Polish Cinema from the 30’s

Cinema has been a great companion for language and culture learners since it became popular. In fact, Historians have widely researched on how people’s behaviour or perception of certain issues, institutions or other people have changed with audiovisual productions (mainly because those same movies have a discourse itself they want to prove).

Unlike Chile, Poland has a great cinema tradition from early times, being the 30’s a great time for Polish cinema. Meanwhile here, we would often get dubbed movies from the US/UK or Argentinean or Mexican movies (Old Mexican movies are still popular in small villages in Chile -mainly those ones about the Mexican Revolution-), Poland had its own cinema culture, with its own referents, stories and themes. Despite they would be barely known outside Poland, most of those movies had a quite simple script or were adaptations from books, many humouristic situations, plenty of music and of course, certain hidden social criticism or willing for openess. All of that fits the historical context of Poland.

The main film studios were located in Warsaw, Łódź (which is still the capital of Polish cinema), Vilnius (Wilno in Polish; now in Lithuania) and L’viv (Lwów in Polish; now in Ukraine) which also happened to be the places where the main theatres were (filled with plays, cabaret -note, they are not like the Latin American concept of cabaret- and other perfomances). Also, the Radio played an important role of difussion of such stars. Not to mention, you could clearly listen the influence of local dialects (specially gwara lwowska or Lwów dialect) or even other languages, such as Yiddish.

There is a particular movie that since I watched it, it made me realize that I still have a lot to learn about Poland and Polish history. I watched Piętro wyżej (On the floor above) which is about 2 men who share the last name and first name initial: H. Pączek. One of them is a young radio host who loves loud, swing music while the other is a grumpy old man who loves classical music. Their problems start to increase when the niece of the old man comes for a visit and gets into the wrong flat ;). Many misadventures happen and comedy situation, but what impressed me the most was this video:

A man. Dressed in drag. Dancing like no one cares and having fun. In the 30s. Mind you, there is a really conservative perception of the 30’s in Chile that we would never think of such things, but it did happen in 30’s Poland. The actor is Eugeniusz Bodo, a Swiss-Polish actor who was one of the most popular ones. Everyone loved him, despite he had a quite lonely life (he lived mainly with his mother and a dog) and a sad end: he was arrested by the Soviets and was sent to a Gulag in Siberia, where he died. His life and his movies can surely tell us a lot about different aspects in Poland: masculinity (and gender roles), interaction between young and old people, media, language and many other mores in the society.

So, linguists, historians, film producers and directors can all rejoice with Polish old films… however, there is one point that may be hard for learners. They are really hard to understand! When I watched  Piętro wyżej, I watched it with no subtitles, but kindly, I didn’t watch it alone so several aspects were either translated to me in English or explained in simpler Polish.