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The gritty side of Polish film

by Giovanni Fazio

European cinema lost one of its greats in October, when Polish director Andrzej Wajda passed away at the age of 90. Wajda, perhaps best known for his 1981 Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Man of Iron,” had a long association with Japan, being awarded both the Kyoto Prize in 1987 and the Order of The Rising Sun in 1995.

Wajda was also a supporter of Tokyo’s small Poland Film Festival, now in its fifth year, which hastily rearranged its 2016 lineup to include a major retrospective of Wajda’s works. Most notable is his early trilogy of films from the late ’50s — “A Generation,” “Canal” and “Ashes and Diamonds” — which are based in part on his own experiences during World War II, when he fought with the Polish resistance against the Nazis; these are the films that put him on a standing with auteurs like Bergman, Fellini and Kurosawa.

Aside from Wajda, the festival’s Polish Cinema Now showcase offers seven other works, which don’t look like they’ll be breaking any stereotypes of Eastern European miserablism. There’s “Body,” with a tough look at anorexia; “Our Curse,” which follows a couple and their newborn, who has a condition that requires her to be hooked up to a respirator; “Warsaw ’44,” a gritty look at the failed uprising in the Jewish ghetto; and “United States of Love,” a bleak tale of love and sex (frequently hardcore) in a tower block in 1990 — it seems like communism didn’t fall as fast as people’s undies.

The Poland Film Festival 2016 runs from Nov. 26 to Dec. 16 at Cinemart in Shinjuku, Tokyo. A pair of films will also screen at Doshisha University in Kyoto on Dec. 1. Full details at www.polandfilmfes.com.