Watch Hundreds of Polish Films Free Online: Feature Films, Documentaries, Animations & More

The Pol­ish film indus­try has pro­duced a few inter­na­tion­al­ly-known auteurs, includ­ing Andrzej Waj­da, Krzysztof Kieślows­ki, and Roman Polan­s­ki, but a hand­ful of crit­i­cal­ly-laud­ed direc­tors can­not rep­re­sent the scope of any nation­al cin­e­ma. With­out a wider appre­ci­a­tion of Poland’s film his­to­ry, we lack cru­cial con­text for under­stand­ing its most famous artists. Now, a new archive called gives us hun­dreds of films and ani­ma­tions by Pol­ish film­mak­ers, a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to immerse one­self in the coun­try’s cin­e­mat­ic art like nev­er before.

Pol­ish film his­to­ry can broad­ly be divid­ed into films made before WWII and those made after, when the coun­try came under strict Com­mu­nist con­trol. The first peri­od includes a silent film indus­try that began with the ori­gins of cin­e­ma itself and made a star of actress Pola Negri, whose films were screened in Berlin with Ger­man-lan­guage title cards. Many movies made in the sound era took direc­tion, no pun intend­ed, from film­mak­er Alek­sander Ford, a cham­pi­on of Com­mu­nist aes­thet­ic the­o­ry. “Cin­e­ma can­not be a cabaret,” he once told the Sovi­et Kino mag­a­zine, “it must be a school.” Ford made real­ist films about social issues and pro­pa­gan­da films dur­ing the war.

In 1945, Ford took con­trol of the Pol­ish film indus­try as direc­tor of the nation­al­ized state pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny, Film Pol­s­ki. The com­pa­ny had a monop­oly on pro­duc­tion, dis­tri­b­u­tion, and exhi­bi­tion, and in Poland, as in most East­ern Bloc nations in the Cold War, the chal­lenge of evad­ing cen­sors put far more pres­sure on film­mak­ers than mar­ket demands. “Under the Com­mu­nist regime,” Dark Kuz­ma writes at Movie Mak­er, “Pol­ish author­i­ties waged war on moviemak­ers.… Any cri­tique of the Sovi­et Union or the Pol­ish Peo­ple’s Repub­lic was silenced,” begin­ning with a 1945 film titled 2x2=4, by Antoni Bohdziewicz.

Ford did­n’t last long as an admin­is­tra­tor, though he returned in the 50s to help advise and over­see pro­duc­tions. Film Pol­s­ki became the Cen­tral Office of Cin­e­matog­ra­phy in 1951, and enforced even stricter con­trols on Pol­ish film­mak­ers. But as con­trol of the film indus­try cen­tral­ized, aca­d­e­m­ic bureau­crats took over for savvy film­mak­ers like Ford. “Pol­ish cen­sors,” Kuz­ma notes, “were high­ly lit­er­ary, capa­ble of deci­pher­ing even the most sophis­ti­cat­ed ‘sub­ver­sions’ in books, news­pa­pers and oth­er writ­ten forms — but they were quite impo­tent when it came to eval­u­at­ing images.”

Pol­ish film­mak­ers could not make any overt nar­ra­tive cri­tiques and “were forced to learn how to say some­thing with­out say­ing it direct­ly, how to depict a real­i­ty that did not offi­cial­ly exist,” says Oscar-nom­i­nat­ed Pol­ish cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er Ryszard Lenczews­ki. Neces­si­ty led to a cre­ative sym­bol­ic lan­guage view­ers had to decode:

This was a respon­si­bil­i­ty we all felt: to cre­ate lay­ered images, images with dou­ble mean­ings that dared view­ers to inter­pret them dif­fer­ent­ly. It was all in the details — like using wider lens­es to show things you would not be able to show any oth­er way. Some­thing may be occur­ring in the back­ground, slight­ly blurred. Some­times all the film needs was to not include some­thing or some­one in the frame. 

The need for clan­des­tine cin­e­mat­ic meth­ods became ful­ly appar­ent in 1982, when a com­mis­sion met and deter­mined even stricter rules for Pol­ish film, par­tial­ly in reac­tion to the film­mak­er Ryszard Buga­jski’s Inter­ro­ga­tion, an unspar­ing depic­tion of “Stal­in-era polit­i­cal life.” (See an excerpt­ed scene at the top). A tran­script of the pro­ceed­ings, which includ­ed Buga­js­ki, made their way out of the coun­try in secret and was report­ed on in The New York Times. Buga­js­ki feared his film would not see release, and he was right, though Inter­ro­ga­tion cir­cu­lat­ed in samiz­dat VHS form for years, attain­ing cult sta­tus. It was even­tu­al­ly released years lat­er and would become one of the most pop­u­lar films of the time.

After Inter­ro­ga­tion, Pol­ish film­mak­ers began to employ even more dis­tinc­tive sym­bol­ic vocab­u­lar­ies, from sci-fi satire in 1984’s huge­ly pop­u­lar Sexmis­sion (trail­er above), to the use of heav­i­ly sat­u­rat­ed col­ors, a fea­ture so many Pol­ish films of the 1980s and 90s share and which char­ac­ter­izes the work of Kieślows­ki, one of the most revered of Pol­ish direc­tors among Pol­ish and non-Pol­ish cinephiles alike. Best known for his ear­ly 90s tril­o­gy Three Col­ors: Blue, Red and White, the direc­tor began using spe­cif­ic col­ors to con­vey mean­ing ear­li­er in his career.

Cam­era oper­a­tor Sła­womir Idzi­ak, who worked on Kieślowski’s 1988 A Short Film About Killing (see trail­er above), remem­bers, “I shot the film in this hideous yel­low-green­ish col­or to sub­tly hint at the direc­tor’s idea that the coun­try could be a killer, just like the main char­ac­ter. I remem­ber one review­er in Cannes writ­ing that because the screen assumes the col­or of urine, it encap­su­lates the real­i­ty of Com­mu­nist Poland. That was beau­ti­ful.”

Film­mak­er Bar­bara Sass went on to make sev­er­al films in which spe­cif­ic col­or plays sig­nif­i­cant roles, start­ing with her 1980, fes­ti­val-win­ning debut, With­out Love. She sur­rounds her yel­low-haired main char­ac­ter, played by Doro­ta Stal­ińs­ka, with a sick­ly hos­pi­tal yel­low, then immers­es her in the dim red light of a pho­to­graph­ic dark­room. Her many lat­er films employed bold uses of col­or to sim­i­lar effect. These films rep­re­sent only a tiny sam­pling of the near­ly 4,000 Pol­ish films host­ed on, a joint project of the Pol­ish Film Insti­tute and “one of Poland’s old­est film stu­dios, Wytwrnia Filmw Doku­men­tal­nych i Fab­u­larnych (WFDiF), (Doc­u­men­tary and Fea­ture Film Stu­dios),” notes The first News

The col­lec­tion includes 160 fea­tures, 71 doc­u­men­taries 474 ani­mat­ed short films, and 10 ani­mat­ed fea­tures.  We’ve bare­ly scratched the sur­face of Pol­ish cin­e­ma his­to­ry and there are hun­dreds of ani­ma­tions yet to watch (read some of their grim descrip­tions at MetaFil­ter). So get to watch­ing at

Note: To enable Eng­lish sub­ti­tles, click the “Enable Sub­ti­tles” but­ton beneath each film. (The first but­ton.) Then go to the “Sett­tings” but­ton and choose Eng­lish sub­tiles.

via MetaFil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

50 Film Posters From Poland: From The Empire Strikes Back to Raiders of the Lost Ark

An Intro­duc­tion to Stanis­law Lem, the Great Pol­ish Sci-Fi Writer, by Jonathan Lethem

Free Online: Watch Stalk­er, Mir­ror, and Oth­er Mas­ter­works by Sovi­et Auteur Andrei Tarkovsky

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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