The antidote to blockbuster season: Martin Scorsese’s ‘Masterpieces of Polish Cinema’ series

mspresents_poster.02Director Martin Scorsese is a busy man: You’re probably familiar with the mischief he got up to with Leonardo DiCaprio on Wall Street recently, but in the past six months he has also overseen the initial release of the World Cinema Project on Criterion DVD and Blu-Ray, a collection of neglected classic movies from Mexico, India, Bangladesh, Morocco and Turkey. The World Cinema Project is Scorsese’s ongoing effort to restore films in countries where the native film industries are too financially strapped to do much preservation.

Poster designed by Andrzej Pagowski.

Poster designed by Andrzej Pagowski.

Then there’s the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema series, Scorsese’s personal selection of 21 classics from Poland, which played in New York earlier this year and which arrives in L.A. with ideal timing: perfect counter-programming to the onset of blockbuster season. These are movies of exceptional historical sweep and artistic reach; the other films playing around town during this series may look timid by comparison.

Some of the filmmakers, like Andrzej Wajda and Krzysztof Kieslowski, are well-known to U.S. audiences — or they once were, at any rate, and maybe this series will encourage a younger generation of cineastes to discover them. Some of the other films are cult classics, like The Saragossa Manuscript (Jerry Garcia’s favorite movie), which stoners everywhere really need to see.

mspresents_poster01The series runs throughout May and June, with the lion’s share of the screenings at the L.A. County Museum of Art (LACMA), while the more mind-bending entries fittingly play at the Cinefamily.

L.A. residents may recall that it was four years ago that LACMA and Scorsese got into a public tiff when Scorsese published an open letter to the L.A. Times, expressing his concerns about LACMA Director Michael Govan’s stated plans to overhaul LACMA’s (arguably) moribund film program. Since then, LACMA’s film programming has been more lively and unpredictable, but erratic — too many of the screenings lend the museum’s prestige to mere promotional events, particularly in the run-up to awards season each fall. The Masterpieces of Polish Cinema series is a boost to the credibility of LACMA’s film program — and a gift to local movie lovers.

All the movies will be shown in new DCP restorations.

COMPLETE SCHEDULE: (Complete cast info and capsule descriptions are available on the LACMA and Cinefamily websites.)

THE ILLUMINATION poster designed by Franciszek Starowieyski.

THE ILLUMINATION poster designed by Franciszek Starowieyski.

Fri., May 2nd at LACMA:

Camouflage  7:30 p.m.

1977; Krzysztof Zanussi, director.

The Constant Factor  9:30 p.m.

1980; Krzysztof Zanussi, director.

Krzysztof Zanussi will appear at LACMA for a conversation with Agnieska Holland.

Sat., May 3rd at the Cinefamily, 4:30 p.m.:

The Illumination

1973; Kryzstof Zanussi. The director will attend this screening.

Fri., May 9th at LACMA:

Zbigniew Cybulski in ASHES AND DIAMONDS (1958). Copyright the Criterion Collection.

Zbigniew Cybulski in ASHES AND DIAMONDS (1958). © Copyright the Criterion Collection.

Ashes and Diamonds  7:30 p.m.

1958; Andrzej Wajda, director. Martin Scorsese: “I saw Ashes and Diamonds for the first time in 1961. And even back then, during that period when we expected to be astonished at the movies, when things were happening all over the world, it shocked me. It had to do with the look, both immediate and haunted, like a nightmare that won’t stop unfolding; the sense of maddening insanity and absurdity, the tragedy of political infighting on the brink of peace and coming of age during wartime; and the beauty of the lead actor, Zbigniew Cybulski. The film has the power of a hallucination: I can close my eyes and certain images will flash back to me with the force they had when I saw them for the first time over 50 years ago.”
(From Scorsese’s list of Top 10 Criterion films.)

Night Train  9:25 p.m.

1959; Jerzy Kawalerowicz, director. Alfred Hitchcock’s name is invoked in almost every writeup about this classic thriller.

Fri., May 16th at LACMA:

INNOCENT SORCERERS (1960) poster designed by Wojciech Fangor.

Andrzej Wajda’s INNOCENT SORCERERS (1960). Poster design by Wojciech Fangor.

Innocent Sorcerers  7:30 p.m.

1960; Andrzej Wajda, director. Per LACMA, this sounds like a lot of fun: “The French New Wave meets postwar Warsaw in this freewheeling boy-meets-girl comedy about a bohemian doctor-cum-jazz-drummer and his long, crazy night with a gamine beauty.” Co-starring Roman Polanski (!) as a jazz band leader.

The Promised Land  9:10 p.m.

1975; Andrzej Wajda, director. A lavish, 170-minute epic, nominated for Best Foreign Film.

Not the TV version: Kieslowski's A SHORT FILM ABOUT KILLING expands on DEKALOG FIVE.

Not the TV version: Kieslowski’s A SHORT FILM ABOUT KILLING expands on DEKALOG FIVE.

Fri., May 23rd at LACMA:

Blind Chance  7:30 p.m.

1981/87; Krzysztof Kieślowski, director.

Kieslowśki was fascinated with the whims of chance: the theme would recur in his better-known French co-productions like The Double Life of Veronique and the Three Colors trilogy. Here a man rushes to catch a train, and we see three variations on what happens if he makes the train or not. Banned by the Communist government for six years. This restored print reportedly features never-before-seen footage.

A Short Film About Killing  9:45 p.m.

1988; Krzysztof Kieślowski, director. An expanded, even more harrowing version of Dekalog Five (“Thou shalt not kill”): An aimless youth kills a taxi driver in Warsaw for no apparent reason other than misanthropy, and the state sentences him to death by hanging. Both murders are shown in unsparing detail. Features some of cinematographer Slawomir Idziak’s most expressive work; he used 600 custom-made filters to realize the director’s vision of a “crueller, duller and emptier” world.

Miroslaw Baca in A SHORT FILM ABOUT KILLING. Copyright So-and-So.

Miroslaw Baca in A SHORT FILM ABOUT KILLING. © Copyright Janus Films.

Fri., May 30th at LACMA:

Was Jerry Garcia a fan of this movie too? 1973 Polish poster for THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM designed by Franciszek Starowieyski.

Was Jerry Garcia a fan of this movie too? 1973 poster for THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM, designed by Franciszek Starowieyski.

The Hourglass Sanatorium  7:30 p.m.

1973; Wojciech Has, director. “A tour de force of atmospherics and otherworldly set design,” drawn from the short stories of Bruno Schulz, and winner of the Jury Prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival. Has had to smuggle a copy of the film out of Poland to submit it to Cannes; after he won the Jury Prize, the Polish government banned him from working in the film industry for 10 years.

Also plays at the Cinefamily, June 8th through June 11th  (see below).

Mother Joan of the Angels  9:45 p.m.

1961; Jerzy Kawalerowicz, director.

Sun., June 1st through Tue., June 3rd at the Cinefamily:

saragossa.us.1990sThe Saragossa Manuscript  7:45 p.m.

1965; Wojciech Has, director. One of the greatest head trips in movie history; its fans included Luis Bunuel and Jerry Garcia, who liked it so much he bought his own print. Flashbacks within flashbacks and dreams within dreams, burrowing thorough hundreds of years of history.

Tue., June 3rd at LACMA:

Man of Iron  1:00 p.m.

1981; Andrzej Wajda, director. A shipyard strike leads to the birth of the Solidarity movement. Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

Andrzej Wajda's 1981 Cannes prize winner (l.), not to be confused with another landmark of world cinema (r.)

Andrzej Wajda’s 1981 Cannes prize winner MAN OF IRON (l.), not to be confused with another landmark of world cinema (r.)

Sun., June 8th through Wed., June 11th at the Cinefamily:

The Hourglass Sanatorium  7:30 p.m.

From Wojciech Has' THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM (1973).

From Wojciech Has’ THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM (1973). © Copyright Mr. Bongo Films.

1973; Wojciech Has, director. “A tour de force of atmospherics and otherworldly set design,” drawn from the short stories of Bruno Schulz, and winner of the Jury Prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival. Has had to smuggle a copy of the film out of Poland to submit it to Cannes; after he won the Jury Prize, the Polish government banned him from working in the film industry for 10 years.

Tue., June 10th at LACMA:

Black Cross  1:00 p.m.

1960; Aleksander Ford, director. This medieval epic is the biggest box-office hit in the history of Polish cinema.

Tue., June 17th at LACMA:

Pharaoh  1:00 p.m.

1966; Jerzy Kawelrowicz, director. Per the LACMA website: “Filmed extensively on location in Uzbekistan and Egypt, with a cast of thousands” (!).

Original Polish poster designed by Roman Cieslewicz.

Original Polish poster designed by Roman Cieslewicz.

Tue., June 24th at LACMA:

Eroica  1:00 p.m.

1958; Andrzej Munk, director. Per LACMA’s capsule description, Eroica is in part about “a cowardly bon vivant who bumbles his way through the doomed Warsaw Uprising” — and it’s a black comedy.

Jump  2:35 p.m.

1965; Tadeusz Konwicki, director. Zbigniew Cybulski stars in “a Kafkaesque tale.”

Visit mspresents.com for news about more Masterpieces of Polish Cinema screenings across the U.S. and more info about the DCP restorations.

Below you can watch a three-minute trailer for the series, in which Martin Scorsese talks about what these films mean to him:

Feel free to weigh in