Friday, January 31, 2014

What's missing from Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema

February will seen the launch of Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema. It is a 21 film salute to the best movies from Poland. Unfortunately, there are no silent films among the many  exceptional films which make-up the program.

Had there been, I would suggest a 1929 Polish silent called Mocny Czlowiek (A Strong Man). It was directed by Henryk Szaro (1900 – 1942), a screenwriter and theater and film director. Born Henoch Szapiro to a Jewish family, Szaro was a leading Polish director of the late 1920s and 1930s. He was killed in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942, after being pulled out of his apartment and shot in the streets. Something of a prodigy, Szaro was only 29 when he directed Mocny Czlowiek. It was his 7th film.


Like many other Polish movies that disappeared during World War II, Mocny Czlowiek was long considered lost until a copy was found in Belgium in 1997. Based on a 1912 novel by Stanislaw Przybyszewski (a Dostoevskian writer known as “the discoverer of the human naked soul”), Mocny Czlowiek tells the story of a mediocre journalist who, dreaming of fame and glory, leads his ill friend, a far more talented writer, to an early death in order to steal his unpublished manuscript.

The film is remarkable for many reasons. What stands out is its contemporary sensibility, especially its moral relativity, drug use, and casual acceptance of criminal behavior. Also striking is its vigorous film narrative brought about through the use of dynamic camera movement, montage, and the use of dissolves and double and triple exposures. For good reason, this Polish silent film has been compared to the best German and Soviet movies of silent era. According to IMdb, "Interviewed after the film's premiere, director Henryk Szaro said he had shot about five hours of footage. Less than eighty minutes made it into the final cut. All deleted scenes are now lost and probably do not exist anymore." That's is unfortunate, because this  brilliant film captures a gone world.

If you like Pandora's Box and film from Weimar Germany, chances are you will like Mocny Czlowiek. It is a film which seeps into the dark recesses of your heart.


Like Poland, which was situated between two dominant political and military powers, this extraordinary Polish production shows the influence of both the German and Russian silent cinema -- though it stands firmly on its own. (Interestingly, the film's lead was played by the Ukranian-born Russian actor Gregori Chmara, who was married to one-time Lulu Asta Nielsen; his career ran from 1915 to 1971.) Szaro's drama of individual cruelty, desire and weakness was released on DVD in Europe in 2006 with a soundtrack written and recorded by three contemporary Polish composers.

Embedded below is a 3 minute "run through" of the film with its contemporary musical soundtrack.


If you like what you see, and I think you will, follow this YouTube link to watch the entire 78 minute film on YouTube. It is available there in nine parts.

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