A feast for the eyes

Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, 35mm and more

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Jerzy Kawalerowicz

Summer is over, school is back in session and that can only mean one thing: the glorious return of the University of Colorado Boulder’s own International Film Series (IFS).

Now in his 17th season as IFS Director, Pablo Kjølseth is extremely excited with the picks and guests he has lined up for the fall slate. Kjølseth has been watching movies at IFS since 1980, and programming them since 1997. He is a man on a mission to make sure that quality cinema does not go gently into that good night. Valuing repertory picks alongside current offerings, Kjølseth models IFS after his favorite film festivals and aims for a very diverse, very high level of selection.

Making up the backbone of IFS are the weekend screenings, which collect excellence in independent cinema, many of which received critical acclaim — titles like Mood Indigo, Frank and Boyhood. On Tuesdays, the intrepid viewer is treated to some of the best documentaries from 2014: Jodorowsky’s Dune, Life Itself and Fifi Hollows From Happiness. Thursdays, movies will be presented in the Visual Arts Complex (VAC) Basement Auditorium on beautiful 35mm. This series kicks off Thursday, Sept. 11, with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and a “can’t-miss” special guest introduction.

IFS’s weekly series of Film on 35mm, as well as the world premiere of Bill the Galactic Hero (from British director and CU’s own Alex Cox) will be covered in greater detail in future issues. But it is the program that started on Sept. 10 and continues every Wednesday night until Nov. 12 that is sure to light a fire in the mind of every moviegoer — Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema.

Anyone who confines their study of European cinema to five or six French directors, two or three Italians and one Swede will have that narrow thinking shattered by Masterpieces of Polish Cinema.

The series provides a giant sweep of a culture and art spanning four decades, seven directors and exhibits what Polish director Andrezj Wajda called, “the impertinent freedom of creativity in the cinema.”

The series was hand picked and personally curated by Scorsese, who, in the press release, states, “These are films that have great emotional and visual power — they’re ‘serious’ films that, with their depth, stand up to repeated viewings. The subtext of great conflict and cultural identity is universal, even if you don’t know the history of Poland, the themes in these films will resonate, as they did profoundly for me.”

Masterpieces of Polish Cinema is a traveling program that started making the rounds across U.S. arthouse theaters and museums earlier this year. In August, the program held a weeklong residency at the Sie Film Center in Denver with great success.

Now, Masterpieces of Polish Cinema makes its way to Boulder, where IFS will screen 10 of the program’s 21 movies over the course of 10 weeks.

IFS’s schedule was already jam-packed when Milestone Films, the company in charge of distributing the program, offered Kjølseth his pick of the litter. Kjølseth turned to a colleague of his, CU Professor Suranjan Ganguly, for assistance in selecting which movies should play at IFS.

“I basically said, ‘All right Suranjan, just tell me which ones you think we should bring,’” Kjølseth says. “I told him, ‘We got 10 weeks of programming, so select 10 titles.’ And then, basically, I arranged them chronologically. That made my job pretty easy.”

The one exception to the chronological ordering was the opening night movie, Wojciech Has’s The Saragossa Manuscript from
1964, which opened the series on September 10th. This puzzle box of a
story was a personal favorite of Grateful Dead guitarist, Jerry Garcia,
as well as being one of the world’s first “midnight movies.” If you
missed The Saragossa Manuscript, don’t worry, because Has’s other movie in the series, The Hourglass Sanatorium, from
1973, plays Oct. 29 and is one of the most off-the-wall movies I have
ever seen. Taking place in a sanatorium/decaying manor, The Hourglass Sanatorium is an odd cocktail of magic, dream and death. If you’ve ever wondered what a mashup of Inception, Hammer
Horror and Sigmund Freud might look like, then this is one that you
won’t want to miss. For Kjølseth, it is the film in the series that he
is most excited to see on the big screen.

And
a big screen is exactly what these films deserve. Each paints on a
large canvas, and the bigger the screen, the darker the theater, the
more you will enjoy them.

Andrzej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds
playing Oct. 1 with an introduction from Ganguly, the professor who
assisted with curating the film series — is a movie loaded with giant
images that consume the characters. The most notable of them is of an
inverted Christ statue that literally and figuratively hangs over the
characters and their every action. When seen on a computer screen, it
looks well-composed and artistic. When experienced on the big screen,
that statue fills the screen and takes on a whole range of emotions and
meanings.

Noted film critic Manny Faber said, “Every movie transmits the DNA of its time” and Ashes and Diamonds is
no exception. The movie is set on the last day of WWII, the day when
the Nazi Occupation ended and the Communist rule began. In fact, all of
the movies included in this series were made under Communist rule, and
that suffocating regime is felt most powerfully in Krysztof Zanussi’s The Constant Factor, which
will close the series on Nov. 12. In it, Zanussi perfectly details the
thousands of little indignations that slowly drive a man mad.

If madness is your cup of tea, then Mother Joan of Angels from Jerzy Kawalerowicz (Oct. 15) — a haunting horror story on par with The Exorcist — will suit you just fine.

Other notables include Andrzej Munk’s Eroica (Sept. 17), two heroic vignettes set during the Nazi Occupation and tied together with humor and realism. Zanussi’s The Illumination (Nov.
5), a movie about a scientist, will delight any viewer who has grown
weary of conventional storytelling. And one of my personal favorite’s,
Tadeusz Konwicki’s austere and dreamy, Last Day of Summer (Sept. 24) centers on two strangers who try to communicate, but simply can’t.

I could go on, but movies are meant to be watched, not described. Visit IFS’s website, www.internationalfilmseries.com, for dates, times and screening locations, as well as specialty information about the movies and guest introductions.

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