Presented by the Society for Arts, the Polish Film Festival in America runs Friday, November 4, through Sunday, November 20, with screenings this week at Facets Cinematheque; Pickwick; Rosemont 18, 9701 Bryn Mawr, Rosemont; and Society for Arts. Tickets are $13, $10 for documentaries, and a festival pass (good for seven screenings, not including the opening, closing, or special programs) is $70. Following are reviews of selected films through Thursday, November 10; for more information, a complete schedule, and ticket purchases, call 773-486-9612 or go to pffamerica.com. Unless otherwise noted, all films are in Polish with subtitles.
Black Thursday Polish history contains so many episodes of political and military defeat that stories of martyrdom practically constitute a subgenre of the national literature. This docudrama about the Gdynia Shipyard strike of 1970 certainly belongs to that tradition: it centers on some of the working men shot down by soldiers of the People's Army, who'd been sent in to keep order by First Secretary Wladyslaw Gomulka. The movie is informative, detailed, and often very dull. Much of the dialogue consists of characters summarizing the political situation; as a result, this is less interesting than a straight-up academic history might have been. Director Antoni Krauze has spent much of his five-decade career making TV movies, which this resembles in its uninspired framing and mechanical progression from scene to scene. —Ben Sachs 105 min. Sat 11/5, 7 PM, Facets Cinematheque, and Wed 11/9, 8:45 PM, Pickwick
In Darkness Veteran director Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa, The Secret Garden) and actor Robert Wieckiewicz will attend this screening of their new Holocaust drama, part of the festival's opening-night gala. Tickets are $85. Fri 11/4, 8:45 PM, Rosemont 18
Joanna Writer-director Feliks Falk came to prominence as part of Poland's cinema of moral anxiety, a movement that depicted complex ethical dilemmas through understated drama. Yet this World War II period piece does pretty much the opposite: Urszula Grabowska grossly overstates her character's valor and resolve as a Polish actress sheltering a young Jewish girl whose parents have been captured by the Nazis. Like Roman Polanski's The Pianist, this generally obscures the larger narrative of the Holocaust to focus on the experience of Jews in hiding. But whereas Polanski maintained a palpable sense of horror just beyond the frame, Falk seems unconcerned with anything except his gentile heroine's good nature. The result is an act of historical whitewashing that borders on revisionism. —Ben Sachs 108 min. Falk attends the screening. Sun 11/6, 7:30 PM, Facets Cinematheque
Rose Yet another example of the genre Inglourious Basterds should have rendered obsolete: the "tasteful" World War II atrocity film. Here the atrocity in question is the Soviet army's devastation of Masuria, an ethnic region in northeastern Poland, in the months following the war's end. The movie is filled with rape and senseless killing, but none of it is genuinely upsetting: these images belong not to history but to a crass mode of filmmaking more concerned with winning awards than educating people. If you don't know about this critical period of Polish history, watch Andrzej Wajda's classic Ashes and Diamonds (1958) or read one of Norman Davies's essential studies; there's no reason to waste your time on this third-rate Spielberg imitation. Wojciech Smarzowski directed. —Ben Sachs 90 min. Fri 11/4, 9 PM, Facets Cinematheque, and Sun 11/6, 5:15 PM, Pickwick
Suicide Room This hand-wringing drama about the perils of the Internet begins with an opera performance and gradually turns into one itself, though for most of its lengthy running time it's a watchable exercise in gloom and doom. The protagonist is a spoiled, wraithlike high school senior neglected by his brittle mother and father, an advertising executive and a government economic adviser respectively. After a cell-phone video of the boy smooching with a male friend on a dare goes viral, he retreats into his bedroom and the enveloping embrace of a morbid chat room whose visitors share images of suicide victims and fantasize about offing themselves (in a nice touch, these sequences are rendered as anime with the habitues leaping around like superheroes). Jan Komasa, writing and directing his first dramatic feature, is barely 30 years old, so you have to wonder how he came by his reactionary attitude toward the digital age; after all, Sylvia Plath got into just as much trouble with a pen and paper. —J.R. Jones 117 min. Thu 11/10, 9 PM, Facets Cinematheque
The Winner A brilliant young Polish-American classical pianist (Pawel Szajda) freezes up at a Warsaw concert, throws away his career (at least for the moment), and wanders off into the world of a colorful and benevolent old gambling addict (Janusz Gajos) who's become obsessed with the fortunes of a promising young racehorse. The story is pretty improbable, and the bilingual Szajda can be too much of a scruffy glamour boy. But this glossy 2011 melodrama by veteran writer-director Wieslaw Saniewski is well-crafted overall, and the music ranges from Chopin to Elvis. It also has juicy performances from two excellent actors: Gajos as the gambler, and Wojciech Pszoniak (star of Andrzej Wajda's great 1990 Holocaust drama Korczak) as a devious old piano teacher. In English and subtitled Polish. —Michael Wilmington 111 min. Thu 11/11, 7 PM, Facets Cinematheque