Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema

  1. Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema

From May 4 through July 3, the Gene Siskel Film Center hosts Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, a series of seventeen films from some of Poland’s most accomplished and lauded filmmakers, spanning the period from 1957- 1987.

In December 2011, filmmaker Martin Scorsese traveled to Poland to accept an honorary doctoral degree from The Polish National Film, Television, and Theatre School in Łódź. There, Mr. Scorsese met with digital restoration expert Jedrzej Sabliński, and the two men came up with the idea of a North American tour of a series of restored Polish cinema classics. Chosen by Mr. Scorsese from an extensive catalogue of digitally restored films, each film has been digitally re-mastered and brilliantly restored on newly subtitled DCPs. The program was created and organized by Mr. Scorsese’s non-profit organization, The Film Foundation.


In 2011, I had the opportunity to visit the Polish National Film School in Łódź, Poland, at the invitation of the great director, Andrzej Wajda.

It was a trip I had wanted to make for years as I had long been drawn to the school and to Polish cinema from the time I was a film student at NYU, studying under my teacher and mentor, Haig Manoogian. It was at NYU–a school modeled after the legendary film program at Łódź--that I learned not just how films are made, but why.

The school nurtured in me an unshakable belief in artistic expression grounded in Italian Neorealism, the French New Wave, the surreptitious poetry of the old Hollywood masters, and Polish cinema: the great, sweeping, humanistic, intimate and profound movies that were an integral part of what, looking back, seems more and more like a golden age of international cinema.

That’s why it is such a great honor and thrill to be able to bring to US audiences Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, a series of films made during this creatively fertile time in Poland by directors such as Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Zanussi, Andrzej Munk, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Wojciech Jerzy Has, Krzysztof Kieslowski, and others. This is a cinema of personal vision, social commitment and poetic responsibility from which we’ve all learned and which sets a high standard that, as a filmmaker, I strive to achieve with every film, every time out.

Each of the films in this special series embodies what Wajda called “the impertinent freedom of creativity in the cinema.” These are films that have great emotional and visual power--they’re “serious” films that, with their depth, stand up to repeated viewings. The subtext of great conflict and cultural identity is universal, even if you don’t know the history of Poland, the themes in these films will resonate, as they did profoundly for me.

When I first saw ASHES AND DIAMONDS, one of the many highlights in this series and arguably one of the greatest films ever made--Polish or otherwise, I was overwhelmed by the film: the masterful direction, the powerful story, the striking visual imagery, and the shocking performance by Zbigniew Cybulski, considered the “Polish James Dean” with his electrifying presence. I was so struck by the film, it affected me so deeply, that I paid small homage by giving Charlie a pair of similar sunglasses in MEAN STREETS.

There are many revelations in the “Masterpieces of Polish Cinema” series, and, whether you’re familiar with some of these films or not, it’s an incredible opportunity to discover for yourself the great power of Polish cinema, on the big screen in brilliantly restored digital masters.

I hope you will enjoy these great films as much I do. Thanks to The Film Foundation and Milestone Films in the United States, and Propaganda Foundation, DI Factory and KinoRP in Poland for making this magnificent series possible.

Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema was organized by Propaganda Foundation, DI Factory, CRF and The Film Foundation. In cooperation with: Kino RP, Milestone Films, Tor, Zebra and Kadr. With the support of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland, the Polish Film Institute and the Polish National Audiovisual Institute.

Buy a ticket at our regular prices for the first Polish film on any Sunday in May or June, and get a ticket for the second Polish film that day at the discounted rate with proof of your original full-price purchase: General Admission $7; Students $5; Members $4. (This discount rate applies to the second film only.)




Sun, May 4th at 3:00pm
Mon, May 5th at 6:30pm
Average: 5 (1 vote)
  1. 1964, Wojciech J. Has, Poland, 184 min.
  2. With Zbigniew Cybulski, Iga Cembrzynska

"Poland’s greatest cult film...a comic,
macabre extravaganza....part Alice in Wonderland,
part Arabian Nights”
–J. Hoberman, Village Voice

Fans of this labyrinthine mind-boggler include Luis Buñuel, Francis Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Jerry Garcia. Appropriately, Poland’s greatest cult film stars Poland’s greatest cult actor, Zbigniew Cybulski, here doffing his trademark leather jacket for the duds of a swashbuckling Napoleonic officer who takes refuge in a Spanish inn. There he becomes entranced by a magical
manuscript that draws him into a dizzying series of dreams-within-dreams and tales-within-within-tales, involving priests, sheiks, demons, Gypsies, beautiful Arabian princesses, and, when you least expect it, the Spanish Inquisition. Sumptuous widescreen cinematography, an eclectic music score, and bountiful cleavage add spice to this exceedingly strange brew. In Polish with English subtitles. DCP digital. Note: There will be a ten-minute intermission. (MR)

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Sun, May 11th at 5:00pm
Mon, May 12th at 7:45pm
Average: 4.3 (7 votes)
  1. JUMP
  2. (SALTO)
  1. 1965, Tadeusz Konwicki, Poland, 105 min.
  2. With Zbigniew Cybulski, Marta Lipinska

One of Poland’s most important novelists, Tadeusz Konwicki was also a director (THE LAST DAY OF SUMMER) and screenwriter (PHARAOH, MOTHER JOAN OF THE ANGELS) of note. JUMP is a tantalizing existential mystery that hops nimbly between allegory and black comedy. It begins with the hero (Cybulski) jumping off a moving train and making his way to a small town
where he lived during the war. Or did he? Riffing on his ASHES AND DIAMONDS persona, Cybulski delivers a dazzlingly protean performance. Is his character an imposter, a fugitive, a prophet, an avenger, a ghost, or just an ordinary schmuck? The title refers both to the hero’s initial leap and to a justly celebrated dance performed to composer Wojciech Kilar’s ultra-cool jazz theme. In Polish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (MR)

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Sun, May 11th at 3:00pm
Wed, May 14th at 6:00pm
Average: 4.3 (10 votes)
  1. 1958, Andrzej Wajda, Poland, 104 min.
  2. With Zbigniew Cybulski, Ewa Krzyzewska

“Powerfully memorable.”
–Time Out Film Guide

The film that put Polish cinema on the map, ASHES AND DIAMONDS spoke for an entire generation of Poles who were coming of age amid the moral confusion of postwar Soviet domination. On the final day of WWII, as Germany surrenders and a new regime prepares for peace, one man is pinned tragically between Poland’s wartime past and the future. Maciek (Cybulski, considered the James Dean of Poland), a cynical hipster and undercover Resistance fighter, is given one final assignment to assassinate a newly appointed Communist official. While awaiting the signal to proceed, he meets a pretty hotel bartender for a brief taste of a life he may never know. In Polish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)

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Sun, May 18th at 3:00pm
Mon, May 19th at 6:00pm
Average: 3.8 (10 votes)
  1. 1987, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland, 85 min.
  2. With Miroslaw Baka, Krzysztof Globisz

“One of the great films of all time.”
–Amy Taubin, Village Voice

“The most powerful movie about the
death penalty ever made.”
–Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

A film admired by both Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese, A SHORT FILM ABOUT KILLING fastens a moral Gordian knot tight around three characters linked by murder: a shiftless teenager looking for trouble, a hard-boiled cabdriver, and a young lawyer just out of school. Originally an hour-long episode in Kieslowski’s “Decalogue” TV series, KILLING was expanded for theatrical release and significantly improved, with more in-depth development of the characters and the death-penalty theme. In Polish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)

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Sun, May 18th at 4:45pm
Thu, May 22nd at 6:00pm
Average: 3.8 (5 votes)
  1. 1981, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland, 122 min.
  2. With Boguslaw Linda, Tadeusz Lomnicki

“A powerful political fable...Kieslowski
displays a deeply erotic, sensual
sensibility and a warm humanism that
inflects every facet of this complex film.”
–Ed Howard, Only the Cinema

The arbitrary nature of fate, one of Kieslowski’s favorite themes, drives the three separate stories of a man’s life that make up BLIND CHANCE. Medical student Witek (Boguslaw Linda, Poland’s top male star) is mysteriously energized by his father’s cryptic dying words. Each episode begins with Witek subsequently running for a train to Warsaw, which he either 1) catches; 2) misses because he’s stopped by a security guard; or 3) misses but meets a girl, as different possible destinies play out. In Polish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (BS)

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Sun, May 25th at 3:00pm
Thu, May 29th at 6:00pm
Average: 5 (7 votes)
  2. (FARAON)
  1. 1965, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Poland, 151 min.
  2. With Jerzy Zelnik, Piotr Pawlowski

“One of the classics of Polish cinema...
If this film got the restoration it deserved in
its full length, in the original Polish and subtitled,
it would be placed with the greatest epics.”
–Allan Fish, Wonders in the Dark

Long available only in dubbed, truncated, censored, and color-faded versions, PHARAOH has been restored to its full glory. Filmed over a period of three years with location work in Uzbekistan and Egypt, featuring stunning sets and widescreen cinematography, this sophisticated epic doesn’t do away with sex, spectacle, and swordplay,
but deepens them with layers of political and philosophical resonance. The story centers on Rameses, the headstrong heir to the current pharaoh, whose efforts to break the priesthood’s stranglehold upon the kingdom are undermined by Phoenician bankers, a seductive priestess, palace intrigue, his own weaknesses, and, at a crucial moment, a solar eclipse. In Polish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (MR)

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Sun, May 25th at 5:45pm
Wed, May 28th at 8:00pm
Average: 4.3 (4 votes)
  1. 1957, Andrzej Munk, Poland, 85 min.
  2. With Edward Dziewonski, Józef Nowak

“A classic slice of subversive Polish cinema.”
–John Bleasdale, CineVue

Subtitled “A Heroic Symphony in Two Parts,” EROICA is in fact an antiheroic capriccio by the director who was Polish cinema’s foremost satirist until his death in 1961 at age 40. The film’s two contrasting episodes are united by their irreverent attitude toward the fabled Warsaw Uprising of 1944. The first, wide-ranging and farcical, follows a cynical hedonist who opts out of military duty only to find himself taking foolish risks for the Polish resistance. The second episode, claustrophobic and bitterly ironic, is set in a prison camp where demoralized Polish POWs are sustained by a legend of heroism that shouldn’t be examined too closely. In Polish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (MR)



Sun, Jun 1st at 3:00pm
Wed, Jun 4th at 6:00pm
Average: 4.8 (4 votes)
  1. 1976, Krzysztof Zanussi, Poland, 100 min.
  2. With Piotr Garlicki, Zbigniew Zapasiewicz

“There was a time in the late 1970s when
Krzysztof Zanussi was the toughest-minded
filmmaker in the world, and CAMOUFLAGE is
among his finest achievements.”
–Mike Walsh, Senses of Cinema

With a background in physics, Krzysztof Zanussi brought a unique sensibility to Polish cinema--observant and analytical, humane yet utterly unsentimental in its probing of the characters’ weaknesses and self-deceptions. CAMOUFLAGE has been called “the archetypal Zanussi film” (Alan Pavelin, Talking Pictures). Like several other Zanussi films, it is set in the world of academia--in this case, a summer linguistics seminar that functions as a microcosm of the power games played in business, politics, or any other arena based on hierarchy and advancement. The two main characters are Jarek, an idealistic junior faculty member, and Jakub, a Machiavellian professor who attaches himself to the younger man--perhaps to teach him the ways of the world, perhaps to destroy him. In Polish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (MR)



Sun, Jun 1st at 5:00pm
Mon, Jun 2nd at 6:00pm
Average: 4.5 (4 votes)
  1. 1980, Krzysztof Zanussi, Poland, 90 min.
  2. With Tadeusz Bradecki, Zofia Mrozowska

“A bracing and disturbing film.”
–Janet Maslin, The New York Times

Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes, this uncompromising critique of idealism centers on Witold (Bradecki), a young electrician who yearns for the purity of mathematics and the remote Himalayan peaks where his father, a noted mountain-climber, died under mysterious circumstances. Instead, he finds himself coming unstuck in a world filled with petty corruption, confusion, disease, and injustice. Witold is a believable and original character, exasperating yet oddly noble in his obstinate refusal to play along. In Polish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (MR)



Sun, Jun 8th at 3:00pm
Mon, Jun 9th at 6:00pm
Average: 4.7 (3 votes)
  1. 1960, Andrzej Wajda, Poland, 87 min.
  2. With Tadeusz Lomnicki, Krystyna Stypulkowska

"This is excellent '60s New Wave filmmaking: visually
alluring and intellectually switched-on."
–Jonny Cooper, The Telegraph

Following the weighty historical reconsiderations of his war trilogy, Wajda shifted gears to a contemporary romance that offers a snapshot of disaffected Polish youth in 1960. With intimations of MY NIGHT AT MAUD'S, LAST TANGO IN PARIS, and BEFORE SUNRISE, the film centers on a blasé young Warsaw doctor and a fetching out-of-towner who meet in a smoky jazz club and relocate to his bachelor pad for an all-night session of sexual reconnaissance that includes banter, role-playing, soul-searching, and
erotic games (e.g., a steamy variation on strip poker). The screenplay was co-written by Jerzy Skolimowski, and the supporting cast includes Skolimowski, Zbigniew Cybulski, a startlingly young Roman Polanski, and Krzysztof Komeda, who also composed the cool jazz score. In Polish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (MR)

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Sun, Jun 8th at 4:45pm
Thu, Jun 12th at 7:45pm
Average: 5 (1 vote)
  2. (WESELE)
  1. 1973, Andrzej Wajda, Poland, 107 min.
  2. Daniel Olbrychski, Ewa Zietec

"A visually stunning film that fairly shimmers with
energy and passion."
–Janina Falkowska, Andrzej Wajda: History,
Politics, and Nostalgia in Polish Cinema

In one of his most ambitious and stylish films, Wajda tackles the celebrated 1900 play by Stanislaw Wyspianski, in which an actual wedding witnessed by the author became the springboard for a phantasmagoric journey through Polish myth and history. Emphatically non-stagey, Wajda's adaptation is a kinetic tour-de-force, with the camera constantly in motion and barely an establishing shot to orient us as we are immersed in a whirling maelstrom of dancing, drinking, and dissension. The culture-clash marriage between a citified poet and a peasant girl exposes rifts and fault lines in Polish society, encompassing class, Jews, foreign occupiers, and historical failures that parallel Wajda's critical view of the present-day Poland. In Polish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (MR)



Sun, Jun 15th at 3:00pm
Mon, Jun 16th at 6:00pm
Average: 5 (2 votes)
  2. (POCIAG)
  1. 1959, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Poland, 98 min.
  2. With Lucyna Winnicka, Leon Niemczyk

"Not only one of the best Polish movies of all time,
but also one of the finest achievements of world
cinema of the entire 1950s."
–Michał Oleszczyk,

"Unpredictable and fascinating...A striking blend
of suspense film, character study, and social commentary."
–Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital

This super-stylish meta-mystery riffs on thrillers such as THE LADY VANISHES and THE NARROW MARGIN, depicting a railroad journey filled with menace and intrigue. A train sets out from Lodz to the seaside, and a fugitive wife-killer may be on board. Is it the shades-wearing doctor whose compartment has been double-booked to a mysterious blonde? And what about the blonde's desperate suitor (played by cult actor Zbigniew Cybulski)? Comparisons to Hitchcock are inevitable, but, as some critics have noted, the caustic flair of Clouzot (especially LE CORBEAU) might be even more to the point. The fluid camerawork within the train's cramped quarters is brilliant, but the film's highpoint is a harrowing chase by a mob scrambling through a cemetery at dusk. In Polish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (MR)

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Sun, Jun 15th at 5:00pm
Wed, Jun 18th at 7:45pm
Average: 5 (3 votes)

Zbigniew Banas in person!

  1. 1960, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Poland, 110 min.
  2. With Lucyna Winnicka, Mieczyslaw Volt

"One of the greatest horror movies of all time...
a film of Bergmanesque internal toil and
THE SHINING style haunting visuals."
–Dave Lancaster, Cinemas Online

"Riveting and disturbing...features some of the
most indelible, and impeccably composed, images
I've seen in a long time."
–Adrian Curry, MUBI

A film of enormous erotic and moral tension, MOTHER JOAN is based on the real-life events that inspired numerous works including Aldous Huxley's "The Devils of Loudon" and Ken Russell's THE DEVILS. The young cleric Father Suryn (Volt) is sent to a remote convent where a priest has recently been burned at the stake and the nuns appear to be possessed. Suryn's chief task is to exorcise the Mother Superior (Winnicka), but his confrontations with her and a local rabbi (also played by Volt) shake his faith to the core. Stunningly designed in stark blacks and whites, MOTHER JOAN proposes a profoundly non-dualistic world view, in which the divine cannot be separated from diabolic, nor the joys of the spirit from those of the flesh. In Polish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (MR)

Zbigniew Banas, film critic and instructor of Polish Film at Loyola University, will introduce the Sunday screening and a lead a discussion afterward.

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Sun, Jun 22nd at 3:00pm
Wed, Jun 25th at 6:00pm
Average: 5 (1 vote)
  1. 1972, Janusz Morgenstern, Poland, 96 min.
  2. With Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieslak, Andrzej Malec

"Sensitive, quietly devastating...It's a movie made with deep
intelligence and respect, and one of the Film Foundation
program's secret highlights."
–Max Nelson, Film Comment

This New Wave-ish rediscovery mixes youthful romance, permissive sexuality, biting social criticism, and the American moon landing into an explosive package that managed to slip past the censors in the more permissive climate of Poland's post-1970 political thaw. Unable to get into a university, young lovers Magda (a captivating debut by drop-dead cute Jankowska-Cieslak)
and Andrzej struggle to scrape together enough money to afford an apartment of their own. Economic pressures undermine love and morality alike, as Andrzej becomes a petty thief and gigolo, and Magda's disillusionment causes her to start seeing another man. In Polish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (MR)



Sun, Jun 22nd at 5:00pm
Mon, Jun 23rd at 7:45pm
No votes yet
  1. 1972, Krzysztof Zanussi, Poland, 92 min.
  2. With Stanislaw Latallo, Malgorzata Pritulak

"An idiosyncratic masterpiece... Zanussi's
film is an absolute triumph that feels no less
pertinent and urgent today as it would have
when it was first released."
–Ben Nicholson, CineVue

"Visually complex, incisive, and compassionate."
–Aquarello, Strictly Film School

Life is messy, science is pure...or so it seems to Franciszek, the protagonist of Zanussi's highly original, semi-autobiographical work. Presented in a fragmented, collage-like style, with dollops of documentary and animation, the film follows the wayward course of Franciszek's life as he enters college, embraces physics, climbs mountains, gets a girl pregnant, drops out, becomes a medical guinea-pig, and seeks answers in religion. The title (per St. Augustine) refers to a moment when we grasp truth directly; whether or in what form that moment arrives for the hero are questions raised by the film's haunting, understated conclusion.
In Polish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (MR)



Sun, Jun 29th at 4:15pm
Mon, Jun 30th at 6:30pm
Average: 5 (1 vote)
  1. 1981, Andrzej Wajda, Poland, 153 min.
  2. With Jerzy Radziwilowicz, Krystyna Janda

"MAN OF IRON is more than a film--it's a national conscience."
–J. Hoberman, Village Voice

"**** A fascinating and courageous document."
–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

A stand-alone follow-up to Wajda's MAN OF MARBLE (1977), MAN OF IRON was filmed in the wake of the epochal 1980 Gdansk shipyard strike and in the midst of the birth of Polish democracy. Agnieska, the investigative filmmaker of MAN OF MARBLE, is now married to Tomczyk, the son of the fallen Communist hero of the earlier film. The focus, however, shifts to the morally ambiguous perspective of Winkiel, a corrupt journalist who is hired by the secret police to launch a smear campaign against Tomczyk, a leader of the Solidarity movement. Boldly mixing fact and fiction, with appearances by Lech Walesa and other political leaders, MAN OF IRON is a remarkably vivid and coherent impression of history in the making. Winner of the Cannes Palme d'Or. In Polish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (MR)

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Sun, Jun 29th at 3:00pm
Wed, Jul 2nd at 6:15pm
Average: 5 (2 votes)
  1. 1958, Tadeusz Konwicki, Poland, 61 min.
  2. With Irena Laskowska, Jan Machulski

"Probably my favorite film from the Polish
Masterpieces series so far...The
film gains most of its power from its
extraordinary camerawork; simply put,
these are some of the greatest shots of
beaches ever put onto celluloid."
–Forrest Cardamenis,

A surprise Golden Lion winner at the Venice Film Festival, filmmaker/novelist Konwicki's simple yet mysterious film limits itself to these ingredients: a woman, a man, a deserted beach. On the last day of her vacation, a maturely beautiful woman (Laskowska) is approached by an ardent young man (Machulski) who declares his devotion to her. Still bearing the scars of an unhappy wartime romance, she is both drawn to and wary of his impetuous advances, as they spend a waning afternoon suspended in a timeless realm of sand, sea, and sky, broken only by the vapor trails of jet fighters overhead. The film's stunning use of evocative long shots is best appreciated on a big screen. In Polish with English subtitles. DCP digital. (MR)