The Smell of the Cinema Spirit

in 13rd Cottbus Festival of East European Cinema

by Reinhard Bradatsch

The geographical border is still visible although Poland will become part of the European Union in 2004. However the border in people’s heads almost disappeared. This was my first impression as a member of the FIPRESCI jury at the thirteenth Festival of East European Cinema in Cottbus. I was invited to take part in an extraordinary screening in Slubice, a small Polish village only separated by the River Oder from Frankfurt/Oder, Germany. After a warm welcome by the students of Transkultura, an association of the European University Viadrina, we went to the Piast cinema, pursuing the glorious history of small alternative cinemas. Except that we were going to a real movie theater for the first time during the entire festival (Cottbus hasn’t unfortunately still gotten any city cinema). Piast is not only known for its informal atmosphere but also for its function as a greengrocer in the daytime. Every evening the small room still filled with the smell of carrots and onions turns into a magic place for cineasts.

Of course, this time it was something special for Janus Szewczyk, the proud owner of the Piast cinema: the walls were painted, the theater repaired and the toilet fixed up as Szewczyk stated in an interview. This was not the only reason why we were in good hands: students offered us hot tea and coffee to bare the typical November cold.

After the screening of Sukces (Success) and Przemiany (Changes), two Polish movies also in feature film competition, a lively discussion with the filmmakers and actors took place. As festival director Roland Rust mentioned before the emotionally and active participating by the Polish audience showed strong appetite and curiosity for new and independent kinds of cinema, a phenomenon often noticed at screenings in Western Europe. The enthusiastic reactions during the screenings brought up hopes there may be a chance to combine innovative and independent films outside Hollywood with the interest of the cinemagoers.

The first movie, Sukces by Marek Bukowski, especially reflected the above-mentioned emotions when the audience was laughing at the antihero Marek Pózny who seemed to fail all his dreams (love, marriage, career as an actor) created in his childhood: Marek, the unlucky fellow, competes with Wiktor, the talented and self-confident commercial star. They both fall in love with their colleague Marta. Wiktor becomes a famous actor while Marek has to earn money in side jobs. The question is Does success only means money and career or can it also be something else? By implementing cartoon images, surrealistic characters and amusing dialogues Marek Bukowski creates a fresh and sometimes innovative comedy with the omnipresent Catholic church playing a determinant part.

A woman between to men also forms Przemiany: In Lukasz Barczyk’s first feature film Wanda’s new husband Adrian detects the hidden mental and physic wounds of her family. When he seduces Wanda’s sister Marta the couple’s future is at stake. This creates a fragile atmosphere where the loose family ties could break every moment. Unfortunately, Barczyk loses contact to his characters and is not able to create concern about the collapse of relationships.

Apart from their different qualities these two films present the main subjects of motion pictures: love and emotion — also and especially in the Polish cinema.