Weeks in lockdown gave us all the opportunity to brush up on our Central European classics. From Chemielewski’s 1969 How I Unleashed World War II (Jak rozpętałem drugą wojnę światową) to Koterski’s 2002 comedy Day of the Wacko (Dzień świra), here’s our list of ten must-watch cult movies from Poland that anyone should have on their watchlist.
Bad Luck (Zezowate szczescie, 1960) by Andrzej Munk
An indisputable classic of Polish film history admired by filmmakers and historians alike, Bad Luck has inspired vivid, ongoing discussions on what director Andrzej Munk and his work have to say about Polish history, writes EEFB.
Set in Poland from 1930 to 1950, the movie follows the life of Jan Piszczyk, played by Bogumil Kobiela, a cowardly opportunist, who tries to survive the war without getting involved while at the same time creating various myths and stories about himself.
For many, the movie is a comedic criticism of Poland’s national “mythomania” and its self-proclaimed bravery and wartime heroism.
How I Unleashed World War II (Jak rozpętałem drugą wojnę światową, 1969) by Tadeusz Chmielewski
Often aired on Polish TV, How I Unleashed World War II is based on Kazimierz Sławiński’s novel “Przygody kanoniera Dolasa” (The adventures of Dolas the cannoneer) and is one of Poland’s most popular cult comedies.
Divided into three parts, the movie tells the story of a Polish soldier who, convinced that he started the Second World War, tries to redeem himself at all costs by travelling around Nazi-occupied Europe and northern Africa in an attempt to reach the Polish Army in exile.
Originally shot in black and white, the movie was digitally remastered and colorized in 2000.
The Cruise (Rejs, 1970) by Marek Piwowski
Considered by many as one of the earliest cult films in Polish cinema, The Cruise turns a weekend river cruise into a hilarious parody of the communist system.
In the movie, a nameless stowaway, played by Stanisław Tym, who sneaks aboard a cruise ship on the Vistula River, is mistaken for a Communist Party cultural coordinator. Gladly taking on his new role, he quickly gets everyone under his thumb, creating his own dictatorship.
It was shot with an almost entirely amateur cast, including Jan Himilsbach, who formerly carved tombstones.
Hydrozagadka (1971) by Andrzej Kondratiuk
Full of nonsense dialogues and surrealist humor, Hydrozagadka was created as a Communist spoof of the American ideals glorified in Superman and other superhero films, which humorously parodies aspects of Polish life under Communist rule.
With all the water in Warsaw mysteriously disappearing during the summer heat wave, authorities secretly call upon As (Ace), a superhero who passes his days living as a mild-mannered engineer, to try to solve the mystery.
The movie premiered on Polish television.
Teddy Bear (Miś, 1980) by Stanislaw Bareja
Much like The Cruise and Hydrozagadka, Teddy Bear uses surreal and absurd humor to shed light on the absurdity of living under the Communist regime and to get past censorship.
It follows state-sponsored sports club manager, played by Stanisław Tym, who races his ex-wife to London to withdraw an enormous sum of money from their joint savings account. This takes him on a hilarious journey through the government’s corruption, absurd bureaucracy, bribery and other general nonsense that pervaded in Poland at the time
It is a sharp satire of Polish daily reality in the eighties.
Sexmission (Seksmisja, 1984) by Juliusz Machulski
Very popular in Poland as well as in Hungary, Sexmission is a cult comedy science fiction film. A hidden political satire, it contains numerous subtle allusions to the realities of the communist-bloc society which passed through government censors.
It tells the story of two scientists who are placed in hibernation and are woken up fifty years later in a new underground society composed exclusively of women after World War III wiped out the surface of the Earth.
It was surprisingly proclaimed to be the best Polish film of the last 30 years in a 2005 joint poll by readers of three popular film magazines.
Pigs (Psy, 1992) by Władysław Pasikowski
One of the most important Polish films of the 1990s, Pigs was a huge success, both artistically and commercially, and triggered violent critical reactions to its brutal vision of Poland’s post-transformation reality.
It follows Franz and Olo, two former partners of the communist secret police (SB), after the fall of communism, as one is incorporated in the country’s new police force and the other joins a criminal gang, consisting mainly of ex-SB agents. The two former partners eventually come head to head.
Two sequels have followed: Pigs 2: The Last Blood in 1994, and more recently, Pigs 3, in 2020. poland cult movies
The Hitman (Kiler, 1997) by Juliusz Machulski
Unique in style and approach, Kiler is a humorous yet tasteful gangster comedy which enjoyed great box-office success in Poland after its release.
It tells the story of an innocent taxi driver named Jerzy Kiler, played by Cezary Pazura, who is mistaken for a notorious mercenary killer by the police as well as the mafia, and ends up in prison before being sprung by a mob boss.
A satirical image of Poland’s new reality in the 1990s and “a distorted mirror that reflects the capitalist Poland”, according to culture.pl, it is one of the greatest hits of its times. A sequel was released in 1999.
Day of the Wacko (Dzień swira, 2002) by Marek Koterski
A day in the life of Adaś Miauczyński, played by Marek Kondrat, a divorced and frustrated Polish language teacher suffering from OCD is turned into a chain of unpleasant confrontations with the unbearable outside world.
An irreverent social comedy about the perceived indignities of contemporary Polish society, Marek Koterski’s cinematographic self-help comedy was turned into “a national psychotherapy session” as his misanthropist anti-hero won over the hearts of mass audiences (culture.pl).
The film picked up several awards at the Polish Film Awards, including best actor and best screenplay. poland cult movies
The Wedding (Wesele, 2004) by Wojciech Smarzowski
One of the most depressing Polish comedies and an on-screen diagnosis of ‘Polishness’, according to culture.pl, The Wedding is a sharp critical look at Polish society.
It follows a wealthy small-town crook, played by Marian Dziedziel, who organizes his daughter’s extravagant wedding reception in a small town in present-day Poland, as unexpected events start to disrupt the smooth proceeding of the event.
Although based on an original screenplay, the movie is a direct reference to Stanisław Wyspiański’s 1901 play of the same name, and Andrzej Wajda‘s 1971 on-screen adaptation, which describes Poland’s drive toward self-determination at the beginning of the 20th century. poland cult movies