May 23, 2024

Visions du Réel winner Tomasz Wolski will focus on “A Year in the Life of the Country” next, Variety can reveal exclusively.

The Polish helmer – whose latest film “In Ukraine,” co-directed with Piotr Pawlus, premiered in Berlin – is set to explore the turbulent period of martial law, imposed on Dec. 13, 1981 by General Wojciech Jaruzelski in Communist Poland after a wave of strikes.

Anna Gawlita will produce for Kijora Film.

“It’s a topic we haven’t really looked at just yet. These are very important stories, often tragic, and I was convinced that unlike in the case of ‘1970’ [his previous film about brutal suppression of worker protests], I would have almost too much material to work with. I wasn’t mistaken,” he says.

In the upcoming film, Wolski will depict the turmoil that ensued, with soldiers controlling the cities, imprisoning Solidarity members and officials trying to discredit Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Wałęsa. He will also show the events that led to its introduction.

“For me, Poland’s martial law was all about stalling a revolution. It was like that old stick-in-the-spokes trick, when this particular bike was on its way towards freedom. People started to rebel and to speak out, it was the ‘Carnival of Solidarity.’ And then everything stopped.”

“A Year in the Life of the Country”
Courtesy of Tomasz Wolski

Once again turning to archive footage, Wolski – who recently joined Jihlava’s panel Illuminating the Shadows of Everyday Life and Intimacy alongside Peter Forgacs and Lucie Králová – wasn’t afraid of covering known events.

“I have been always ‘playing’ with the archives. In ‘An Ordinary Country’ I added new footage, in ‘1970’ – stop-motion animation. This time, I wanted to treat archive material like free jazz. The soundtrack will reflect that as well,” he notes.

“I approach all my films in the exact same way: I don’t know anything. It’s true – I was never interested in history, it used to bore me senseless. I’m catching up only now, so everything is surprising to me.”

Including the infamous televised speech by Jaruzelski, now also including bloopers.

“It’s such a shame that people who were recording it started so late and then turned it off so quickly. Thanks to these little moments when we see him getting confused or lost, he is no longer this inaccessible figure. He is just a man.”

“A Year in the Life of the Country”
Courtesy of Tomasz Wolski

Making the film allowed Wolski to talk about “Communist Poland in general,” he states.

“Aside from the fact there was a curfew and you couldn’t drink vodka or walk down the street at night, I started to look for scenes that could convey the dreariness of those times.”

Or their absurdity.

“In a way, it’s a comedy. Up to a certain point, because then it turns into horror. I wanted to make fun of that situation, make fun of the fact that suddenly, the military was everywhere. And then I found a scene where these ‘soldiers’ were standing together, watching a cartoon. You couldn’t make up something like that.”

Apart from a focus on farcical situations – with worried citizens stocking up on live chickens when faced with empty shelves in the shops – Wolski will also show the brutality of that time.

“The whole last act of the film will be quite difficult. I allowed myself to include a long sequence when you see cruel enforcement of these laws. If I was only sarcastic, I wouldn’t show the whole story.”

It’s a story that’s bound to feel very timely, also following recent elections in Poland. With one of his protagonists caught asking: “How do you see the future in Poland?”

“This question is always relevant,” says Wolski.

“This film is also about a divided Poland. About the people who supported what was happening and those who protested against it. I think it shows that we have been divided for many, many years. Not just us – it’s happening everywhere.”

“I wanted to include this question, because I felt no one would dare to ask it back then. After the events I am showing here, we moved in the direction of democracy and nobody could have guessed this regime would return, this time wearing a different mask. So what will come next? It’s difficult to tell.”

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