The Warsaw Voice » World of Movies » Monthly - July 18, 2017
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Volhynia Wins Nine Eagle Awards
The war drama Volhynia emerged as the big winner of this year’s Eagles (Orły), Poland’s most coveted film awards, raking in no less than nine statuettes during the 19th Eagles awards ceremony at the Polski Theater in Warsaw March 20.

Directed by acclaimed Polish filmmaker Wojciech Smarzowski, Volhynia (Polish title Wołyń) also won the Eagles for Best Directing, Best Cinematography, Best Picture Editing, Best Score, Best Sound, Best Costumes and Best Sets. It had also been voted the public’s favorite in an online Eagles poll at the popular Wirtualna Polska web portal.

Volhynia is the Polish movie industry’s first ever take on an extremely violent moment in Polish and Ukrainian history, the massacre of Poles by Ukrainian nationalists in 1943 and 1944. The tragedy unfolded in the Nazi-occupied Volhynia region in present-day Ukraine, claiming the lives of an estimate of 50,000-60,000 Polish people as well as several thousand Ukrainians whom the Polish underground army killed in an act of retaliation.

With the dialogues in Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, German and Yiddish, the movie illustrates how the eastern frontiers of prewar Poland used to be the scene of conflicting political, social and cultural interests of different ethnic groups at the time. In a way, the conflicts persist to this day in that the different nations are still divided over what really happened in Volhynia.

At the time of the movie’s release last autumn, reviews in Poland were generally unanimous about how Smarzowski’s latest offering delivered a well-balanced depiction of the events and did not take any sides. Movie critics described Volhynia as “a universal warning against nationalism.” Interestingly, similar opinions were given by German reviewers, whereas in Ukraine the movie, somewhat predictably, received scathing reviews. Several Ukrainian actors who had agreed to appear in the Smarzowski movie were even fined in their home country. Back in Poland, Volhynia became a major success at the box office, drawing over 1.4 million viewers in seven weeks.

The nine Eagles for Volhynia did not, however, include any in the acting department. Instead, the two leading-role statuettes went to the biographical movie The Last Family (Ostatnia Rodzina), the directing debut of Jan P. Matuszyński. Andrzej Seweryn won the award for his role as the Polish 20th-century painter Zdzisław Beksiński, and Aleksandra Konieczna took home an award for her depiction of the painter’s wife Zofia.

Spanning two decades, The Last Family follows the lives and deaths of the ill-fated Beksiński family in Warsaw. Zdzisław Beksiński was murdered in his apartment in 2005, seven years after Zofia died from aortic aneurysm and six years after their only son Tomasz, a music journalist and a radio personality, committed suicide on Christmas Eve in 1999 at the age of 41.

The Eagle for best supporting actress went to Agata Kulesza for her role in I’m a Killer (Jestem mordercą) directed by Maciej Pieprzyca. Arkadiusz Jakubik, who played her husband in the movie, was voted best supporting actor.

Just like Volhynia and The Last Family, I’m a Killer is inspired by true events, the story of Zbigniew Marchwicki, nicknamed the Vampire of Silesia for his notoriety as a serial killer in the Silesia region of Poland. Marchwicki was sentenced to death and hanged in 1977, but the investigation into his case and the subsequent trial left many questions unanswered. Some consider his guilt doubtful and the new movie seems to back this point of view.

A lifetime achievement Eagle was presented to Sylwester Chęciński, the director of the hugely popular and much loved comedy trilogy Sami swoi (Our Folks) from the 1960s and 1970s, and the 1991 political comedy Rozmowy kontrolowane (Calls Controlled).

During the awards ceremony, Dariusz Jabłoński, who is the president of the Polish Film Academy, reiterated his appeal from 2015 and 2016 and called on the authorities and other institutions in Russia to free Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov, who is serving 20 years in a gulag for alleged terrorism. “We are fighting [for him] side by side with all filmmakers around the world,” Jabłoński said. “International solidarity for the freedom of culture and expression, and openness for those who are different, are as important to us as the air we breathe.”

Polish director Agnieszka Holland, the board chairwoman of the European Film Academy, added that “we owe this to Sentsov as proof of our solidarity. Oleg needs us, but we need him even more.”