Poland is a country that has certainly been no stranger to austerity and has subsequently produced some cracking, hard-hitting crime dramas. Here are a few of my faves.
Edi (2002) Directed by Piotr Trzaskalski with a screenplay by Wojciech Lepianka and Piotr Trzaskalski.
The star of Edi, Henyrk Golebiewski, is a man with a face so lived in squatters wouldn’t stay there. A former child star, whose life went off the rails when he became an adult, he went AWOL and was eventually tracked down by Trzaskalski – the director – to play the eponymous Edi who, along with his friend Jureczek, walks the streets of Lodz – a decaying industrial city- collecting scrap. Edi is a smart man, however, with a fridge full of books which he devours. Like Golebiewski he has had his share of hard knocks but Edi still believes that ‘It can be Christmas every day if you want it to be.’
A pair of local gangster brothers – who have recently beaten one of Edi’s scrap collector friends to death – ask Edi to help their beloved sister – Princess – pass here exams. Princess is secretly in love with Gypsy, one of the gangsters’ henchman, though. Something her over–protective brothers would not approve of, and so, she gets Edi drunk after one of their lessons, and secretly sneaks off to see Gypsy.
Months later, when Princess discovers that she is pregnant by Gypsy, she accuses Edi of raping her. The brothers’ punishment is most certainly cruel and inhuman and, while recovering, Edi ends up taking care of the girl’s child.
Edi is a tough but sometimes beautiful film, with a strong cast that is anchored by Golebiewski’s heartfelt performance.
The Debt ( 1999), directed by Krzysztof Krause and written by Krause and Jerzy Morawski, for example, stars Robert Gonera, Jacek Boruch and the splendid Andrzej Chyra.
Based on a true story, it takes place in Poland’s dark economic hinterland after the fall of communism and before its more recent rebirth. The Debt tells the story of Adam and Stefan, a couple of young likely-lads from Warsaw, who come up with the smart idea of manufacturing Italian scooters on the cheap in Poland and making a fortune selling them to the Italians.
They first go to the bank for a loan but are swiftly refused. Then they encounter a well- off acquaintance, Gerard (Chyra), who offers to lend them the funds to start -up their business in exchange for a share of the company profits.
So far, so good but when they later decide that Gerard is asking for too much, and back out of the proposal, things really go pear shaped.
Gerard bizarrely starts harassing them for the money that he never even lent them, saying that they were already too far into the deal to back out. It then becomes painfully clear that Gerard is a vicious gangster and things spiral horribly out of control from then on.
The Debt is like a knee to the groin – a naturalistic, hard hitting and chilling story with a great, charismatic performance from Chyra.
The Debt Collector (2005) is directed by Feliks Falk with a screenplay by Grzegorz Loszewski. It also stars Andrzej Chyra and is again based on true events.
Chyra plays Lucek a hard-hearted debt collector, working in one of Poland’s most deprived areas, who mercilessly repossesses anything he can – including vital machines from hospitals and even a statue of the Virgin Mary. But, as the film progresses, Lucek starts to have doubts and he pulls so hard on the strings of his life that the whole thing unravels as he experiences an ‘epiphany’ that turns him into a decent human being.
The Debt Collector is almost painfully naturalistic and very well acted but, although it does have a more optimistic ending then The Debt, it’s just as effective in showing the hard side of life.
The Dark House (2009) Directed by Wojciech Smarzowski and written by Lukasz Kosmicki and Wojciech Smarzowski.
One cold autumn in the 1970s Edward (Arkardiusz Jakubik,) an alcoholic zoo technician, haunted by his wife’s death , accidentally ends up stopping over in the Dziabas family’s farmhouse, in a remote mountain area. They all subsequently get drunk on ‘bimber’ – Polish moonshine – and deliriously decide to set up business together. However the combination of booze and supressed passions leads to violence and murder.
This story is intercut with another, which is set on a snow smothered winter day four years later, during Martial Law in Poland. The Milicja Obywatelska (People’s Militia) visit the crime scene and Lieutenant Mroz (Bartlomeij Topa) – with Edward’s help- tries to piece together what actually happened.
The Dark House is gory, bleak, full of claustrophobic atmosphere and, at times, surreal. There is also a touch of black comedy and great performances from Jakaubik, Topa, Marian Dziedziel and Kinga Pries.
The Tag line: ‘Truth? There is no such thing.’