By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Chuck Wilson
Founded in 1948 under the Stalinist maxim "Film helps the working class and its Party breed socialism in the working soul," Poland's Lodz Film School became, by the mid 1950s, the unlikely center of a Polish cultural renaissance. A whole generation of postwar filmmakers got their start here, including Wajda, Polanski, Zanussi, and Kieslowski. To mark the school's 50th anniversary, MOMA has assembled a program of 128 student films, many of which have never been screened outside of Poland.
The series's centerpiece, End of the Night, is a 1956 collaboration between eight student writers and directors that dared to tackle teenage sex, jazz parties, and criminal activity at a time when the Polish government denied the existence of juvenile delinquency and decried jazz as a form of enemy propaganda. A sort of Polish Mean Streets, with Polanski as a boyish thug scalping movie tickets, the film in its depiction of violence and gloom was a particular thrill for Polish filmmakers eager to buck the edicts of socialist realism.
Among scores of shorts, Polanski's Break Up the Party(1957) and Marek Piwowski's Fly Catcher(1966) are most true to their school. For Break Up the Party, Polanski apparently hired a street gang to crash a dance he had organized on the school grounds so he could film a brawl with a swing soundtrack. Piwowski's film, meanwhile, is a seamless combination of fact and fiction, a staged conversation piece in which eccentric nonactors carry on inside a café until things reach a fever pitch. On a more somber note, Kieslowski's The Office offers a glimpse of hell in the form of Soviet bureaucracy that seems lifted straight from Kafka's The Trial.
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