Two Polish Generations

in 4th International Festival of Independent Cinema Off Plus Camera

by Krzysztof Kwiatkowski

The programme of Off Plus Camera Festival in Kraków included two Polish first features. Jan Komasa’s Suicide Room (Sala samobójców), which was awarded the FIPRESCI prize, and Marek Lechki’s Erratum clearly demonstrate the diversity of Polish cinema. 30-year-old Komasa had already attracted attention in 2004 by winning third prize at Cannes in the section Cinefondation with his short Nice To See You (Fajnie, ze jestes). A year after this he made one of a three-part anthology film Ode to Joy. Together with Maciej Migas and Anna Kazejak, he was the first auteur who dealt on the screen with the problem of the wave of emigration of 20-year-old Poles to Great Britain. Komasa followed this in his next film about the problems of the new generation of Poles.

Suicide Room was inspired by the real story of 21-year-old girl’s suicide. The hero, the son of an advisor to a government minister and the owner of an advertising agency, is approaching high-school final exams. He has got everything: he is raised in a big, comfortable house; he has his own chauffeur who takes him to school. Nonetheless, his wealthy parents don’t spend time with him, and he is losing contact with his peers. He spends more and more time in the virtual reality of the social portal of the title. Everything is on the fringe in Suicide Room. It is a movie made by a young man about young people and directed at young people. The director uses the language taken from video clips on MTV perfectly detecting the pulse of the present day. Komasa creates a thrilling picture of the generation born after the political transformation in Poland; the bored, burnt-out generation that is hardly impressed by anything. “When almost everything comes without effort, you have to look for stronger and stronger stimuli,” said the director in an interview. “This arises from the great need for revolution. But my characters have no reason to revolt.”

The generation of 40-year-olds portrayed by Marek Lechki in Erratum is completely different. The director is barely six years older than Komasa, but in Polish cinema it is a lot. This difference means that while the director of Suicide Room could constantly develop, Lechki after his movie My Town (Moje miasto) — his brilliant, 1-hour TV debut of 2002 — couldn’t make his first feature for a long time. Despite a ready screenplay and a great reputation, he came across the crisis in Polish cinema that preceded the establishment of the Polish Film Institute.

However, paradoxically, time worked for the benefit of the movie. The director portrayed a man who remembers communism, but enters his adult life in independent Poland. The main character of Erratum earns good money and has a family. He does not look back and does not analyze unexploited opportunities. Accidentally he has to confront his past, make an honest self-examination and observe his own unfulfillment. He ponders all the things which he lost when he wanted to absorb the world too fast and too greedily. The action of the movie is revealed in slow motion showing a picture of Poland unknown in the tabloids. Lechki isn’t afraid to ask vital questions — of the value and sense of human life, of the inability to communicate with one’s closest.

The combination of Suicide Room and Erratum in one contest was a conscious and good decision of the organizers of the Off Plus Camera Festival. These stylistically different movies create the consistent story about two generations. The older, whose dreams were painfully confronted with reality and the younger, which may not and cannot dream anymore.