REVENGE on the Present: Heritage cinema in Poland

Andrzej Wajda directing Roman Polanski in <i>Revenge</i>

Andrzej Wajda directing Roman Polanski in Revenge

Andrzej Wajda’s first film of the 21st century, a period picture Zemja (Revenge) was a hit in Poland but made less of a splash overseas, even despite the casting of fellow Polish master Roman Polanski. A review by Janina Falkowski in Kinokultura offers a helpful way into the movie by situating it in the context of recent Polish cinema, specifically touching on a trend of the past decade in Poland called “heritage cinema.” Such cinema, according to Falkowski, “constitutes a sort of response to the difficult times of post-communist Poland:”

In 1990s Poland, disorder and uncertainty in politics created economic and political chaos. Several quickly and unexpectedly changed governments, each introducing confusing fiscal policies, proved particularly challenging to the middle-aged and the elderly. These heritage films, then, referring to and glorifying the past in Poland, promised a relief from everyday reality. As Wajda states in the context of the production of Pan Tadeusz, he wanted to “retreat from present-day Poland, which he finds deeply disappointing and disturbing, and to re-create the experience of belonging to one community or nation; an experience which, in his opinion, was destroyed after the introduction of martial law in Poland”.

These films must also be seen in the context of nostalgia, “the longing for return to an idealized ‘home’ or nostos”… Revenge is deeply nostalgic in its loving portrayal of the details from the epoch, the careful depiction of its bad-tempered characters, and in its exact rendering of the elaborate verse of the original play. As an example of “heritage cinema,” Revenge, in particular, is also profoundly didactic: Wajda openly addresses Poles via the character of Cześnik, looking straight into the eye of the camera. In his diatribe about the lack of concord between neighbours, Cześnik scolds not only the inhabitants of the castle but also the spectators of the film. In this, Revenge upholds the dominant Polish conservative ideology that, according to Mazierska, uses heritage cinema to “assert Polish identity, which is in a state of crisis”

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