South Korean film Parasite made history by becoming the first non-English language film to be named best picture at the Oscars. Bong Joon-ho’s thriller also won best international feature film, beating Polish Oscar nominee Corpus Christi.
This week, Kafkadesk looks back at all the previous Central European nominations, starting today with this year’s unfortunate nominee: Poland.
Poland has submitted films for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film – previously known as Best Foreign Language Film – on a regular basis since 1964, with a total of twelve nominations and only one win: Ida, in 2015, directed by Paweł Pawlikowski.
In addition to a first nomination for Knife in the Water in 1964, Roman Polański’s films which include Chinatown (1974), Tess (1979) and The Pianist (2002), won and were nominated for many more Academy Awards after the Polish-born director emigrated to the United States and are thus not included on this list.
2015: Ida, directed by Paweł Pawlikowski
Starring Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza, Ida is set in Poland in 1962 and is about a young woman on the verge of taking her vows as a Catholic nun.
The movie received widespread acclaim, with critics praising its writing and cinematography. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 95% approval rating, based on 148 reviews, with an average rating of 8.3/10. The website’s critical consensus reads, “Empathetically written, splendidly acted, and beautifully photographed, Ida finds director Pawel Pawlikowski revisiting his roots to powerful effect.”
A. O. Scott of the New York Times writes that “with breathtaking concision and clarity, Mr. Pawlikowski penetrates the darkest, thorniest thickets of Polish history, reckoning with the crimes of Stalinism and the Holocaust.” He concludes that “Mr. Pawlikowski has made one of the finest European films (and one of the most insightful films about Europe, past and present) in recent memory.” David Denby of The New Yorker has called Ida a “compact masterpiece”.
1964: Knife in the Water (Nóż w wodzie), directed by Roman Polanski
Starring Leon Niemczyk, Jolanta Umecka and Zygmunt Malanowicz, Polanski’s first feature film Knife in the Water features three characters in a story of rivalry and sexual tension.
It was the first Polish film to be nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1963 Academy Awards. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 100% approval rating based on 33 reviews, with an average score of 8.29/10.
The film has been included in lists of the best debut feature films and was ranked number 61 in Empire magazine’s “The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema” in 2010. In the 2015 poll conducted by the Polish Museum of Cinematography in Łódź, Knife in the Water was ranked as the fourth greatest Polish film of all time.
1967: Pharaoh (Faraon), directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz
Pharaoh was adapted from the eponymous novel by the Polish writer Bolesław Prus. Starring Jerzy Zelnik as Ramses XIII, it is set in ancient Egypt as that country experiences internal stresses and external threats culminating in the fall of its Twentieth Dynasty and New Kingdom.
Two of the many consultants on the film were Poland’s Professor Kazimierz Michałowski, a world authority in Egyptology and Shadi Abdel Salam, an Egyptian film director and costume designer, who had consulted on the 1963 Cleopatra.
Pharaoh is among 21 digitally restored classic Polish films chosen for Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema.
1975: The Deluge (Potop), directed by Jerzy Hoffman
Based on the 1886 historical novel of the same name by Henryk Sienkiewicz, The Deluge tells a story of the fictional soldier Andrzej Kmicic, played by Daniel Olbrychski, during the Swedish invasion of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the years 1655 to 1658, known as The Deluge.
The film is the third most popular in the history of Polish cinema, with more than 27.6 million tickets sold in its native country by 1987, with a further 30.5 million having been sold in the Soviet Union.
While the original film was over 5 hours long, a new cut named Potop Redivivus two hours shorter than the original was released in 2014, for the film’s 40th anniversary.
1976: The Promised Land (Ziemia obiecana), directed by Andrzej Wajda
Based on a novel by Władysław Reymont, The Promised Land is set in the industrial city of Łódź and tells the story of a Pole, a German, and a Jew struggling to build a factory in the raw world of 19th-century capitalism.
Starring Daniel Olbrychski, Andrzej Seweryn and Wojciech Pszoniak, it was Andrzej Wajda’s first Academy Award nomination. The movie was ranked first on the list of the greatest Polish films of all time in the 2015 poll conducted by the Polish Museum of Cinematography in Łódź.
At the 9th Moscow International Film Festival in 1975, the film won the Golden Prize.
1977: Nights and Days (Noce i dnie), directed by Jerzy Antczak
Described by The Washington Post as “Poland’s Gone With the Wind”, Nights and Days is an epic family saga based on Maria Dąbrowska’s eponymous novel. Set in Kalisz in the second half of the 19th century, the film presents a unique portrait of an oppressed society,as told through the struggles of the Niechcic family, gainst the backdrop of the January Uprising of 1863 and World War I.
The cinematographic version is a condensation of the 12 part award winning TV serial of the same title and using the same cast and producers. It was the highest-grossing film in Poland’s history upon its release.
The film score was composed by Waldemar Kazanecki, which includes a Viennese waltz that is frequently played at Polish weddings as the first dance of bride and groom.
1980: The Maids of Wilko (Panny z Wilka), directed by Andrzej Wajda
Based on a popular short story written in the early 1930s by the famous Polish poet Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, who even appears as himself near the end of the movie, The Maids of Wilko tells the story of Wiktor Ruben, played by Daniel Olbrychski, who returns to the village where he spent his youth and gets involved with a family of five women who had been in love with him at one time or another.
After a string of “hard-hitting political works that roused the censors’ ire and brought him into the international spotlight”, Wajda deliberately changed pace with this “wistful, elegiac, almost Chekhovian recreation of a long-vanished Poland”, says Film at Lincoln Center.
It lost the Oscar to Germany’s The Tin Drum, directed and co-written by Volker Schlöndorff, also starring Daniel Olbrychski.
1982: Man of Iron (Człowiek z żelaza), directed by Andrzej Wajda
Starring Jerzy Radziwiłowicz, Man of Iron depicts the Solidarity labour movement’s first success in persuading the Polish government to recognize the workers’ right to an independent union. It continues the story of Maciej Tomczyk, the son of Mateusz Birkut, the protagonist of Wajda’s earlier film, Man of Marble.
The film was made during the brief thaw in Communist censorship that appeared between the formation of Solidarity in August 1980 and its suppression in December 1981, when it was banned for being remarkably critical of the Communist regime.
It won the Palme d’Or at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival.
2008: Katyń, directed by Andrzej Wajda
Based on the book Post Mortem: The Story of Katyn by Andrzej Mularczyk, tells the story of the Katyn massacre, the mass execution of Polish POW officers and citizens ordered by the Soviet authorities in 1940, relayed through the eyes of the women, the mothers, wives, and daughters of the victims executed on Stalin’s orders.
Andrzej Wajda’s fourth and final nomination, the film was made under the honorary patronage of conservative President Lech Kaczyński, and has drawn controversary over how the then Polish authorities tried to use the film during the election campaign.
The Russian government, published a short comment by Alexander Sabov claiming that the evidence for the Soviet responsibility in the massacre was unreliable. In April 2009, the Chinese authorities also banned the movie from being distributed in the country due to its anti-communist ideology.
2012: In Darkness (W ciemności), directed by Agnieszka Holland
Based on true events during German occupation of Poland, In Darkness tells the story of Leopold Socha, a sewer worker in the Polish city of Lwów, who used his knowledge of the city’s sewer system to shelter a group of Jews who had escaped from the Lwów Ghetto during the Holocaust in Poland.
A majority of film critics have given the film a positive review. The film has a 88% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and an average Metacritic review score of 74/100. Ty Burr of The Boston Globe called the film “a harrowing Holocaust tale, but one that speaks to humankind’s capacity to endure, to fight on in the face of terrible cruelty”, adding that Holland “elicits taut performances from a strong cast”. while David Denby of The New Yorker called it “the most volatile that Holland has directed, with a distinguished, hardworking cast of German and Polish actors, noting that “honesty is the movie’s greatest strength”.
Ella Taylor of NPR wrote In Darkness “satisfies for the intensity of the performances and for the artful contrasting of life on the teeming streets of L’viv with life and death in the dim, rat-infested sewers”, adding that it “is often a thrilling adventure picture, as if Anne Frank had found an Inglourious Basterd to help her make The Great Escape”.
2019: Cold War (Zimna wojna), directed by Paweł Pawlikowski
Loosely inspired by the lives of Pawlikowski’s parents, Cold War is set in Poland and France during the Cold War from the late 1940s until the 1960s and explores the love story of a musical director, played by Tomasz Kot, who discovers a young singer, played by Joanna Kulig.
A gripping drama set against the backdrop of communist Poland and love story spanning several decades, Cold War notably stood out as the biggest winner of the European Film Award, winning five of the most prestigious prizes: Best Movie, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Screenplay and Best Editor.
Despite being nominated for three Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director and Best Cinematography categories, an unprecedented achievement for a Polish movie, Pawlikowski’s second nomination failed to win any, losing in all three categories to Roma, the night’s big winner directed by Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron.
2020: Corpus Christi (Boże Ciało), directed by Jan Komasa
Inspired by a true story, Corpus Christi is the third feature film of Polish director Jan Komasa. It tells the story of 20-year-old Daniel, played by Bartosz Bielenia, a young offender who, after being released from prison and experiencing a spiritual transformation during his incarceration, “accidentally” poses as a priest.
An “original and absorbing” movie according to Hollywood Reporter critic David Rooney, Corpus Christi tackles sensitive topics and has raised controversy in Catholic Poland where it has been seen by over a million viewers.
Leading up to its nomination for Best International Film at this year’s Oscars, the film won many awards, including ten at the Gdynia Film Festival, including Best Director, Best Script, Journalists’ Award and Audience Award, the Silver Star and Best Actor Award for at the El Gouna Film Festival, and a Special Mention at the Reykjavik International Film Festival.
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While you’re at it, don’t forget to also check out our top 10 movies shot in Poland.