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Of Skulls and Bones: 5 Movie Posters from Poland

Updated on December 4, 2017

Movie posters have never been so strong and emotionally involving as in the Poland of the 50s and through the 80s . They tell about a unique story of image manifestation under oppression.

1. Vertigo (1958)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Artist: Roman Cieslewicz Year: 1963
Artist: Roman Cieslewicz Year: 1963

There’s a lot to say about this highly acclaimed movie, but long story short: A retired detective nicknamed “Scotty”, suffering from acrophobia1), finds himself in a vicious circle, which includes an old friend of his, Gavin Elster, that asks Scotty to follow his wife, Madeleine. She’s, according to Elster, acting strangely recently and he wants to know the reason behind it. Scottie and “Madeleine” get to know each other better after one night she tries to drown. She seems to be living a life of a dead woman, Carlotta Valdes, Madeleine’s great-grandmother, who had committed once suicide. In the end, even Madeleine seems to have succeeded in getting rid of her life, but by the hands of her husband. Wanting to inherit all his wife’s patrimony, Gavin Elster had hired Judy, a woman much resembling his wife who had been, through all this time, impersonating Madeleine. After meeting Judy, Scottie becomes possessive wanting Judy’s clothes, make-up and behavior to reflect the image of the dead Madeleine.

1) acrophobia – n. extreme or irrational fear of heights

2. No End (1985)

Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski

Author: Andrzej Pagowski  Year: 1984
Author: Andrzej Pagowski Year: 1984

Mourning the recent death of her husband Attorney Antek Zyro, Ulla, a middle-aged translator finds herself entangled in the Poland of 1982, a dominion of protests, riots and transitions followed by the “Martial law in Poland” (December 1981-July 1983), which aimed to break the opposition through incarcerating political activists and executing many of them. The case of Darek Stach, a political prisoner, is now in the hands of another lawyer, Mieczyslaw Labrador. At some point in the movie, Ulla will be translating George Orwell’s 1984 for one of the members of the organization of the opposition as a reference to the political situation.

3. Un Chien Andalou (1929)

Director: Luis Buñuel

Artist: Wieslaw Walkuski  Year: 1996
Artist: Wieslaw Walkuski Year: 1996

Written by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dalì, Un Chien Andalou is prominent for the fact that it is one of the first efforts to a surrealist movie. It follows a series of symbolical and figural density of graphic elements and the uncomfortable impact as we watch the play. As Hitchcock said “Cutting is the best way: for the killer, and for the film director who looks forward to shock the audience.” Body parts mutilation or (self)inflicted violence are introduced through all the film: the eye in the prologue cut by a razor, ants coming out from a hand (and it’s impressive how Jodorowsky would adapt the same concept in his film “El Topo” (1970), with birds emerging from a child’s chest), a cut hand etc., which, strung together, lead to the fetishism of the characters.

4. The Constant Factor (1980)

Director: Krzysztof Zanussi

Author: Marek Freudenreich Year: 1980
Author: Marek Freudenreich Year: 1980

The Constant Factor (aka Constans) introduces the story of a prominent young man, Witold, whose curiosity for the world around him leads to his studying Physics and, finally, to climb the Himalayas. But, for a reason or another, mainly concerning his unwillingness to become part of the corrupted working system, his journey is delayed. Through the movie we learn that Witold’s father, a renowned mountaineer, had died in some climbing expedition, while his mother’s health condition aggravates each day more.

5. The Hourglass Sanatorium (1973)

Director: Wojciech Jerzy Has

Author: Franciszek Starowieyski Year: 1973
Author: Franciszek Starowieyski Year: 1973

Finally, The Hourglass Sanatorium tells the story of a young man, Jozef, who in an attempt to see his father, who is attended in some sort of a clinic, experiences a series of situations preceding the events of WW2: a train conductor with an SS hat, Jewish Rabbis leaving a destroyed Poland, the numbness of Jozef's father, half-naked prostitutes, lunatic doctors. Jozef, the main character, is confronted with, what appear to be, illusions of the past: he finds himself as a "child" together with his mother, the textile shop they used to manage that served as a meeting place for Jews, a whore's house and, a garden with automated wax dummies resembling to characters from the past such as the anarchist Luccheni, Draga, Edison and Bismark, etc. The attention is put mainly on Emperor Franz Joseph and his brother, Archduke Maximilian. A young boy named Rudolf is the one to complete this scheme, making references to historical events as well (at some point in the movie, Jozef symbollically handles the throne to the little boy). Jozef is to surrender, at last, to the image of a ghastly horror and madness.

© 2015 Emisa Rista

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