This afternoon and tonight, the Film Society of Lincoln Center kicks off “Transitions: Recent Polish Cinema.” Jan Jakub Kolski’s Venice screens on Sunday afternoon, and closes out the fest on the night of Thursday the 15th.
Never released theatrically in this country, the magic-in-the-dirt films of Polish taleteller Jan Jakub Kolski are rare, golden wonder cabinets of rough-hewn conjurement, reimagining Poland (particularly during WWII) as a dangerous fairy tale, clotted with mossy overgrowth, shadowy unknowns, mythic apparitions, fecund wildlife, and incipient doom. See 1995’s Playing from Plates if ever the chance arises, which it may never; in the same sense, the Walter Reade presentation of his new film, Venice (2010), might be your one and only shot. Adapted from stories by Polish lit star Wlodzimierz Odojewski, the film begins in 1939 with an eleven-year-old in military school sent by his narcissistic mother to his aunt’s country estate, where he waits out the first years of the war in classic coming-of-age style, dreaming of someday going to Venice and ending up happily recreating the City of Bridges in the mansion’s flooded basement.
Peppered with glimpses of the forgotten things lost in the floodwaters, and visualized with Kolski’s characteristic lambent beauty (in this era of CGI gilding, he gets blasts of flaxen light the old-fashioned way—he films them), Venice is a paperweight-globe mini-world filled with other mini-worlds, all fashioned as escapes from the world of warcraft gradually impinging from the foggy landscape beyond the lawns and leafy country roads. Kolski films all have this narrative form (even his adaptation of 2003’s version of Witold Gombrowicz’s Pornografia), as myths are spun like webs and then destroyed by reality. Kind of like movies.