Andrzej Wajda’s final film screens at the Polish Film Festival in America 

This year’s festival pays tribute to the late, great director.

click to enlarge Afterimage

Afterimage

Founded in 1989, the Polish Film Festival in America drew its commercial strength from the city's giant Polish-American population, but more than a generation later, the fest has found a more comfortable home at the suburban Rosemont 18 multiplex, where most of its big programs take place. This year the festival has even foregone its usual shows at Facets Cinematheque, leaving the Society for Arts in Jefferson Park as its sole remaining Chicago venue. The good news for Chicagoans is that the Society for Arts programs, heavy with shorts and TV documentaries, dig deeper into contemporary Polish culture than some of the prestige movies out in Rosemont. The festival runs through Sunday, November 20; for a full schedule visit pffamerica.org. J.R. Jones

[Recommended] Afterimage Andrzej Wajda, one of Poland's greatest filmmakers, closed out his long career with this unusually personal and despairing biopic of the avant-garde painter Wladyslaw Strzeminski. Missing his left arm and right leg, Strzeminski (Boguslaw Linda) is adored by his young students at the State Higher School of Visual Arts in Lodz, but his life and career begin to fall apart in 1950 after the communist ministry of culture announces a campaign in favor of pro-Soviet social realism and against "formalistic and cynical art." Of course, Wajda spent the first four decades of his career trying to make art under communist rule, which gives this story an emotional edge lacking in some of the director's more recent outings. One striking scene shows Strzeminski wrestling to get his ideas onto a canvas when the entire room goes red: outside his window, party officials have dropped a giant banner for a patriotic demonstration. The painter's last two years were a slow, merciless degradation, and Wajda, to his credit, follows Strzeminski all the way down. In Polish with subtitles. J.R. Jones 98 min. Tickets for this special screening are $20. Sun 11/13, 3 PM. Rosemont 18

click to enlarge The Battle With Satan
  • The Battle With Satan

The Battle With Satan Alternately harrowing and sardonic, this 2015 documentary from HBO Europe looks at the revival of exorcism in the Polish Catholic Church. Aside from one early scene in which a young man talks about his demonic possession, director Konrad Szołajski focuses primarily on three nubile women whose troubling behavioral disorders spring from tension between their sexuality and the prevailing religious culture. The first is a lesbian, the second is a buxom brunette whose superstitious mother believes the devil is at work whenever the Internet goes out, and the third is a teenage atheist for whom exorcism is clearly no more than community-sanctioned bullying. Amid the howlers—one interviewee cites Hello Kitty as a satanic lure—there are moments of rational discourse: a priest and clinical psychologist debunks the phenomenon of demonic possession, and an anthropologist speculates that, in embracing exorcism, the Catholic clergy may only be responding to the global rise of Pentecostalism. In Polish with subtitles. Andrea Gronvall 75 min. Tue 11/8, 8:45 PM, and Mon 11/14, 7 PM. Society for Arts

click to enlarge Jarocin, Rock for Freedom
  • Jarocin, Rock for Freedom

Jarocin, Rock for Freedom This documentary about the Jarocin Festival, Poland's major alternative-rock event, is slow and stodgy, failing to conjure the excitement and inspiration that visibly fuels the crowds in archival footage. Founded in 1980 and named after the small town that continues to host it, the festival became a safe haven for people to defy Poland's communist regime, and though often compared to Woodstock, it appears to be both more transgressive and more politically successful. Considering the festivalgoers' hardcore aesthetic (mohawks, safety pins, and nudity shocked the more conservative townspeople back in the day) and the music itself (with its explicit calls for individual freedom), it makes sense that some credit the festival for helping topple the Berlin Wall in 1989. If only this plodding account, which leans on such genre conventions as split screens and talking heads, could generate the same enthusiasm. Marek Gajczak and Leszek Gnoinski directed. In Polish with subtitles. Leah Pickett 109 min. Sat 11/12 and Thu 11/17, 8:45 PM. Society for Arts

click to enlarge Klezmer
  • Klezmer

Klezmer Echoes of Samuel Beckett drift through this nearly plotless 2015 drama, which is set during the Nazi occupation of Poland and—like Paweł Pawlikowski's Ida (2013) and Agnieszka Holland's In Darkness (2011)—explores the Polish people's role in the Holocaust. Foraging peasants discover a half-dead Jewish musician who escaped a Nazi roundup, and lengthy sequences show them carrying their mute captive through the forest as they debate whether to save him or turn him in to the Germans for a reward. Writer-director Piotr Chrzan portrays the characters' lives with a bleakness and futility that verge on nihilism, mitigated only by his treatment of the unfortunate Jew as a Christ figure and by the luminous imagery of cinematographer Sylwester Kazmierczak. The film is commendable for its hard-nosed realism, but when Chrzan suggests that the ignorant poor are primarily to blame for Polish anti-Semitism, he proves that the nation's self-examination has only begun. Andrea Gronvall 95 min. Sun 11/13 and Sun 11/20, 7 PM. Society for Arts  v

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