Category Archives: Imaginary Polish Cinema

#213 – Corporal Wojtek the Bear (Kapral Wojtek Niedźwiedź)

(1985, Pol, 95 min) Dir Ewa Wąchock. Cast Stanisław Bielski , Roman Wilhelmi, Jerzy Radziwiłowicz.

The first film from actor turned director Ewa Wąchock tells the true story of Wojtek, the Syrian bear donated to the Polish Army while they were stationed in the Middle East during World War II. They raised him, feeding his condensed milk from an old vodka bottle, getting him hooked on cigarettes and training him to salute when greeted. They became so attached hen they were being transported to Italy they officially enrolled him into the 22nd Artillery Supply Company. In Italy he served at the Battle of Monte Cassino, apparently transporting ammunition for the soldiers. Along with his fellow soldiers he ended the war in Britain and was given to Edinburgh Zoo where he lived out the rest of his life. Deciding that using a real bear in the film would be too dangerous (and would go against the message of the film) and that a person in costume would be obviously fake, Wąchock embraced the artifice and instead cast a child dressed as a bear, considering that the sight of a child smoking or fearfully negotiating a war zone would convey the same emotion in her audience as a real animal would. Thankfully she lucked out by casting a young Stanisław Bielski in his first role and his future renown is writ large in the authenticity of each expression and reaction, despite being dressed as a bear. A heartfelt film about the relationship between man and beast.

Twitter: @MadeUpFilms


#105 – Poor Frankie

(2002, Pol, 98 min) Dir Jan Krzysztof Brodzki. Cast Michael Richards, Ava Brodzki, Piotr Kot.

One of the more unusual post-Seinfeld efforts from its cast, Poor Frankie finds Michael Richards’ New York bookmaker Frankie lost in rural Poland, waking up at a bus stop coated in snow with no idea how he got there. The night before he was at a boxing match in the city but got on the wrong bus while, in his own words, “I was outta my mind of that vodka they got here.” The rest of the film follows him as he tries to get himself back to Warsaw while speaking no Polish. There’s a whole lot of Richards’ patented slapstick here but the camera doesn’t follow or move with it, choosing instead to watch from a distance, and there’s no accentuation of the action with heightened sound or music so the effect is very odd and impassive, staying with a pratfall off an icy road until he’s climbed back out of the snow stuffed ditch, checked and corrected himself and then panning to follow him as he carries on his way up the road. It’s completely deadpan and it gets funnier and funnier as Richards gets angrier and angrier at the similarly unflappable locals throughout the film.

Twitter: @MadeUpFilms