Marek Haltof. Polish National Cinema. Berghahn Books, 2002. 350 pages; $69.95.
Let me be blunt. I know nothing about Polish motion pictures. Sure, I know a little about Polanski and Kieslowski but that's about it. In fact, not only do I not know much about the Polish National Cinema, I know even less about Poland, its people and its culture. With my ignorance now out there, Marek Haltof's Polish National Cinema is a book I was nervous about reading. However, it proved to be both a challenge and a surprising refreshment. A challenge because I was learning history and a refreshment because it is the first photodrama book I have read in some time that used the history of a national cinema to tell a more complex story of the people and the culture of that country. A national cinema that few of us pay much attention to, but hopefully with this book that will change.
Breaking down the Polish National Cinema into four distinct and pivotal periods (before 1918, 1918-1939, 1945-1989, 1989-present day) we are able to see its changing landscape in relation to its volatile political periods. Like most European countries, World War II shaped the relationship of film and people. Haltof carefully walks the reader through the tricky ground of trying to decipher how Polish National Cinema was reconstructed and also bastardized at the same time after the war years. Here was a country divided by communism but still able to produce many significant motion pictures.
If Mr. Haltrof's only goal was to portray a concise narrative of Poland's film history, its players and product, then mission accomplished. Haltrof, however, has a greater and more important goal in mind: to convey the inner struggle of not just an industry but also a country searching for its place in the world. Mr. Haltrof has shown that Polish National Cinema is more than just a five to ten page spread in a standard introduction to a film studies book. Instead it is an industry that tells us more about a country's relationship to motion pictures than any other modern day nation. Again, Haltrof explains, while the Polish National Cinema has become respected over the last fifty years it has been omitted from film schools and festivals and disregarded as an amalgam of various European and Soviet societies. …