ten Las

Just Beyond This Forest (Jeszcze Tylko Ten Las) (1991)

Director: Jan Lomnicki;

"Jeszcze Tylko Ten Las" (Just Beyond this Forest) is the story of an old woman and a young Jewish girl's flight from Warsaw to the countryside in 1942. The old woman worked for the wife of a Jewish doctor, and now, the old woman has an upper hand over them. The Jewish wife pays the old woman to take her daughter out of the ghetto to the countryside. We get to see the ironic twist of events how the servant is now more powerful than the master, and the servant now acts in an ugly way.

I felt sympathetic to the Jewish girl, as she really didn't have an easy time. The girl was being helped for money, not because someone really wanted to help her. There are many instances where she wasn't made to feel welcome, such as when she was brought to the old woman's home the first night, the old woman's daughter was mean and nasty. The old woman herself wasn't always nice also, often being cranky and vulgar. Together, as they journey to the country, the old woman does develop some interest in protecting the girl that is beyond self-interest.

"Jeszcze Tylko Ten Las" is a movie where we get to see some irony at work. The old woman agreed to help her former Jewish employers because of the money, and soon after, we see her own daughter wanted some money, but got none. From there, a man tries to con her into paying him or he will turn them into the Gestapo, but another man ends up stopping him with no interest in receiving money. The examples like this run though the entire film.


Odjazd

Departure (Odjazd) (1991)

Director: Magdalena Lazarkiewicz;

"Departure" (Odjadz) is movie about the relationship between an older woman and her mother who both live in an old age home. Both of the women have German roots and live in Poland, so the other people who live in the home are not so fond of them. As the women recall their past, we get to see their lives during World War II.

I liked how the film shows more than one side of the story. One the one hand, the two German women experience prejudice in the present time by the Poles; and on the other hand we get to see how Germans, but not necessarily these two women, expressed prejudice to the Poles in the past. In a sense, we get to see what made both sides bitter to each other.

I have to give the film credit for presenting the past in an interesting way. First, it is not all done at once, but mixed with present time. Therefore, we only slowly figure out what happened. Second, the flashbacks are not purely their memories, as we get to see what happens before and after their direct experiences. In this sense, we get to experience many points of view, and not just their own.

Overall, I did find "Departure" sad. After all, reminisces of a lost love, a child who died, and younger years are not things to put one in a chipper mood. Because the story is also about a mother who controls her daughter on a subtle level, it added to the unhappiness. We can all probably think of an example of a parent who uses their child and does not let them grow up, and how this really is a sad situation.

"Departure" is a reflective drama that just may get you to reminisce a little on your own life. As the film is about a mother and daughter, it may appeal most to women.


Rozmowy Kontrolowane

Calls Controlled (Rozmowy Kontrolowane) (1991)

Director: Sylwester Checinski;

"Rozmowy Kontrolowane" is the sequel to the much-loved film "Mis," which poked fun of life in Communist Poland in the 1970s. It is made 10 years after "Mis" (1981), but the sequel shows us the mishaps of our hero Ryszard Ochodzki in 1981. This film is absolutely fun and I loved it.

Stanislaw Tym plays the role of Ochodzki again and brings us just as many laughs as he did the first time. This time, Ryszard gets himself in a mess between the Communists and the Solidarity movement. He is pressured by a Communist to join the Solidarity movement, and with a few mix-ups, he ends up being an outlaw Solidarity hero. He unintentionally destroys a Russian tank and ends up being sought after by both the Police and military. The humor wasn't really making fun of communists or solidarity, but this is the setting for the film. Ryszard's life on the run as a fugitive is hilarious.

Another difference between the two films is that Stanislaw Bareja directed "Mis," who passed away before the sequel was made. "Rozmowy Kontrolowane" is directed by Sylwester Checinski, who is probably most famous for the classic comedy "Sami Swoi" (1967). All things considered, "Rozmowy Kontrolowane" ranks among my favorite Polish comedies. It is an enjoyable film that captures the magic of the 80s with its music and atmosphere. I highly recommend it if you want a comedy full of random silliness and ridiculous situations.


Kuchnia Polska

Kuchnia Polska (1991)

Director: Jacek Bromski;

While some movies give away the plot with its title, others are much more vague and less revealing. Jacek Bromski's 1991 film Kuchnia Polska has nothing to do with cooking, unless taken in a very figurative and metaphorical way. The story begins with Polish soldiers of the Second Republic of Poland returning home from England after the war. For those of us who know our history, we know that the Russians recruited Poles into the Red Army to fight the Germans, but the original army of Poland largely regrouped and fought to defend France and then England. Only true patriots with a very strong character could stand to live in country that was dominated by the totalitarian "progress" called communism. Kuchnia Polska was made just a couple years after the fall of communism in Poland, as this story would never have been allowed to be told under Soviet occupation.

Our aviation hero Stanislaw Szymanko (Marek Kondrat) returns to Poland with his English wife Margaret (Krystyna Janda). There really isn't much of a welcome, but at least he isn't sent to Siberia. Due to bad luck, Stanislaw gets arrested by the secret Police and they torture him into confessing that he is a spy, a common paranoia felt about returning patriots. From here, we get to see what it is like living in a society without free speech; a society in which the police state rules with an iron fist; a society in which corruption and bribes are the only way someone can work with the system that is so bureaucratic.

Margaret is faced with a situation that truly appears insane. Getting information on what happened to her husband is difficult enough, let alone seeing to his release. She goes to great ends to try to work with the officials and the kangaroo court to free her husband, but it is no use. She resorts to becoming the mistress of an official in the hopes that he can either free her husband or help her get out of Poland, not realizing he was largely behind all her troubles. Unquestionably, this story is very emotional and not for the weak of heart as it is tragic through and through on many levels.


Koniec Gry

Koniec Gry (1992)

Director: Feliks Falk;

Koniec Gry (1992) is a drama about a man and a woman, and if you really stretch it, you may even say it is a romance. Like Feliks Falk's other movies, it stays on the serious side and really plays up the suspense. Janusz (January Brunov) works at a department store in the security department monitoring customers to prevent shoplifters. One day, Janusz catches a woman (Anna Romantowska) shoplifting some perfume, but he lets her go because she isn't your typical shoplifter. It turns out she is a well-known politician running for office.

Monika Malecka is part of the progressive party and despises nationalists (Polish people that like being Polish). Janusz has the tape that could end her career but he falls for her and wants to have a relationship with her instead. Janusz's hobby is making video games (which will look funny to people today). The game he is making is a loose metaphor for his life and the obstacles he must overcome to get to the next level. We know the movie is called "End of the Game" and we wonder the entire time just how this game will end. Koniec Gry is suspenseful to the very end.

There is something very wrong with Janusz. I would say he has more than a few loose screws, as he would do anything for some older lady he just met but not his own family. She has the money to buy anything she wants, but Janusz thinks he should make her dreams come true. On top of that, Janusz isn't a bad looking young guy, so he would easily be able to get a girl his own age or even one that is younger, so going after some lady that looks a decade or two older than him just doesn't make any sense.

The plot of this movie reminds me of Waldemar Szarek's 1994 film Oczy niebieskie. Both of these 1990s Polish films are about guys that go after a woman in a way that could get one arrested.

I love Polish movies from the 1990s. There is something nostalgic about them that I cannot get enough of. Seeing the use of the "old money' with the inflated numbers and the excitement of finally not being under Soviet occupation is always a kick. Also, any movie with music by Michal Lorenc is worth seeing for his music alone. Without a doubt, his music in Koniec Gry feels like your typical 1990s music too.


Wielka Wsypa

Big Brawl (Wielka Wsypa) (1992)

Director: Jan Lomnicki;

Big Brawl (Wielka Wsypa) is entertaining movie about the ups and downs of a criminal. The story takes place just before and after the fall of communism in Poland. It was a time of change that witty people saw an opportunity for their own gain.

Jarek Bronko (Jan Englert) is a relatively honest criminal. Although he makes his living selling foreign currency, which is illegal in Poland at the time, he doesn't cheat anyone. He may enjoy gambling but he doesn't have an extra ace up his sleeve like his opponents. He enjoys prostitutes but he treats them with respect. Because he is a guy with some class, I think he is a more likeable character.

What makes this movie suspenseful is that Jarek is always plotting something. He tries to play the system to his advantage with some success and failure. Jarek has an insatiable appetite for women and this lively movie also has a couple of sexy parts. In addition to being clever, he is extremely persistent and shows us that we can succeed even after great losses.

Big Brawl is an entertaining movie made in 1992 about the events in the years just preceding it that shows us a much different lifestyle than most of us are used to living. If you enjoy crime films with a bit of action and a heap of cleverness, where the one that can pull off the final ploy wins, then Big Brawl is for you.


Piekna Nieznajoma

Beautiful Stranger (Piekna Nieznajoma) (1992)

Director: Jerzy Hoffman;

Jerzy Hoffman brings to film "Beautiful Stranger" (Piekna Nieznajoma), the novel written by Aleksei Tolstoy. It is a spy film set in 1917. The story is of a young Russian lieutenant on a mission to deliver some documents to Sweden. His journey by train is not uneventful, as a beautiful stranger (Grazyna Szapolowska) makes his trip very interesting.

Lieutenant Nikita Obozow, as played by Wojciech Malajkat, is brave, yet a bit timid with women. He quickly meets the woman in the next cabin, which results in a strange romance. They both like each other, but Nikita is reluctant to make advances. It is intriguing to see what the woman's game is and who she really is, as the stranger is also more than he bargains for.

With encounters in the dinning car and in the hallway, the romance between the lieutenant and the stranger develops. The tension between the two builds, which leads to some erotic moments such as when she goes into the bathroom between their two rooms to take a shower so he can see her silhouette on the frosted glass. The stranger is beautiful, she has a sting, and as much as the lieutenant may like to think he is in control, he isn't, as he fell for her. Their romance is not a fairy tale romance, but one that is realistic.

Hoffman did an exceptional job presenting the story of "Beautiful Stranger." The story itself and the interconnection of details make the film itself beautiful. I would say it is on par with his film "Znachor" and may appeal most to those that like a sophisticated drama. It is a captivating story worth watching.


Uprowadzenie Agaty

Hijacking Agatha (Uprowadzenie Agaty) (1993)

Director: Marek Piwowski;

"Hijacking Agatha" is a roller-coaster romance about an under-aged girl who falls in love at first sight with a charismatic young man, who's just escaped from prison. The girl's father (Jerzy Stuhr) is infuriated with her erratic behavior, which, understandably, becomes her parents' nightmare.

Films occasionally capture the essence of an issue and can serve as an icon for all. "Hijacking Agatha" is a great example of how well film can tell a great story, this one being about a firecracker romance.

But more interestingly, it also realistically portrays Psychiatry and how it is often used -- an institutional control mechanism for people with undesirable behavior. As the parents disapprove of their teenager's romance, one solution is to commit her to a mental hospital. I found the realistic portrayal of Psychiatry very refreshing to experience, rather than the glamorized role it often is given in many films.

"Hijacking Agatha" includes several elements I've found in many Polish films -- it is unpredictable, quite serious, and not as happy a story as many might prefer. I enjoyed this movie's many twists and turns that kept me guessing, the action kept me on my toes, and it's underlining messages are more complicated and thought-provoking than the naive themes I find in many American films.

After watching "Hijacking Agatha," I understand why this popular film has attained "CULT" status in Poland, all the more so as it is reputed to be based on a somewhat sensationalized, yet true life story.


Komedia Malzenska

A Comedy about Marriage (Komedia Malzenska) (1994)

Director: Roman Zaluski;

Poland experienced quite a change with the fall of communism. There was no more talk with "comrade this" or "comrade that" and stores with empty shelves, but opportunity to run free enterprise and the only thing holding one back was oneself. These were exciting times with a chance to change the direction the future holds.

Komedia Malzenska is a story about a woman that is fed up with her hectic life and snaps. Maria Kozlowska (Ewa Kasprzyk) is a housewife with three kids. Her husband, Wiktor (Jan Englert), relies on her to make their family run smoothly and would be lost without her. Her best friend is a feminist and always encourages her to break free of the bonds that men made to enslave her. Without a doubt, her friend isn't a good influence on her, but she is smart enough to not believe the hogwash her friend tells her. Eventually, she does have enough when she jumps to some conclusions thinking her husband is cheating on her. She packs her bag and leaves her family without letting them know her plans.

Although it was funny to watch everything up to this point, it only gets better once Maria is gone. The family realizes just how much they need her and she realizes that she can be successful in life, perhaps even more successful than her husband. Don't worry, the family doesn't completely fall apart (like it would if this movie was made today) and they do reunite, but you will have to see for yourself to find out how it happens.

The story mirrors the changes in society that took place in the early 1990s with the new government. Although tradition was not abandoned completely, subtle changes took place and were there to stay. Although it might sound like there are some feminist tones to the movie, I wouldn't say anything presented in the story would changes anyone's beliefs. In fact, there are a number of good cracks made at feminism, but what else can be expected in a comedy?

Komedia Malzenska was made a few years after the fall of the iron curtain, so when they talk about money, they are still using the old zloty with their very inflated numbers. Considering this was over twenty years ago, it is almost nostalgic to watch today. Polish movies in the early 1990s still had a very Polish style to them, so there isn't any attempt to try to copy Hollywood or have several songs in English in them.


Bialy

White (Bialy) (1994)

Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski;

"Bialy" (White) is part of Krzysztof Kieslowski's trilogy of French films with the names of colors of the French flag. It is a deep movie that with a lot of symbolism. From items that are the same color as the title and may have deeper meaning (such as pidgins, bird droppings, and even toilets) to reoccurring themes (such as the main character Karol using his binoculars thought the film), there are more than a few things in here to make film watchers wondering for a long time.

The premise of the story is a bit depressing. It starts out with a man getting divorced. Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) doesn't want a divorce, but is pushed into this new life by his mean wife who torments him.

Karol transforms himself from a hairdresser to a business savvy man. With his newfound skills, he cooks up a plot to get the attention of his ex-wife. I found his determination to be the most enjoyable part of the film. It may be debatable whether he was motivated by revenge or love, but regardless of his motivation, the story is compelling.

Although the film has a French title, the language of the film is a mix of French and Polish, with Polish being spoken more than French. Besides Zamachowski, "White" also stars three other highly talented Polish actors (Jerzy Stuhr, Janusz Gajos, and Cezary Pazura). Overall, I thought the film was well cast and is sure to entertain, albeit in a black humor type of way.


Spis Cudzoloznic

List of Lovers (Spis Cudzoloznic) (1995)

Director: Jerzy Stuhr;

"List of Lovers" (Spis Cudzoloznic) is a drama with a dilemma. Professor Gustaw (Jerzy Stuhr) is asked to entertain a visiting professor from Sweden. It turns out that the Swedish Professor Bjorn is only interested in finding a woman for the night. Gustaw calls all of his former lovers hoping to find one that may help entertain his new friend.

Ironically, there are young, attractive women everywhere they go but Gustaw is intent on finding one from his address book instead. We learn about him as he recalls his experiences and shock can only describe his reaction to how the women he knew have changed. Although "List of Lovers" runs a mere 63 minutes, it covers everything well in this time.

"List of Lovers" is the first film Jerzy Stuhr directed. Stuhr's movies are often said to be influenced by the late Krzysztof Kieslowski. Stuhr stared in several of Kieslowski's films, as well as several other influential director's movies, before he took up directing. Although very debatable, I do not think Stuhr is trying to merely copy Kieslowski. Having watched all six of the films Stuhr directed to date, I tend to think he admired Kieslowski and wanted to pay him tribute. After all, I think Stuhr is intelligent enough to know that only Krzysztof Kieslowski is the best at being Krzysztof Kieslowski and only Jerzy Stuhr can be the best Jerzy Stuhr.

I think "List of Lovers" is a very good drama but isn't Stuhr's best work (personally, I think "Historie Milosne" and "Pogoda Na Jutro" are his best films). "List of Lovers" is a great directorial debut and shows us that Stuhr can direct as well as act. If you like Stuhr as an actor or director, "List of Lovers" is worth checking out.


Pulkownik Kwiatkowski

Colonel Kwiatkowski (Pulkownik Kwiatkowski) (1995)

Director: Kazimierz Kutz;

Colonel Kwiatkowski (Pulkownik Kwiatkowski) is a comedy about a con-artist in the time period just after World War II, when Poland was dealing with partisan uprisings and the changes the Soviets were putting in place. Although some people may have welcomed communism, a great deal of the people accepted it at gunpoint and didn't have much a choice in the matter.

Andrzej Kwiatkowski (Marek Kondrat) is reluctantly in the Polish army as a surgeon but his medical training is in gynecology. He is given a leave of absence to visit his fiancé, but he really isn't even engaged and talks his way into a vacation to visit the ruins that were Warsaw. When there, he meets a young woman that was his neighbor. They make a bet that will change both of their lives: if he can free a young man from prison, she will marry him; if he can't, they will part ways. Kwiatkowski pulls off this stunt by pretending to be a high-ranking UB officer. Kwiatkowski grows an entourage that pretends to be his staff but they are really a group of deserters in his pay.

At first, Kwiatkowski employs the scheme to impress a woman but then his motivation becomes helping people. He turns into a "robin hood" type of guy helping both the people and the country. Although Kwiatkowski detests the military, he finds pretending to be a high-ranking officer as a way to get what he wants and a way to stand up to the Soviets. I think part of the appeal for this type of movie lies in the confidence game it shows. The suspense builds as Kwiatkowski keeps pushing his luck to greater and greater limits. The film was made in 1995, six years after the end of communism in Poland and it probably would never have been allowed to be made earlier. Although it isn't harshly critical of the Soviets, anything broaching criticism was usually not taken well.

Colonel Kwiatkowski is directed by Kazimierz Kutz. I am familiar with a couple of his other films such as Heat (Upal; 1964) and The Breads of One Rosary (Paciorki Jednego Rozanca; 1980) and have to say he has a lot of talent. Perhaps part of the reason why Colonel Kwiatkowski gained popularity is because the film has a patriotic element to it - it is a story of people who are looking out for the good of Poland and its people.


Tato

Daddy (Tato) (1995)

Director: Maciej Slesicki;

Michal Sulecki (Boguslaw Linda) is a cameraman that isn't the best husband or father because he drinks and is a womanizer. He comes home one day to find his wife Ewa (Dorota Segda) wants a divorce. He is shocked and upset with this news and wants to mend his marriage. Although he is largely to blame for the fact that his marriage fell apart, he desperately wants to correct his ways.

Michal finds the courts are unsympathetic to his desire to play a part in his daughter's life. To make things worse, his mother-in-law is a control freak that is the cause behind much of the trouble between the couple. His lawyer (Krystyna Janda) and new friend Cezary Kujawski (Cezary Pazura) from a father's rights group give him some support dealing with his situation.

Ewa becomes increasing mentally unstable after she separates from her husband. During the custody trail, she snaps and the court sends her into psychiatric care. Rather than assign custody of the girl to the father, the court gives custody to the mother-in-law who the girl hardly knows. Trying to do the best for his daughter, the father kidnaps her. Michal, Ewa and mother-in-law all struggle for custody of the girl.

I think "Tato" is one of the best Polish films from the 1990s. It has a great mixture of drama, suspense and humor to lighten the mood. The story is believable and the actors brilliantly portray the tense emotions in this movie.

"Tato" is directed by Maciej Slesicki, who also directed the hit "Sara." I would say the film is rated "PG-13" by American standards and is a great watch for just about everyone because despite being a serious movie, it has a lot of humor and some action along the way.


Akwarium

The Aquarium (Akwarium) (1996)

Director: Antoni Krauze;

The Aquarium (Akwarium) is a Polish movie the communist censors would probably not have allowed to be made. It was produced in 1996, just a few years after the collapse of Communism in Poland. The Aquarium brings us into the secret world of Soviet espionage. It is based on a true story of Victor Suvorov, who worked for GRU, a secret organization similar to the KGB.

The story shows us the transformation of Victor from a reckless tank commander to a calculating spy. The movie shows us how Victor is selected to join this ultra secret organization. We get to see a glimpse of the training and world of tricks they must endue where they are never sure if they are on a real mission or are just being tested. Victor is warned during his inanition into GRU that nothing ever works out with the Aquarium and that whoever joins it is in for life and the only way to leave it is dead.

One aspect that makes this film fascinating is that is more than entertainment and provides so much education. The movie touches upon a topic that is not too well know. The Aquarium is the name of the headquarters of GRU (an organization that is not nearly as well known as the KGB). The interesting story is also pared with great acting. The mentor of Victor is played by Janusz Gajos who, as usual, performs superbly. There is great drama and suspense in this spy thriller.

The Aquarium is probably not for everyone as it is a serious movie. Those that enjoy drama/thrillers are most likely to enjoy it. Put aside your ideas about spies and get ready for an amazing story based on life. The faint of heart should be warmed, there will be more than a few shocking parts along the way in this thriller.


Szamanka

Szamanka (1996)

Director: Andrzej Zulawski;

Andrzej Zulawski's films have a very unique feel to them and can may be best described as intense. After much time away from making Polish films (working on French movies), he returns to it with Szamanka. I cannot say that he refined his technique or improved his style because it was incredible from the start. Szamanka does not waste any time and pulls you in from the beginning and holds you with suspense until the very end.

There are two main characters in Szamanka. Michal (Boguslaw Linda) is a doctorate student interested in shamans and is fortunate enough to be part of a find of a lifetime - they have unearthed a man preserved in a peat bog. He is convinced this man was a shaman and wants to write his doctorate on him. Michal's life becomes complicated when he meets a pretty woman nicknamed Wloszka (Iwona Petry), which means Italian; she isn't Italian but called such by her friends because she can make a good pizza. She has a strange effect on the men that see her - they are captivated by her looks and often make passes at her. The fact that she wears clothes that show off her gams probably is part of the reason why she gets attention.

They instantly trigger emotions in each other after just meeting. Even though both are involved in relationships their meeting sparks a passionate bond. Their interactions are almost on a higher level and they can almost read each other's minds. The only guy that can excite her sexually is Michal and he also has the power to calm her psychotic-like breaks. Michal sees her as having a special power and her energy awakens a higher force in him.

I felt like the movie was like running full speed up to the line between sanity and insanity and looking off the cliff of madness getting a good look at the views one can behold. Szamanka truly is a feast of the sense. It isn't just a visual experience but one that is matched with intense music perfectly. I especially like how the music grows in intensity and suddenly stops. A lot of the music has drums and there is something primal about it that matches flawlessly.

Iwona Petry's acting is incredible. Considering her complex and abnormal character, she convincingly makes us see this person as real, as unnerving as her character may make some viewers. Petry's acting is beyond intense and is truly exceptional.

Unquestionably, Boguslaw Linda ranks among the best Polish actors and has also had the distinction of working with most of the best directors in Polish cinema. Linda has earned fame with his work in numerous dramas and action films; he has even stared in a few movies on the artsy side and without a doubt his role in Szamanka may be perceived as risky but adds an extra facet to his curriculum vitae.

Zulawski's films have a little bit of an artistic feel to them. Szamanka is a story of infatuation and is very erotic (with over a dozen sex scenes). At times, I thought Szamanka felt like a science fiction movie (especially when they were working over the mummy when it was placed in the glass case) and even a horror (due to some very dark parts). Although not everyone appreciates Zulawski's work and this is certainly not a movie for everyone, I think Szamanka is a masterpiece and Zulawski is a genius.


Nic Smiesznego

Nothing Funny (Nic Smiesznego) (1996)

Director: Marek Koterski;

If you've ever felt like your life sucks, or you're just having a bad day, then I would recommend watching the film "Nothing Funny" (Nic Smiesznego). In comparison to this guy's life, you might not feel that things are so bad.

The story is about a film director named Adas (Cezary Pazura) told through personal reflections and a review of his own life. Although Adas has brief moments of success, he always comes in second and this infuriates him. His ranting self-talk, which narrates the movie, is hilarious. Pazura's role in "Nothing Funny" is nothing short of great acting; we see the man's deep sadness, reflected in his daydreams of a better life, and in his neurotic outbursts when his life overwhelms him.

Our director is always looking for his "Malgorzata," his true love. He doesn't know what she looks like, only that he has loved her his entire life. This, of course, is a reference to Bulhakow's novel, "Mistrz i Malgorzata" (Master and Margaret), about a man who, while visiting a park, meets the true love of his life. The director's marriage is a disaster and he constantly dreams of meeting his own "Malgorzata." Although he can't seem to find Malgorzata, he doesn't have any trouble finding women to sleep with him and there are several funny sex scenes in the movie.

The viewer gets inside the man's depressing and disturbing life, in the disasters on his film set, in his social life, and with the ladies he seeks out for relief. I can relate with his life on some levels, as who hasn't had a miserable day? "Nothing Funny" is a comedy that makes me laugh out loud very often. It is a movie that doesn't get old and can be watched again and again. I highly enjoyed this very funny film.


Wirus

Virus (Wirus) (1996)

Director: Jan Kidawa-Blonski;

Wirus (Virus) is a suspenseful movie about computer terrorism, an issue that is just as much a concern today as it was in 1996 when this movie was made. The only thing that dates this film is seeing the computer screens of the monitors, which are a little funny at times because they look primitive compared to what they look like now. However, there is more to the story as it is also about rivalry between two brothers. Although the story might get a little confusing at times because some of the details do not add up, but this is part of the mysterious side of the story.

Michael (Cezary Pazura) is a broken man because his wife is having an affair with his brother. He used to write computer viruses when he was younger and now people want him to help them get rid of the viruses that are plaguing the city. Another group of people want a disk from him. He doesn't know what they are talking about but they use deadly force to try to make him hand it over. It is hard at times to tell who is loyal to which group, which creates a lot of mystery. Between the action and the mystery there are a lot of sexy parts also.

Pazura's role in Wirus is a bit different than his usual. He plays a scruffy guy that is always yelling or acting like a drunk, probably because he is always drinking. He borders on being an annoying character because of the way he acts.

Wirus is entertaining if you like action films. It is a very unpredictable movie because people are torturing Michael one minute and it is all good the next. Don't expect anything sophisticated because it isn't that type of film.


Historie milosne

Love Stories (Historie milosne) (1997)

Director: Jerzy Stuhr;

The second film Jerzy Stuhr directed, Love Stories (Historie milosne), was dedicated to Krzysztof Kieslowski. Stuhr worked with a number of influential and prominent directors, but this dedication shows the extent of influence Kieslowski had on Stuhr. Although I would argue that Kieslowski influenced Stuhr, I would never say that Stuhr is trying to copy Kieslowski. Any copy is an inferior to the original, thus second rate at best.

We see the love stories of four men in this film. They include a professor, a priest, a criminal and an officer in the Polish army (all of which are played by Stuhr). All four men go into the same building, which looks something like a municipal building or a courthouse of some type. They do not notice each other or bump into each other, although they do pass by each other not noticing the other. Although I got the idea an actual courthouse is in this building, the real judging isn't in the courtroom, but in a room with an old man that will ask them question related to their life and their actions taken toward love.

The story jumps around a bit to the past, even several years back, showing us how they all got to their current state. The professor has a student that is in love with him; the officer is married, but loves another woman he can never be with; the priest discovers he has a daughter and both are awkward with each other as they are so new to love; finally, the criminal loves his wife, although she isn't faithful to him. During key points in their lives, an observer is there watching them unnoticed (although the observer is not the same actor as the watcher in the Decalogue, that actor plays another role in this movie).

Tensions are built by the dilemmas the men face. Making love work is very difficult for them. Their situations are trials as love is the one thing in life that is exceedingly difficult for them. They fumble with it and are very uncomfortable with some aspects of those that want to love them. I am sure Jerzy Stuhr hoped this film is something that Krzysztof Kieslowski would have been proud of, and in my view, I think he would have been if he lived to see it.


Gry Uliczne

Street Games (Gry Uliczne) (1997)

Director: Krzysztof Krauze;

"Street Games" (Gry Uliczne) is a suspenseful story about two men that attempt to unravel a complicated death/murder seeped in politics. A reporter (Redbad Klynstra) and his cameraman (Robert Gonera) are used to making provocative investigative documentaries, but when they take on an assignment to investigate the 1977 death of Stanislaw Pyjas, they take on something bigger than they may have ever imagined. Officially, Pyjas died from a fall from a staircase, but the word on the street is that he was killed by the secret police.

The movie shows us a part of life in Communist Poland, but stays firmly grounded in the present time. The filmmakers make their own investigation into the death that occurred about 20 years prior by interviewing people that knew him and worked for the secret police. Things get complicated because many of the former secret police agents are now in various positions of power. As the filmmakers interview more and more people, they get deeper into the mystery as they try to peel the layers of the onion away.

The film is a suspense/drama and murder-mystery, but the story is not told in a completely straightforward way. The movie uses come creative camera work and story telling that gives it a slightly different feeling. Occasionally, there are cartoon-like art images intermixed throughout the movie breaking up the seriousness and adding to the other slightly surrealistic aspects. One of my favorite examples of this would be when the reporter tells his friend a story while they are using drugs in the bathroom. His story involves a woman who he met and interacts with at a bar who was wearing only body paint. The lines between the story and the present are very vague and overlap.

Krzysztof Krauze directed "Street Games" (1997) just before he made his 1999 award-winning thriller "The Debt" (Dlug). The suspense in "Street Games" is different from that of "The Debt," but perhaps it was his chance to refine his technique for the later film. Krauze does not have many films to his catalog, but his work demonstrates his ability and is one to keep an eye on.


Sara

Sara (1997)

Director: Maciej Slesicki;

"Sara" is Maciej Slesicki's 1997 hit action/romance. The film has the right mix of action, humor, and an interesting plot for your viewing pleasure.

Leon (Boguslaw Linda), a 40-year old former Polish special forces soldier, is hired as a bodyguard to protect a mob boss's pretty 16-year old daughter, Sara (Agnieszka Wlodarczyk). A passionate love develops between Sara and Leon after he saves her life.

The acting in the movie is great. Linda plays the role of a "tough guy" in many Polish films, but "Sara" is my favorite. Marek Perepeczko, renowned for playing the leading role in the 1970s television series "Janosik," plays the mob boss in "Sara". Both Linda and Perepeczko play off each other exceptionally well. "Sara" is Wlodarczyk's first feature film; she was about 16 at the time "Sara" was filmed and displays natural talent. Cezary Pazura, although playing a lesser role as a goon of the mob boss, adds to the film.

"Sara" is a fun movie with great action and enough suspense to hold one's attention. I highly recommend "Sara" to just about all audiences, even those that are not too familiar with Polish cinema.




Sztos

Sztos (1997)

Director: Olaf Lubaszenko;

Sztos is a film about two conmen. These guys are probably not the type of people you would want to meet as they cheat at cards, they cheat on their women and they cheat tourists for a living. The frame of the story takes place in the 1990s but most of the story is their reflection to the 1970s.

In the 1970s, Synek (Cezary Pazura) is a young guy just out of prison that wants to make a lot of money fast. He knows some tricks but has ambition to learn more so he teams up with an experienced conman named Eryk (Jan Nowicki). Interestingly enough, Jan Nowicki also plays the leading role in Wielki Szu (1983), also a movie about a conman. Sztos glamorizes crime to some degree but also shows it isn't all fun and games.

A few of Poland's leading actors gave directing a try including Olaf Lubaszenko. Sztos, made in 1997, is Lubaszenko's directorial debut. Lubaszenko is better known for being an actor than a director but I have to say the second film he directed, Boys Don't Cry (Chlopaki Nie Placza), is a classic. If you are looking for something that is fairly entertaining, with a bit of action and humor, then "Sztos" may suit you.




Kiler

Killer (Kiler) (1997)

Director: Juliusz Machulski;

Being in the wrong place at the wrong time can get a person into trouble, so can being framed for a crime one did not commit. "Kiler," one of Juliusz Machulski's best comedies, is a story about a taxi driver that is set up. The taxi driver is named Jurek Kiler (Czeary Pazura) and is blamed for the slayings committed by an assassin.

The police do not believe the taxi driver, with the last name Kiler, is not the Killer they were searching for and imprison him. Jurek uses the tough reputation of the infamous killer, along with a lot of dumb luck, to his advantage in gaining the respect of the other prisoners.

As if things are not bad enough, a mobster frees Jurek from prison. In return for the favor, the mobster wants Jurek to kill a politician. Jurek doesn't want to kill anyone but his new friend doesn't fool around. With the help of a TV reporter, Jurek Kiler tries to untangle himself from the mess. How Jurek has to use his wits to get free makes an interesting story. Furthermore, it realty looks like Kiler has a lot of fun pretending to be the famed hit man.

"Kiler" is top rate because it has a complex story and stars several of the best Polish actors. To name just a few, it has Jerzy Stuhr, Marek Kondrat and Katarzyna Figura. Furthermore, Czeary Pazura, who has starred in many of the best Polish comedies in the last 20 years, plays Jurek Kiler. Pazura is a fine actor that can be hilarious as well as serious. Without a doubt, the actors make this movie funny.


Demony Wojny

Demons of War (Demony Wojny) (1998)

Director: Wladyslaw Pasikowski;

"Demony Wojny" is a modern war movie that shows the horrors war. As the title of the film suggests, the solders doing the fighting are the demons that inhabit the war torn land. The movie shows the loss and destruction experienced during the Yugoslav Wars in a way that may move even the most stoic of viewers. Wladyslaw Pasikowski, known for his intense action films such as "Psy," directs "Demony Wojny."

Set in the mid-1990s, a group of Polish peacekeeping forces are stationed in the territory of former Yugoslavia. The peacekeepers receive a distress message pleading for help in their area. A small team of soldiers is sent out to assist, but their short mission turns into a challenge, as the opposition is well trained and ready for a fight.

The film creates an intense feeling of suspense with its great plot and acting. The soldiers in this movie are played by several of Poland's best actors, including Boguslaw Linda, Olaf Lubaszenko, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Artur Zmijewski, Miroslaw Baka, and Radoslaw Pazura. This impressive lineup of actors does a great job portraying the expert fighters, as well as support personnel who turn out to be unfit when faced with combat. I would highly recommend "Demony Wojny" to those looking for a great action film.




Ajlawju

I Love You (Ajlawju) (1999)

Director: Marka Koterski;

"Ajlawju" is a cute "Polishized" spelling of "I Love You." It is part of director Marek Koterski's "trilogy," which also includes the films "Nothing Funny" and "Day of Wacko." I call it a "trilogy" because many of the same names, jokes, and themes from the other two movies are also in this one, but they are not sequential or have any other real connection.

"Ajlawju" is a romance, as well as a comedy. It really is a love story, but one about a couple that has many problems in getting along. The many aspects of being madly in love make up much of the humor of the movie. If you ever experienced or saw a man go ballistic for his woman being late 15 minutes, you might enjoy the humor in the film.

My favorite part in the movie was when Adas (Cezary Pazura) visits Chicago, which at times reminds him of Lodz. The entire sequence is hilarious and I absolutely love this part of the movie. His thoughts and madness are shared with all of those around him, if they like it or not.

The film is very vulgar, but the subtitles do not catch it all so if you are not fluent in Polish, you might not take the film as being as vulgar as it really is. I really should also mention that Katarzyna Figura really does stand out for her fantastic acting in the film. If you enjoyed the other parts of the "trilogy" or enjoy adult humor, then "Ajlawju" is worth watching.


Tydzien z zycia mezczyzny

A Week in the Life of a Man (Tydzien z zycia mezczyzny) (1999)

Director: Jerzy Stuhr;

Jerzy Stuhr directs and stars in his 1999 suspenseful drama "A Week in the Life of a Man" (Tydzien z zycia mezczyzny). The film shows us seven days in the life of Adam Borowski, as played by Stuhr. The story is given structure by showing the days, in order, one at a time so we can watch and learn about Adam's life. Like a spider web, when one thread is tugged, the whole web of Adam's life is affected. Small events intertwine and change other parts of his life.

What makes "A Week in the Life of a Man" interesting is that we get to see the internal struggle a person has with right and wrong. The man tries to make his life better, even though he isn't the best of persons. Adam's week is a busy one, as he juggles his personal ambitions of being a prosecutor, the release of his book, and singing in a quire; his family obligations with his elder mother and supporting his wife's needs; and the overlapping parts, such as buying his first house.

"A Week in the Life of a Man" is packed with potential symbolism and room for interpretation, distinguishing it from less complicated movies. Just like Stuhr's earlier film "Historie milosne" (1997), "A Week in the Life of a Man" captures something deeper, similar to the films of Krzysztof Kieslowski.




Ogniem i Mieczem

With Fire and Sword (Ogniem i Mieczem) (1999)

Director: Jerzy Hoffman;

"With Fire and Sword" (Ogniem i Mieczem) was the film that started my interest in Polish cinema a few years ago. Its story, effects, and history amazed me. Watching the movie was a life-changing event for me on the level of being a spiritual and cultural experience. It ranks among the best I have ever watched and is one of my all time favorites.

"With Fire and Sword" is based on the first of a trilogy written by Henryk Sienkiewicz. It takes place in the 17th century, when Poland's borders were much wider than they are today. However, it also a time when nearly all of its neighbors invaded its land throughout the century. This story has it all. It is a love story and a war story. It is fairly lengthy, but considering it is an epic and covers an intricate story with so much happening, I loved every minute and feel it needs the time to fully portray the story.

Although the film should not be taken as an exact history, it is remarkable how many of the historical details do match up. In my study of this time by reading and though my involvement with a 17th century Polish-Lithuanian living history group, I am amazed on the volume of fine details that are accurate in the film. Regardless, the film is not a documentary but entertainment and that it is without any doubt.

Even people unfamiliar with Polish cinema may recognize some of its actors. Izabella Scorupco, who plays the leading lady in this film also played in the English speaking films "GoldenEye" and "Reign of Fire." Two men with very prominent parts in this movie (Michal Zebrowski and Zbigniew Zamachowski) also have small parts in Roman Polanski's "The Pianist." If you enjoy long historical movies, "With Fire and Sword" is a must.

This DVD is the TV version of the film, which is broken into four parts, with credits at the end of each part. There are voiceovers when those speaking Ukrainian talk, which obstructs hearing them. Often, the only difference between the Ukrainian and Polish is the accent. Personally, I find the voiceover to be a little annoying. On the plus side, the TV version has a few extra minutes of footage not in the theater version.


Dlug

The Debt (Dlug) (1999)

Director: Krzysztof Krauze;

Krzysztof Krauze's "The Debt" (Dlug) was a stressful movie for me to watch, absolutely stressful. However, I have it give it a lot of credit, it was easily one of the most suspenseful films I ever watched. This is a thriller that will make you squirm.

Simply put, "The Debt" is a film about two men that were interested in starting a business. They are turned down for a loan at the bank, but stumble upon a former neighbor who turns out to be in the Russian mafia. Their lives are turned into a nightmare when the Russian wants to collect their debt for listening to them ask about a loan.

Any review that discusses the storyline too much is doing the reader a disservice. What makes this film incredible is the suspense and to spoil it in any way is wrong. If you find this film too much after 30 minutes of stress, keep going and you will see it is worth it.




Fuks

Lucky Shot (Fuks) (1999)

Director: Maciej Dutkiewicz;

"Fuks" (Lucky Shot) is a fun movie. A young man named Aleks (Maciej Stuhr) has a strong interest in annoying a local mob boss. His other interest is a pretty, young blond woman named Sonia (Agnieszka Krukowna), who works for the mob boss. One night, he steals the mobster's car to give her a ride. This leads to a car chase with the police, making a strong first impression on her. His stunt gets him the attention of a police officer (Janusz Gajos).

Aleks talks Sonia into helping him with a scheme to make a lot of money off her boss. A romance develops between the couple as they get to know each other during the exiting escapades. The story line is not entirely predictable making it more enjoyable.

One of the things I think is great about "Fuks" is that it has a lot to offer. "Fuks" has the right blend of comedy and action to make it suspenseful and entertaining. The acting is convincing, with a special mention to Janusz Gajos. He played his role seriously, with a touch of levity to make the scenes funny. Gajos' performance in "Fuks" demonstrates why he ranks among Poland's most talented actors.

Before making "Fuks" in 1999, director Maciej Dutkiewicz filmed "Noce Graffiti" (Night Graffiti) in 1997, which had a much more serious tone. Although these are his only two feature films from the 1990s, they are both well done and worth watching.


Kilerow 2-och

Kiler II (Kilerow 2-och) (1999)

Director: Juliusz Machulski;

Cezary Pazura is back as Jurek Kiler in Juliusz Machulski's Kiler-ow 2-och. This time he plays two roles, and as the name suggests, there are two Kilers. In the first part, Jurek gets mistaken for an assassin for hire and foils the plans of two rival mobsters. The mobsters overlook their differences, as now Jurek is their mutual enemy. The mobster's plans don't always work out as expected, which gives us hilarious results.

Things get a little ridiculous, in a funny way, as a real assassin named Szakal (Peter J. Lucas) tries to take Jurek out. As Jurek is the only one who can accept the gold he receives at the warehouse, the mobsters also bring in Cuban look-a-like to act as Jurek's double. Another thing that complicates Jurek's life is the wife of one of the mobsters, and the daughter of the other, like him in a way that gets him in trouble with both the mobsters and his girlfriend. With good timing and a little luck, Jurek does pretty well most of the time (but how it all comes together you will have to see for yourself).

I would say it is a good idea to watch the first part before watching this one, as you will have a better understand of the charters. Kiler-ow 2-och is loaded with a great supporting cast, which we got to know in part one, including Jan Englert, Marek Kondrat, Jerzy Stuhr and Katarzyna Figura. I would say Kiler-ow 2-och is just as fun and funny as the first part and ranks among my favorite Machulski films. Juliusz Machulski's movies have a unique type of humor and he is best known for directing Seksmisja (1984), but Kiler would probably be considered his other big hit. If you like comedies or something not too serious, Kiler-ow 2-och is for you.


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