The concepts of "women's cinema" and "feminist aesthetics" remain controversial among film critics and theoreticians. Various authors emphasize different, sometimes even contradictory, features as essential qualities of women's or feminist films. In her famous essay "Women's Cinema as Counter-- Cinema" Claire Johnston postulated that women make films that are distinct from male cinema in both content and style. "Any revolutionary strategy must challenge the depiction of reality; it is not enough to discuss the oppression of women within the text of the film; the language of cinema/the depiction of reality must also be interrogated so that a break between text and reality is effected."1 The same distrust of narrativity and realism can be found in the early, highly influential work of Laura Mulvey, especially in her "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.2 Teresa de Lauretis, on the other hand, argued that instead of rejecting narrativity, women filmmakers should use it with a vengeance.3 She also claimed that women's cinema should address the viewer as female. Julia Knight suggested that this type of cinema must be concerned not with what is occuring but how it feels and what it means. Following Maya Deren, Knight describes this aspect of film as "a vertical investigation of a situation."4
There is also no consesus among women filmmakers-even those with an overt interest in the situation of women and their experiences-whether to welcome or reject such notions as "women's" or "feminist" cinema. While some authors, such as Sally Potter, Lizzie Borden or Chantal Akerman openly identify with feminist aesthetics, others such as Margarethe von Trotta feel ghettoized when regarded as feminists or directors of women's films.5 Some female directors, especially in Eastern Europe, most notably Larisa Shepitko, not only refused to recognize the concept of "women's cinema," but considered the notion humiliating.6
Theoretical debate is usually very conducive to creating a distinctive cinema. In countries where such debate was widespread, particularly Great Britain in the 1970s, new ideas were put into practice by a stream of female directors, including Sally Potter and Laura Mulvey. In contrast, Poland still has no significant feminist theory or critique-especially none that would inspire female directors to make films deliberately different from their male colleagues. The whole idea of "women's cinema" has been treated with great suspicion and even contempt by filmmakers and critics of both sexes. Female moviemakers worked hard to avoid being labelled "director of women's films," assuming that this would condemn them to the margins of national cinema. Accordingly, until the beginning of the 1990s, Polish female directors were not only rare but their work was usually similar to their male colleagues in terms of content, style, and cinematic language. The most accomplished and famous of them, such as Wanda Jakubowska and Agnieszka Holland, were also prominent representatives of distinctive schools and paradigms of national cinema. In the case of Jakubowska this was socialist realism; for Holland it was the Cinema of Moral Concern. The only identifiable difference lay in a greater willingness to include women in their narratives and to treat them with greater sympathy.
Dorota Kedzierzawska (b. 1957), regarded as one of the most original Polish filmmakers to emerge after the collapse of communism in 1989, can be included among those directors unwilling to define their work in opposition to male cinema. When I interviewed her in the Summer of 1999, she was utterly dismissive of the concept of women's cinema, claiming that she neither understood what "women's cinema" means nor had any particular interest or knowledge of films made by fellow women artists. The same sentiment is conveyed in her interview, given four years earlier to Bozena Janicka, when she commented: "Only one thing is specific to the situation of a female director--she must not show her physical weakness. …