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Watch hundreds of Polish movies for free online: feature films, documentaries, animations, and more.

The Polish film industry has produced some internationally acclaimed films authors, including Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Kieślowski and Roman Polanski, but a handful of critically acclaimed directors cannot represent the scope of a national cinema. Without a broader appreciation of the history of Polish cinema, we lack crucial context for understanding its most famous artists. Now, a new archive called 35mm.online offers us hundreds of films and animations from Polish filmmakers, a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the country’s cinematic art like never before.

The history of Polish cinema can be divided into films made before World War II and those made after, when the country came under strict communist control. The early period includes a silent film industry that began with the origins of cinema itself and made a star of actress Pola Negri, whose films screened in Berlin with German-language title cards. Many films made in the age of sound were helmed, no pun intended, by filmmaker Aleksander Ford, a champion of communist aesthetic theory. “Cinema cannot be a cabaret,” he once told the Soviet movie theater magazine, “it must be a school”. Ford made realistic films about social issues and propaganda films during the war.

In 1945, Ford took control of the Polish film industry as director of the nationalized state production company, Film Polski. The company had a monopoly on production, distribution and exhibition, and in Poland, as in most Eastern Bloc countries during the Cold War, the challenge of escaping censorship placed much more pressure on filmmakers as market demands. “Under the communist regime,” writes Dark Kuzma in Movie Maker, “the Polish authorities waged war on filmmakers…. Any criticism of the Soviet Union or the Polish People’s Republic has been silenced,” beginning with a 1945 film titled 2×2=4by Antoni Bohdziewicz.

Ford did not last long as a director, although he returned in the 1950s to help advise and oversee productions. Film Polski became the Central Film Board in 1951 and imposed even stricter controls on Polish filmmakers. But as control of the film industry became centralized, university bureaucrats took over from savvy filmmakers like Ford. “Polish censors”, notes Kuzma, “were very literary, able to decipher even the most sophisticated ‘subversions’ in books, diaries and other written forms – but they were quite powerless when it came to evaluating images.”

Polish filmmakers couldn’t do any overt narrative criticism and “were forced to learn to say something without saying it directly, to portray a reality that didn’t officially exist,” says Oscar-nominated Polish cinematographer Ryszard Lenczewski. Necessity led to a creative symbolic language that viewers had to decode:

It was a responsibility we all felt: to create layered images, two-way images that dared viewers to interpret them differently. It was all in the details, like using larger lenses to show things you wouldn’t otherwise be able to show. Something may be happening in the background, slightly out of focus. Sometimes all the movie needed was to not include something or someone in the frame.

The need for clandestine cinematographic methods became fully apparent in 1982, when a commission met and determined even stricter rules for Polish cinema, partly in reaction to filmmaker Ryszard Bugajski’s proposal. Examination, a ruthless portrayal of “Stalin-era political life”. (See an excerpted scene above). A transcript of the proceedings, which included Bugajski, left the country in secret and was reported in The New York Times. Bugajski was worried his movie wouldn’t come out, and he was right, though. Examination released as a VHS samizdat for years, achieving cult status. It was finally released years later and would go on to become one of the most popular films of the time.

After ExaminationPolish filmmakers began employing even more distinctive symbolic vocabularies, from the wildly popular 1984 science fiction satire Sex mission (trailer above), to the use of highly saturated colors, a characteristic shared by so many Polish films of the 1980s and 1990s and which characterizes the work of Kieślowski, perhaps the most revered Polish director among Polish and non-Polish moviegoers. Best known for his early 90s trilogy Three colors: blue, red and Whitethe director began using specific colors to convey meaning earlier in his career.

Cameraman Sławomir Idziak, who worked on Kieślowski in 1988 A short film about the murder (see trailer above), recalls: “I shot the film in this hideous greenish-yellow color to subtly hint at the director’s idea that the country could be a killer, just like the main character . I remember a critic in Cannes who wrote that because the screen takes on the color of urine, it sums up the reality of communist Poland. It was wonderful.”

https://youtu.be/0TLfIVR4bK0

Filmmaker Barbara Sass went on to make several films in which specific colors play an important role, beginning with her 1980 debut, festival-winning, Without love. She surrounds her yellow-haired lead character, played by Dorota Stalińska, with sickly hospital yellow in a scene taken from the clips above, then immerses her in the dim red light of a photographic darkroom. The films above are just a small sample of the nearly 4,000 Polish films hosted on 35mm.online, a joint project of the Polish Film Institute and “one of the oldest film studios in Poland, WytwόRNA movieόw Dokumentalnych i Fabularnych (WFDiF), (Documentary and Feature Film Studios),” notes The First News.

The collection includes 160 feature films, 71 documentaries, 474 animated shorts and 10 animated feature films. We’ve barely scratched the surface of Polish film history and there are still hundreds of animations to watch (read some of their grim descriptions on MetaFilter). So look at 35mm.online.

Note: To enable English subtitles, click the “Enable subtitles” button under each movie. (The first button.) Then go to the “Settings” button and choose English subtitles.

via metafilter

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, North Carolina. Follow him on @jdmagness.