B&W, 1970, 65m.
Directed by Marek Piwowski
Starring Zdzislaw Maklakiewicz, Jan Himilsbach, Wanda Stanislawska-Lothe, Ryszard Pietruski, Stanislaw Tym
Color, 1977, 96m.
Directed by Krzysztof Zanussi
Starring Piotr Garlicki, Zbigniew Zapasiewicz, Christine Paul-Podlasky, Mariusz Dmochowski
Color, 1981, 102m.
Directed by Wojciech Marczewski
Starring Tomasz Hudziez, Wladyslaw Kowalski, Teresa Marczewska, Teresa Sawicka
Second Run (DVD) (UK R0 PAL) / WS (1.40:1, 1.78:1) (16:9 and flat)
Released in 2015 just two years since the recommended Polish Cinema Classics Volume II set, this set from Second Run offers another diverse look at the country's rich output, in this case stretching from 1970 to 1981.
First up is the earliest and quirkiest film of the bunch, The Cruise (Rejs), which clocks in at just over an hour and uses the idea of a cruise ship as a sort of comical petri dish to reflect the fluctuating state of communist-run Poland at the time. Physical and verbal humor abound as a trip down the Vistula River turns unpredictable when a stowaway (Tym) assumes the role of entertainment director and uses his authority to drag the passengers into an increasingly absurd string of scenarios.
Highly popular in its native country, this is a fun little appetizer of a film looks great in its first official English-subtitled release complete with a restored transfer framed at 1.78:1. The monochrome photography looks great, and usual, the optional English subtitles are excellent (and sometimes quotably hilarious). The disc itself is bare bones, but it comes with a liner notes booklet containing an extensive essay about director Marek Piwowski by Daniel Bird.
Following the inclusion of the tantalizing film Illumination in their Polish Cinema Classics Volume II set, Second Run returns to the work of filmmaker Krzysztof Zanussi with the second title in the set, Camouflage, a low key, quirky study of power dynamics among academia between the old guard and young idealists. It's a bit more complicated than it sounds as the film takes a detached position on what transpires over the course of a summer as university professors and students convene at an idyllic estate for an in-depth linguistics seminar. The youngest instructor, Professor Kruszynski (Garlicki), butts heads with the elder Professor Szelestowski (Zapasiewicz) over the way the students are manipulated and often psychologically affected by their treatment, while the process of determining which student will win the prize for the best completed paper at the retreat turns into a psychological minefield. As it turns out, Szelestowski's more jaded world outlook may have permanent ramifications for the newcomer.
Both sunny and oddly uneasy at the same time, this is an intelligent film whose political concerns about the ideologies of conflicting generations easily transcend the period and remains valid today in any country. The charismatic Garlicki does a fine job bouncing off of his elder mentors (who seem to punish students for arbitrary offenses and even remove them from official records), and the rich vein of humor running through the entire film does little to dissipate its more acidic central theme. Again this major film looks great courtesy of Second Run's HD-restored presentation, presented in an anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer that looks as fresh and impressive as standard def can permit. The sole video extra is a new 16-minute interview with director Krzysztof Zanussi, who runs through the state of Polish filmmaking at the time and this film's controversial reception, while the packaging (which features a pretty striking cover design) comes with liner notes by Michael Oleszczyk digging into the film's importance within the era's Cinema of Moral Anxiety.
Last up is by far the darkest film in the set, the 1981 drama Shivers (Dreszcze) chronicles a transitional period in the life of young boy Tomek (Hudziez), whose loving father (Kowalski) is shipped off during the height of Stalinism in Poland. Based with very little disguise on the childhood of director Wojciech Marczewski, the experiences of Tomek find his sensibilities challenged by the attempts of elders to divorce him from his family and religion at a training camp. Over the course of a season his mind is battered by the indoctrination attempts to turn a rambunctious young adolescent into a conforming socialist, but how much it sticks will only be proven when his father finally comes home again.
Also a figure in the second Polish Cinema Classics set with Escape from "Liberty" Cinema, Marczewski suffered a major setback in his career when this film was manned soon after its release during a martial law takeover that sent many other major films off into the shadows for several years. Marczewski provides a great deal of context for this English-subtitled release (again, apparently the first official one of its kind) in which he chats for 22 minutes about the autobiographical aspects of the story and the fallout he experienced from its release. The transfer is very oddly framed (just over 1.40:1) and not anamorphic, presumably because the image was opened up as high as possible and wouldn't benefit much from a slight expansion to fill the top and bottom. You can always use the zoom control on your remote to mask it off to around 1.66:1, which actually works about as well. Again there are excellent liner notes provided, in this case by Michael Brooke who notes the film's title similar to a certain David Cronenberg film and covers some of the other pivotal films involving Stalinism and the mindset of the period, most notably Man of Marble. Highly recommended.