By Jillian Harrington, Staff Writer
2017 celebrates seventy years in Polish film animation. In a collection in joint curated by the Polish Cultural Institute New York, Polish Film Institute and the National Film Archive – Audiovisual Institute, roughly three decades of animation are honored, inviting new generations to explore the distinctive, recognizable patterns of the shorts.
Bankiet (Banquet) was released in 1976 by Zofia Oraczewska and portrays a dinner scene set by dutiful servants for party guests. However, in a macabre twist, the meal begins to devour said guests rather than the other way around: clams bite off hands and poultry comes alive to peck out eyes. Amidst the carnage, the food returns to its inanimate stature and the butlers prepare the room for the next batch of guests. It is an interesting short, invoking both dark surprise and fascination at the subject matter. And yet, the animation style itself lends to the unusual nature of “Bankiet,” with the faces of the guests seemingly a composite of real human features in pasted images.
Przygoda W Paski (An Adventure in Stripes), which was created by Alina Maliszewska in 1960, is a Rudolph-esque tale about a striped elephant in a colorful world. This character is shunned by groups of all white and all black elephants, rejected and ridiculed each time he attempts to paint over his birthmarks. Following such familiar stories of outcasts, the audience suffers alongside the elephant, recognizing that all he wants is to belong. Eventually, he finds a horizontally striped female to match his own vertical stripes, and they find acceptance in each other, beginning a family of checkered elephant children to call their own. Though this story may seem intended for children, its themes are recognizable to adults and speak to exclusion from group memberships.
Another film, Ostry Film Zaangażowany (A Hard-Core Engaged Film. Non Camera) created by Julian Józef Antonisz in 1979, is reminiscent of children’s drawings with its bright colors and crude lines. The images repeatedly shift — buildings and people change in size and feature to a disorienting funhouse effect. Spoken word and a cartoonish score only increase the absurdity and chaos of the short, thereby making it impossible to turn away.
All three of these shorts share similar visual styles and subjects. As the press release explains, under communism, Polish animators had to master “the art of the metaphor, in order to elude censorship.” Such approaches to social satire and black humor are uniquely apparent in all of these films as well as the other animations featured in the collection. The filmmakers themselves often birthed the films alone: coming up with the ideas, formulating scripts, drawing, painting and sculpting. The films were both creative and innovative and remain a testament to the times they were created in.
The 70th Anniversary of Polish Animation series opens at Anthology Film Archives for a limited engagement on Friday, Dec. 8.
The schedule for the screenings of the three series can be found here.