Just been watching…(80)

Ida (2013)

(Original Polish language, English subtitles.)

It has taken me a long time to get around to watching this, but I’m glad I did. It was directed by Paweł Pawlikowski, so that was enough to get my interest. Added to that, it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2015 too, so you can tell it is acclaimed by the industry.

Ida is a novice Nun. A young woman raised in a convent after being left there as a baby, during WW2. She is soon to take her vows, which will leave her in the convent forever, and then she gets an unexpected visitor. Her aunt arrives, and brings with her some startling news. Ida’s family are Jewish, not Catholics, and she wants Ida to go with her to discover their fate. Her aunt Wanda is a former hard-line Communist, and one-time State Prosecutor. Now disillusioned, she drinks heavily, smokes to excess, and sleeps with any man she comes across. Ida accompanies her to the village where the family once lived, beginning a road trip through the depressing landscape of rural Poland, in 1962.

Once at the village, they find silence and suspicion, until eventually discovering the family that once sheltered Ida’s parents are now living in their house, and have taken over their land. Ida has some taste of life outside the convent as she stays at hotels, and sees her aunt partying hard, dancing and flirting. They encounter the young saxophonist of a touring band, and he reappears throughout the film.
An eventual showdown with a member of a Catholic family leads them to discover the fate of their relatives. But there is little joy in the realisation of what happened, and both women are left wondering what they are doing. With no plot spoilers, that’s about it.

The film is shot in flat black and white, and uses a square format, not widescreen. It is also quite obviously ‘photographed’, which endeared it to me no end. This not only helps set the mood, but also makes it feel as if was made in 1962, let alone set that year. Agata Trzebuchowska, as Ida, lends the film a serenity, as she glides peacefully through it in her Nun’s habit, contrasting completely with the modern life around her. Scenery, locations, costume, and sets are all very authentic too, and the sense of life in Soviet-controlled Poland is very real. But it is Agata Kulesza as aunt Wanda who dominates the film, and acts everyone off the screen.

This is a slow film, and a very ‘serious’ one too. There are no lighter moments, nothing intended to be humourous, or warm. It deals with some aspects of the Holocaust during the German occupation of Poland, and also makes uncomfortable suggestions about collaboration, and betrayal. With a running time of just 82 minutes, it is a little gem of a film, and one I would recommend unreservedly, to serious film fans.

Guest post: Eddy Winko

I am very pleased to have received this guest post from Eddy. (OK, we all know it is a false name…) He was one of the first to follow this blog, and has remained one of my most valued and loyal followers ever since. This gives an insight into his move from the north of England to rural Poland, and his story of starting a new self-sustainable life there with his wife, Gosia. He built his own house from straw bales, and can turn his hand to many things it seems, even small-scale farming. A friendly and engaging character, always willing to be a part of his chosen blogging community.

I rarely endorse products via this blog, but on this occasion I am making an exception. Gosia makes some excellent soaps from natural oils and ingredients. They are for sale through his website at a very reasonable price, and can be posted to any location from Poland. Some readers will know that I have long suffered from an incurable skin condition, Pityriasis Rosea. This causes areas of my skin to became inflamed, and very itchy. Over the years I have tried lots of lotions and potions, but using Gosia’s natural soaps has made a huge difference to me, as they help to soothe that irritation. As an added bonus, they also soften the hard water in this area, and make the bath easier to clean too!
As you can imagine, I recommend them without reservation. I should add that there is nothing in it for me to do this, and I do so solely from my own experience of buying and using them.

So, here is the guest post.

“I started to blog at much the same time as Pete, with the intention of documenting, if only for me, the construction of a straw bale house. A complete change in lifestyle and a move to my wife, Gosias’, home country of Poland. Unlike Pete though I have only managed a couple of hundred posts, so when Pete offered me the chance to do a guest post, I jumped at it.

Our big plan was to set up a bed and breakfast based around an organic farm; eco-tourism if you like. And that’s pretty much what my slow paced blog http://www.winkos.wordpress.com covers, the journey so far.

Of course nothing ever goes quite to plan though, especially if you are relying on me to do the work in a timely manner. Five years on, and I still have quite a bit to do. But we do have six goats, lots of rabbits, pigs in the summer, chickens who stay at grannies, three dogs, two cats, and Malina. (Our soon to be three year old daughter) And of course to feed them all and ourselves we farm about 3 acres of land, which ultimately gives me the perfect excuse as to why I haven’t finished the house yet! Oh yes, and we have composting toilets, I mustn’t forget to mention the composting toilets! This is the reason we started to look for eco-friendly cleaning products so that we didn’t poison the land with our waste water.

And so completely by chance, in an attempt to create our own eco-friendly cleaning products, Gosia started to take an interest in a book I had bought several years ago on how to make soap. This in turn led to lots of research on the Internet, quite a few experiments, and finally to a product that we could use at home.

Handmade soap and crocheted wash cloth.
crocheted-face-cloths-and-soap-dishes-as-well

Soap making is a kind of alchemy; you take oils and or fats and mix them with an alkali solution, stir, add to a mould and wait for the chemical reaction to take place. The soapification of the fats results in a solid which we know as soap. Easy really! Although unlike the pioneers of soap making who created lye by filtering water through the ash from a wood burning fire, the modern lye solution is caustic soda!

Sadly, once big business gets hold of a centuries old craft and industrialises the process it is soon manipulated to a point that it requires chemical stabilisers, petrochemicals, preservatives, artificial aromas and a multi-million pound marketing fund to convince you that you need their soap. Although, as you might expect, you don’t have soap anymore, instead you have a product that strips the natural oils from your skin and replaces them with a man-made alternative.

So using only natural ingredients and pure essential oils for fragrance, it’s no surprise that Gosia only had positive feedback from friends and family who received the soaps as gifts: Rashes clearing up, relief from itchy skin, improved complexion. It soon became apparent that Gosia had hit on a winning formula, so much so that the range has now expanded to over twenty varieties of soap, several creams, body scrubs and lip balms.

Natural soaps curing for at least one month.

SONY DSC
SONY DSC

I would like to say at this point that full details and online shop can be found on our website, but truth be told, just like finishing the house, I’m not quite there yet. We do list all our soaps on http://www.winkos.co.uk in Polish and English, and we also have a contact form for you to get in touch with us. We like to make the experience of buying soap a personal one, so if you are interested then please fill in the form, or leave a comment here or on my blog and we will be in touch.

Gosia selling her wares at a local market.

SONY DSC
SONY DSC

And finally, after this blatant promotion of Gosias soaps, I would like to thank Pete for all the posts that he has written over the years, the comments he has made and the friendship that he extends to all who circle in this blogging community. I’m happy and honored to fill a gap today but I look forward to his return soon.”

Please check out Eddy’s entertaining blog via the link. And have a think about buying some of those soaps. You will be glad you did. If you would like to leave a comment, please do so in the comments section here, or over at Eddy’s blog. Best wishes to you all. Pete.

Some Polish films

Poland has a long tradition of film-making. Whilst not having a huge output, some of the films from this country are highly acclaimed, and many have won awards. On this list of recommendations, I have taken the liberty of including two films from the same short series, as I could not choose between them. I have deliberately left out the famous ‘Three Colours Trilogy’, as it is so well known, and also omitted anything by Roman Polanski, for the same reason. I will be doing another post on cinema from Eastern Europe, but felt that Poland had enough to offer on its own. Besides, I sort of owed it to Eddy Winko…

Europa Europa. Strictly speaking, this is a French/German/Polish co-production, but don’t be misled. It is in every sense a Polish film, about the experience of Polish-born Jews during the Second World war, and directed by a famous woman director from Poland, Agnieszka Holland. It was released in 1990, and won the Golden Globe for best foreign film. Based on a true story, this almost unbelievable tale centres on the exploits of a Jewish boy, trying to escape the Nazis. Separated from his family, he pretends to be a German orphan, and is taken into the Hitler Youth, hailed as a fine example of  Aryan manhood. The rest of the film concerns his constant struggle to avoid detection, until his eventual salvation, at the hands of the Red Army. This is a warm and often humorous tale, despite the events and circumstances surrounding it. A good script and an excellent cast make for a rewarding film experience. Here is a trailer.

Blind Chance. This film supplies us with three alternative endings to the same basic story. A man is catching a train, but how do the different events that precede and follow this everyday occurrence affect the three possible outcomes? In 1981, this was a fairly unusual plot device, and it is well handled here, by the eminent Polish film-maker, Krzysztof Kieslowski, who also wrote the story. I will not go into the details of each scenario, though they deal with the anti-communist underground movement of the time, and other religious, and political issues. An intriguing film, from one of Poland’s finest directors. Here is a short montage of clips.

Kanal. This is the second film in the famous Andrzej Wajda War Trilogy, and for my money, the most accessible of the three. Set during the uprising in Warsaw in 1944, this 1956 film feels completely authentic. As the German troops close in on the Polish fighters, they retreat into the city’s sewer system (the canals of the title), to escape the fighting, and traverse the city underground. The setting adds claustrophobia and tension, and the stress on the survivors is apparent. The first part of the film introduces the various characters, and we see their foibles, and their loves and desires, before following them into the hellish fight that follows.  If you enjoy this, you may well want to watch it again, in context with the other two films that form the trilogy. Happily, each one stands on its own merit, and they are not a serial, that has to be followed in order.

 

A Short film about Love. The prolific film-maker Kieslowski again, director and writer of this, and the next film that I have chosen. Starting in 1988, he made a series of short films, each one a modern take on one of the Ten Commandments, and they were collectively called ‘Dekalog’. He later expanded two of the stories, though still only allowing a short running time, in this case, less than 90 minutes. Here, we have a film about obsessive desire, as a young man spies on his attractive neighbour (the wonderful Grazyna Szapolowska) as she comes and goes, and meets lovers in her apartment. Without adding a spoiler, the two eventually meet, and events unfold that turn everything around. A small film perhaps, but a small masterpiece. Here is a good clip, no words necessary.

A Short film about Killing. I make no apologies for including this second story from ‘Dekalog’, as it is just too good to leave out. Made in the same year, this film raised questions about Capital Punishment, and the social background to random acts of extreme violence. After a seemingly senseless, and brutal murder, a newly-qualified barrister is trying to defend the killer, but is hopelessly caught up in the justice system, and in the pointlessness of the act. The young perpetrator is found guilty, and executed by hanging, mirroring his strangling of the victim of his crime, before he finished him off with a rock. This is a bleak film, in every way; although filmed in colour, the grey tones and overall feel give it a monochrome look. Poland, at the end of the Communist era, is equally bleakly portrayed, and the film ends without hope for anything. Both the murder, and later execution, are shown in graphic detail, so be warned. This film is rightly considered to be an important work in the history of European Cinema, and despite being uncomfortable to watch, should be seen by everyone. This is the official trailer.

 

These five recommendations are all easily available, and not too demanding to explore. They have different ideas, in different settings, though two of them do deal with events during World War Two. Given the recent troubled history of Poland, it is not unexpected to see so much work devoted to this subject. I hope you manage to see some, or all of them. I expect Mr.Winko has already seen them all, if only to improve his command of Polish.