Polish Film Festival in America | Festival | Chicago Reader

Polish Film Festival in America 

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Now in its 16th year, the Polish Film Festival in America will run November 6 through 21 and present more than 40 films, ranging from grim drama to broad comedy, from animated family films to sexually frank art films. Screenings will be at the Copernicus Center (5216 W. Lawrence) and the Society for Arts (1112 N. Milwaukee); tickets are $9, $8 for seniors and students. For more information call 773-486-9612 or visit www.pffamerica.com, which features a full festival schedule.

Five of the films this year were produced by Polish public television. They share a televisual aesthetic--more interested in human expression than cinematic composition--and their scripts tend to rely on familiar plot devices. But several of them are quite good. One strong entry is Holiday Weekend (72 min., in Polish with subtitles), a romantic comedy that mixes contemporary culture and timeless comic devices. On a Blind Date-style game show, a middle-aged soldier picks a woman who's his opposite--he's nostalgic for socialism; she's a former antisocialist activist. Their getaway date falls on the same weekend as May 1. He orchestrates a celebration of the international workers' holiday, and she counters by setting up a lecture by a poet she has a crush on--and the hotel guests are forced to choose sides in the escalating battle. Director Robert Glinski keeps things moving along at a good clip, and the breezy mix of politics and romance recalls films like Ninotchka. (Society for Arts, Tue 11/9, 7 PM.)

In Janusz Zaorski's Saved by a Miracle (91 min., in Polish with subtitles) a cranky World War II veteran, thinking he's on his deathbed, renews a wartime vow to build a shrine to the Virgin Mary. That won't be easy in 1960s Poland, but he gets unexpected help from a prostitute who's been sentenced to work at a fish farm in an effort to "resocialize" her. Sometimes the humor's a bit broad--drunkenness and slapstick have their limits--but this is still fun. (Society for Arts, Mon 11/8 and Thu 11/11, 7 PM.)

In Radoslaw Piwowarski's Queen of the Clouds (76 min., in Polish with subtitles) a wealthy yuppie takes a confused old woman on a road trip. She thinks he's her son and he's taking her to visit her sister in Brazil, but it gradually becomes clear he's bought her house and is taking her to a retirement home. Things get more complicated when he picks up his gorgeous young girlfriend. As the old woman, Danuta Szaflarska has to be by turns sly, wheedling, disoriented, and charming, which makes her annoying for long stretches. But by the end I couldn't help but be moved by the questions raised about the treatment of the elderly. (Society for Arts, Wed 11/10, 9 PM.)

Less successful is Zhoorek (2003, 70 min., in Polish with subtitles), a comedy drama with a bleak worldview. A fiercely determined woman tries to track down the man who impregnated her teenage daughter so the baby can be christened before Christmas. The daughter, a passive lump, alternates between refusing to say who the father is and randomly accusing any man in sight. Director Ryszard Brylski knows how to handle this grim blend, but after the fifth or sixth time the two women march through the snow, sympathy becomes exhaustion. (Society for Arts, Wed 11/10, 7 PM.)

The only American film in the first week is clearly the worst. Runaway Divas (102 min.) has all the rough edges and awkwardness of an ultralow budget without any compensating ideas or vision. Cowriters, codirectors, and costars Aleksandra Hodowany and Monika Szewerniak offer a portrait of one of those bogus modeling agencies that persuade people they have what it takes to be models and then charge for "lessons." Hodowany plays a mentally handicapped woman who's taken in by the scam, and Szewerniak plays an agency employee who wrestles with her conscience. The script is full of muddled motives and implausible twists, and the acting is broad and inconsistent. Hodowany and Szewerniak call this black comedy, but I didn't laugh once. (Society for Arts, Mon 11/8 and Thu 11/11, 9 PM.)

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