Warsaw Nights: Polish cinema screens at the Beverly Arts Center

The romantic comedy and the grandiose epic are genres familiar to most Americans, so much so that we may think of them as indigenous to Hollywood. But however practiced we may be in the fine art of the chick flick, we can hardly claim a monopoly on it, as the schedule for this year’s Polish Film Festival in America shows. Now in its twenty-eighth year, the festival is again bringing more than fifty features, documentaries, and short films from Poland and Eastern Europe to various venues around Chicago. Six of those films will play at the Beverly Arts Center over the course of the next two weeks.

The festival was founded in 1989 by Christopher Kamyszew, who “decided to bring some Polish films to the United States to show Polish culture,” according to PFFA director Ewa Domeredzka. This year she expects about 15,000 people to show up at the festival’s six venues. “These days everything is on computers…It’s harder than it used to be,” she says of attracting viewers. “We’re trying to bring more for the American audience.” Thus, all but a few of the films have subtitles, and a number are in styles that Americans will recognize.

This is true of the first run of films at the Beverly Arts Center, all three of which are comedies. It begins on Tuesday, November 11, with “Lejdis,” a modern riff on the battle of the sexes from the point of view of four independent young women. The film has proven wildly popular in Poland, breaking box-office records on its opening night and garnering interest from foreign producers eager to shoot their own versions. The Wednesday and Thursday night offerings are less promising: two rom-coms in the Hollywood vein, neither of which boasts enough originality to make it worth either the $10 ticket price or the effort of reading subtitles. “Midnight Talks” has its requisite quirky heroine who spends her time sculpting angels out of salt dough until she realizes it’s time to have a baby. Her ad for a sperm donor brings her more than she expects, though, and her (somewhat inexplicable) efforts not to fall in love make up the better part of the movie. “One More Time” is a somewhat clumsy effort to interweave two subplots, the “parallel romantic adventures” of a mother and her teenage daughter as they spend a summer together at a seaside resort. The film’s picturesque Polish setting may be a bigger asset than its plot or character development.

On the following Tuesday, however, the Center will show a film that rivals the biggest Hollywood blockbusters in scale and ambition. “Mongol” is an epic that chronicles the early life of Genghis Khan: his choice of a bride at the age of nine, the flight from his clan following the murder of his father, and his stormy friendship with his blood-brother Jemukha. With a budget of just $20 million, Academy Award-nominated director and co-writer Sergei Bodrov shot the film on the steppes of Kazakhstan, creating battle scenes on par with those of “Lord of the Rings.” He intends it to be the first part of a trilogy based on a recently discovered text entitled “The Secret History of the Mongols.”

The screenings on Wednesday and Thursday are more tragic than epic. “Children of Glory” centers on the Hungarian water polo team in the lead-up to the 1956 Olympics, where it faced the Soviet Union shortly after the violent suppression of Hungary’s attempted revolution. “Katyn,” directed by the renowned Andrzej Wajda, is another Academy Award nominee; it tells the story of the Katyn Forest massacre through the eyes of the women left behind by the 1940 mass execution of 22,000 Soviet prisoners of war.

For those looking to get a taste of authentic Eastern European cinema, these last three films offer the best opportunity. “Some are trying to make things similar to Hollywood,” explains Ewa Domeredzka. “But we have our own European style that’s not so sweet, not always a happy ending. I think that these are the best films–the ones that win awards, that we can be proud of.”
Beverly Art Center, 2407 W. 111th St. Mongol: November 18. Tuesday, 7:30pm. Children of Glory: November 19. Wednesday, 7:30pm. Katyn: November 20. Thursday, 7:30pm. $10. pffamerica.com, beverlyartcenter.com