Striking 'Masterpieces of Polish Cinema' at the PFA -- with a strange Jerry Garcia(!) twist
He also has supporting roles in Jerzy Kawalerowicz's 1959 slice-of-life demi-thriller Night Train, and in Wajda's Innocent Sorcerers from the next year — both long journeys toward dawn, the second set in a jazz-soaked, raffishly disillusioned Warsaw where it's "harder to catch a taxi than a girl." The two other Wajda titles here are later epics: 1975's The Promised Land, a long, lavish and shrill indictment of worker-exploitative Industrial Revolution capitalism; and 1981's Man of Iron, dramatizing the rise of the Solidarity movement. Man won the Golden Palm at Cannes, but also angered Polish officials sufficiently to drive its director abroad for some years, making films in Germany and France.
By contrast, political — or any — reality is infrequently found in the works of the late Has, whose best films are hothouse phantasmagorias rich in surreal imagery and dreamlike illogic. The PFA series kicks off with his 1964 The Saragossa Manuscript, perhaps that decade's first "head" film, and duly named by Jerry Garcia as his favorite film. (The musician was involved in the PFA acquiring a print before his death.) Its picaresque maze of tall stories, with beautiful available women ornamenting most of them, remains a stoner's delight. In a similar vein, Has' The Hour-Glass Sanatorium a decade later is a triumph of Gothic jumble-sale production design, its own hapless hero pulled down a richly colored rabbit's hole of dress-up role playing and various perversities at the titular institution.
A much more straightforward costume extravaganza is 1960's Black Cross, aka Knights of the Teutonic Order, about the 15th century struggle between Poles and Christian invaders that led to the Battle of Grunwald. Its director Aleksander Ford was a major figure in establishing the post-war state film industry, yet not long after this expensive epic he was purged in a late-decade anti-Semitic campaign, and his unsuccessful attempts at a career overseas ended with suicide in 1980 Florida. A very different historical piece is Kawalerowicz's 1961 Mother Joan of the Angels, a treatment of the same 17th century alleged convent demon infestation that inspired Ken Russell's 1971 The Devils, and one that's as quiet and stark as the latter film is hysterical.
The leading lights of the later Cinema of Moral Anxiety movement—which mostly eschewed such grand gestures and bizarre subjects for small, disquieting modern narratives — are represented in three films toward the series' end. Krzysztof Zanussi's 1976 Camouflage and 1980 The Constant Factor are terse, bitter portraits of institutional corruption. The late Krzysztof Kieslowski's pre-Three Colors series breakout A Short Film About Killing (1987) is, if anything, bleaker: Drawn together by chance and then by tragedy, its protagonists live in a Warsaw where injustice is practically in the air — thanks to the oppressively tinted cinematography — and the climactic events of a murder and an execution have their existential pointlessness underlined by each being excruciatingly prolonged. *
MARTIN SCORSESE PRESENTS MASTERPIECES OF POLISH CINEMA
June 14-Aug 21, $5.50-$9.50
Pacific Film Archive
2575 Bancroft, Berk