Five different films on five different screens in one Polish city on one winter’s Day.
Łódź is the second biggest city (in terms of population) in Poland. Much like England’s second city, Birmingham, it often appears to be unheralded and unloved. In the case of Łódź this belies the fact (or may be because of the fact) that the city was, for most of the last century, Poland’s industrial hub. In the aftermath of Communism, with the decline in the old heavy industries, Łódź has gradually rebranded itself as Poland’s potential innovation and e-commerce centre, whilst converting many of the stately red-brick factory buildings and palaces into the kind of yuppie apartments and sprawling commercial-cultural precincts that North America tends to lead the way in.
One constant throughout all of these changes and transformations has been the city’s obsession with film. Of all the Polish cities it is Łodż that is most frequently associated with that twentieth century cultural behemoth, cinema. As well as having one of Europe’s most prestigious film schools (that gave the world talents as diverse as Kieślowski, Polanski and Wajda) the city also hosts Camerimage, the premier International Film Festival devoted entirely the cinematographer’s art. The city’s main street, Piotrkowska, has its own walk of fame, featuring ‘Hollywood Stars’ for all of the Polish film industries greatest performers, filmmakers, screenwriters and cinematographers. Furthermore in the last decade the avant-garde filmmaker David Lynch has spent a considerable amount of time in the city, the main fruits of which yielded Inland Empire. The city was also immortalised on film with Wajda’s 1975 adaptation of Nobel prize-winner Władysław Reymont’s Ziemia Obiecana, which is arguably one of the greatest works of Polish cinema and tells the early, and highly cosmopolitan, history of the city.
Back in 2001 I came to Łódź for the first time in a teaching capacity at the main city University. I spent two years living in the rough and ready Bałuty district and must have spent upwards of fourteen hours a week in the city’s numerous cinemas. Unlike Germany and Austria, Polish cinemas tend to show films in their original language, rather than resorting to dubbing (except for children’s cinema) or, worse still, the bizarre ‘Lektor’ format beloved of Polish television, in which the same actor reads every role in a dull monotone, over the top of the original dialogue. Being the centre of the Polish film industry Łódż has been traditionally well-served by its cinemas, of which there are still at least ten remaining in and around the city centre. Over the course of the 27th of December this year I decided to revisit many of these cinemas, traversing the city centre in a bid to see five different cinematic offerings over the course of the day. What follows in the next few posts is my account of the day replete with potted history’s of the cinemas in question, reviews of their facilities and brief accounts of the films (fuller reviews of which will appear on this website in due course). My intention is to try to do similar articles in other noteworthy cinematic cities across Europe in the coming years. Hopefully this will prove useful to those of you who may be visiting, or intending to visit, Poland in the coming year, as well as giving a little something different to my standard review format. Please feel free to leave any comments about the work, as well as possible future city suggestions.