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The Warsaw Voice » World of Movies » November 3, 2014
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Heart Surgeon Biopic Steals the Show
November 3, 2014   
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Biographical drama Bogowie (Gods), about Prof. Zbigniew Religa—the heart surgeon who performed the first successful cardiac transplant in Poland—stole the show at this year’s Polish Film Festival in the northern city of Gdynia.

Directed by 38-year-old Łukasz Palkowski, Bogowie grabbed the festival’s main prize and won the most awards.

It was handed the Golden Lions prize for best film, while Tomasz Kot, who plays Religa, took home the best actor award. Bogowie screenwriter Krzysztof Rak won the award for best script. The movie also nabbed awards for best set design and best makeup. When the Golden Lions winner was announced during the award ceremony, the audience gave it a six-minute standing ovation.

Palkowski, so far mostly known for a television sitcom entitled 39 i pół (39 and a Half), thanked the “truly extraordinary” cast, as he described his actors. “We have told the story of a hero who struggled against all odds,” said Palkowski. “It is also against all the odds that we are standing here in front of you today. This means that nothing is impossible—some things just take a lot of time.”

Religa’s life was like a movie script in its own right. The outstanding surgeon, who died in 2009 at the age of 71, made headlines in 1985 as the first Polish specialist to perform a successful heart transplant. He was also well known for his unorthodox attitude that earned him criticism in some quarters.

His former colleagues remember him as a man who was totally dedicated to his work, but who also knew how to live life to the fullest, and that included harmful addictions. Religa himself admitted to battling with a drinking problem for many years, while his chain smoking contributed to the lung cancer that took his life.

Many of those events are depicted in Bogowie. Religa is compellingly portrayed by Tomasz Kot. Kot, 37, impressed audiences and critics in his big-screen debut of 2005, when he starred in Skazany na bluesa (Destined for the Blues), directed by Jan Kidawa Błoński. In that biopic, Kot played Ryszard Riedel, the vocalist of the popular Polish blues band Dżem, who died at the age 38 from heart failure caused by long-time drug abuse. Kot went on to appear in several popular serials and comedies that, while panned by the critics, were major hits with audiences. He also appeared in a number of commercials.

The second prize at the Polish Film Festival, the Silver Lions, went to director Wojciech Smarzowski for Pod Mocnym Aniołem (The Mighty Angel), based on the novel of the same title by Jerzy Pilch. Smarzowski made a name for himself with insightful movies that deal with demons haunting the Polish soul. In Pod Mocnym Aniołem, he takes on alcohol abuse. The original novel was acclaimed by literary critics and readers as a superb account of alcohol abuse as a social problem. Smarzowski’s film became a hit with viewers. In Gdynia, the movie also nabbed awards for best score and best editing.

The best director award went to Władysław Pasikowski for Jack Strong, a political thriller about Col. Ryszard Kukliński, a famous communist-era spy for the CIA in the Polish army during the 1970s and ‘80s. Pasikowski shot to fame in the 1990s with a string of action movies. These proved a hit at the box office and this year’s Jack Strong followed suit. In Gdynia, Jack Strong also received an award for best costumes.

Several awards went to Miasto 44 (City 44), an epic story of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 as seen through the eyes of young insurgents. The movie won Zofia Wichłacz the best actress award, while Sebastian Fabijański was named best newcomer actor. Miasto 44 also received awards for sound and special effects.

As each year, the festival judges gave out several additional awards. The Amber Lions lifetime achievement award went to Sylwester Chęciński, the director of hugely popular comedies from the 1970s and ‘80s.
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