in 44th Krakow Film Festival

by Matthieu Darras

What about Polish cinema at the 44th Cracow Film Festival? Apart from a national competition including 44 short films (maximum length of 60 minutes), four Polish movies made it to the international competition. Interestingly, the four films the festival selection committee decided to pick up were all documentaries. Even more surprising, they were all dealing with same topics -basically poverty and unemployment- and portraying very similar positive figures, common people struggling for survival and a better future.

Strangely enough, watching successively these documentaries gave me a general feeling – if not representative – of a Polish society fighting actively for its own sake, confirming the cliché of Polish people as hard-workers. However, what these documentaries tended to depict is, no matter how much energy one can spend in order to follow the right path, there is sometimes simply no way out, considering for example the rate of unemployment in some areas of the country. The only solution when you are young, not qualified and live in a dull place might be to emigrate.

That’s what A Bar at the Victoria Station (directed by Leszek Dawid) is about, which follows two desperate – yet still full of hope and self – confidence – young men in their journey to London, expecting to find a job there. Both moving and funny, this documentary challenges mainstream representations of immigrants, mainly because Leszek Dawid adopts the immigrants perspective so that you can fully consider the balance between what they are losing (their family environment) and what they are gaining (an illegal job). If immigration stories are often ones of humiliation and shame (one has to leave his/her country because of poverty), this one also demonstrates the courage that to emigrate implies. I can already imagine -in fifty years time- the pride of these two young Polish men’s grandchildren, the latter being fully British citizens, watching A Bar at the Victoria Station.

Powrót (The Return), a very intense 24 minute-film, is much more dramatic, to the extent it comes out with no solution at all for its main protagonist, but fatal misery. For several months, Maciej Adamek followed an ex-prisoner looking for a job. Any job. But because of his criminal record and his age, the man is always answered with the same typical sentences: “No job available”, “Come back next month”, or “I’m sorry”. Powrót is a story of a man eagerly willing to start a new life, always going forward and never giving up, but facing a society that has nothing to offer him. Impressive.

Also focusing on the world of jail, Born Dead clearly shows another side of the unemployment issue, when lack of opportunities directly leads you to criminality. A great portrait -even if too long- of a young recidivist prisoner, the documentary by Jacek Blawut follows Robert, who is about to be released, in his volunteer day-work as a social care assistant in a home for seriously handicapped children. The most interesting idea of Born Dead is to clearly signify that even the worse symbols of social failure -tattooed and ‘no future’ like boys- may be useful for the common good.

When the State cannot provide citizens with any job, it comes out with rather unconventional ideas. Ballada o Kozie (Goat Walker) tells the story of several poor families, which are given a goat by the local authorities, not only for being supplied with cheese and milk, but also to be encouraged in developing a sense of responsibility! Very humorous, this film by Bartek Konopka gives the audience a mixed feeling of strong power -always new solutions are to be imagined for assuring social progress- and derision -something must be very wrong if goats are the last hope of human beings.