Tomorrow night at 6:30 PM Cinema/Chicago will present a free screening of Polish filmmaker Ryszard Bugajski’s period drama Interrogation at the Cultural Center. The film should hold special interest for anyone who attended the classic Polish cinema series at the Siskel Center in May and June, as Interrogation can be viewed as a coda to the era of filmmaking (roughly the late 1950s to the early ’80s) covered by that retrospective. Though completed in 1982, the film wasn’t released until 1989, after the breakup of the Soviet bloc, due to its horrific portrayal of Polish secret-police tactics during the Stalin years. “It’s so relentless and unvarying in its portrait of suffering,” Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote in the Reader, “that its dramatic importance seems to lie mainly in its determination to bear witness to some grim historical facts.”
Numerous films in the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema series dealt with abuses of the Communist government, but they generally did so obliquely. Filmmakers would comment on contemporary ills by transposing them onto stories set in the distant past (as in Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s Pharaoh) or by telling allegorical stories about power dynamics in personal relationships (as in Kryzstof Zanussi’s Camouflage). Andrzej Wajda’s Man of Marble (1976), which addressed the propaganda campaigns of the Stalin years, is widely recognized as a breakthrough in terms of what Polish films could present, opening the door for more critical examinations of recent national history. In the fallout of the Solidarity movement, however, that door would be closed again until the end of the 1980s.
The belated release of Interrogation marked the beginning of a new era for Polish film. One could say this era is still going strong, as filmmakers continue to explore aspects of Polish life from the 40s through the 80s that had been off-limits to them before. The recent successes Aftermath and Ida are the two latest examples of what might be called the Polish cinema of reclamation.