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Polish Film Festival in America

The 24th annual fest features the latest from Piotr Trzaskalski


Presented by the Society for Arts, the 24th Polish Film Festival in America presents new work from Poland and by Polish filmmakers around the world.

Big Love Reminiscent of Nicolas Roeg's Bad Timing (1980), this sexually explicit art movie jumps back and forth between two story lines, one tracing the obsessive affair between a teenage music student (Aleksandra Hamkalo) and a biochemist (Antoni Pawlicki) some ten years her senior, and the other chronicling the police investigation that ensues after the man has murdered the girl. Writer-director Barbara Bialowas seems more concerned with style than substance: her movie is full of pretentious flourishes (music-video numbers, time-lapse photography, oversaturated color) that distract from the characterization. This is never dull, however, and the two leads deliver highly charged performances. In Polish with subtitles. Ben Sachs 75 min. Thu 11/8, 8:45 PM, Facets Cinematheque; Sat 11/10, 8 PM, Rosemont 18; and Sun 11/11, 6 PM, Pickwick

Courage This dark fable by writer-director Greg Zglinski recalls the philosophical dramas of Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Zanussi, raising complex moral questions but refusing to provide any answers. Two grown brothers—one a college graduate, the other a tradesman—constantly lock horns over how to manage the family business; when they stumble upon a violent incident, they discover just how different they've become. This is consistently surprising, and in contrast to most suspense films, the plot twists tend to reveal character rather than incident. Yet its peripheral treatment of the men's professional life pales in comparison to how Kieslowski and Zanussi often made their characters' jobs intrinsic to their identity. In Polish with subtitles. 83 min. Ben Sachs Mon 11/5, 7 PM, Facets Cinematheque; Wed 11/7, 8 PM, Rosemont 18; and Wed 11/14, 7 PM, Pickwick

Elles Juliette Binoche stars as a busy mother and professional journalist whose research on Parisian coeds who moonlight as prostitutes forces her to reevaluate her own relationships with men (especially her distracted husband and two troublesome sons). Meanwhile each of the young women providing her with material (Joanna Kulig, Anais Demoustier) meets with a series of moderately attractive men in swank hotel rooms until she receives an unpleasant comeuppance (one in the form of a wine bottle). We're clearly supposed to find the johns repellent, yet the explicit sex scenes are filmed like high-toned erotica, the better to emphasize the women's enjoyment and control of the situation. Writer-director Malgorzata Szumowska breaks past the facile moralizing only once, when Binoche, visiting her elderly father, tenderly rubs his feet. In French with subtitles. J.R. Jones NC-17, 99 min. Mon 11/5, 8 PM, Rosemont 18; Tue 11/6, 8:45 PM, Facets Cinematheque; and Wed 11/14, 8:45 PM, Pickwick

Fear of Falling Bartosz Konopka wrote and directed this 2011 drama about a TV news reporter (Marcin Dorocinski) estranged from his schizophrenic father (Krzysztof Stroinski). As the old man's condition deteriorates, the son conspires to sell his father's apartment and institutionalize him, but then, overwhelmed by guilt, he whisks the old man away to a mountain resort in hope of mending their relationship. Crisply photographed by Piotr Niemyjski, the film is easy on the eyes, but the script is overwrought and lacks character detail. Konopka's previous film, an Oscar-nominated documentary about the wild rabbits that lived in the infamous "Death Strip" behind the Berlin Wall, revealed a burgeoning talent, but this trite effort is a step in the wrong direction. In Polish with subtitles. Drew Hunt 88 min. Wed 11/7, 7 PM, Facets Cinematheque; Fri 11/9, 7 PM, Pickwick; and Thu 11/15, 8 PM, Rosemont 18

My Father's Bike Jazz legend Michal Urbaniak makes his acting debut as a cranky, retired clarinetist whose wife leaves him after decades of marriage. When his successful pianist son (Artur Zmijewski) and unruly teenage grandson (Krzysztof Chodorowski) reluctantly come to his side, a lifetime's worth of unresolved issues and buried secrets come to light. The third feature from director Piotr Trzaskalski, this sentimental crowd-pleaser spreads the schmaltz a little too thick and lacks the stylistic flourishes of Trzaskalski's FIPRESCI award winners Edi (2002) and The Master (2005). But there's real pleasure in watching the interactions among the three leads as Trzaskalski rhythmically orchestrates their complicated feelings toward one another. The jazzy soundtrack, featuring some of Urbaniak's famous violin-fusion work from the 1970s, is a nice touch. Drew Hunt 90 min. Fri 11/2, 7 PM, Rosemont 18

Simple Desires This subdued drama by writer-director Marek Stacharski juggles three familiar situations: a middle-class husband and father, hoping to improve his family's financial lot, gets involved in a series of shady business deals; his underemployed wife struggles to find a better job; and their teenage son falls under the influence of a gang of delinquents. The results are earnest but, absent any distinguishing thematic or psychological nuance, instantly forgettable. The movie is most interesting for its images of Przemysl, a small city in southeastern Poland that's dense with historic landmarks. In Polish with subtitles. Ben Sachs 85 min. Mon 11/5, 7 PM, and Sun 11/11, 4 PM, Society for Arts, and Mon 11/12, 8:45 PM, Pickwick

Supermarket A veteran security guard, facing dismissal if he doesn't bust enough shoplifters, turns hypervigilant and transforms the busy supermarket where he works into a little police state. A number of recent comedies from eastern Europe have considered how cultural habits formed under communism continue to thrive under capitalism; this Polish thriller is generally humorless but still advances the theme persuasively. Writer-director Machiej Zak ratchets up the suspense as the antihero's bad intentions snowball into a crisis; the movie illustrates how one man's demand for order can poison an entire community. In Polish with subtitles. Ben Sachs 81 min. Thu 11/8, 8 PM, Rosemont 18; Fri 11/9, 7 PM, Facets Cinematheque; and Tue 11/13, 7 PM, Pickwick

The Woman in the Fifth A broke novelist (Ethan Hawke) moves to Paris in hope of reuniting with his estranged daughter, but instead he ends up getting involved with various shadowy characters. Writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski (My Summer of Love) adapted a novel by Douglas Kennedy, and unlike most literary adaptations this one actually conveys the pleasure of fiction, lingering suggestively on small details of character and place. The movie casts such a seductive air of mystery that the resolution feels anticlimactic, yet there's plenty to enjoy along the way, particularly Hawke's nuanced lead performance as a quiet man with secrets of his own. With Kristin Scott Thomas and Joanna Kulig (Elles). In English and subtitled French. Ben Sachs R, 84 min. Sat 11/3, 8 PM, Rosemont 18, and Tue 11/6, 7 PM, Facets Cinematheque

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