I’m officially obsessed with Polish Cinema

I have begun to obsess over Polish Cinema. Why this obsession? I feel this intense yearning to watch every film by Andrzej Wajda. The way he portrays women is incredible. They are portrayed like Our Lady Mary– the Saviors and the symbols of truth, innocence and honesty and usually saving the butts of men, or at least trying. The men instead are stubborn and their allegiance to their country always seems to get the better of them. The women are the ones who enable life to continue even in the most wretched of circumstances. Wajda’s films are highly politicized and for good reason. Wadja began filming just five years after World War II, a time of intense turmoil in Poland especially. A country was tossed back and forth like a ragdoll between both Germany and what was then the Soviet Union. Before 1989 Wajda’s films had to be approved by the censorship authorities in Communist Poland. So despite his discontent with Socialism he had to mind himself so his films could be approved. And his films were important, not only did they expose the evils of socialism, but I’m sure they provided ammunition, albeit small, for events such as the Gdańsk shipyard strike. At least in films like Man of Marble–which was hugely successful in Poland with lines outside the cinemas–audiences related to the film because it highlighted the manipulation and the trickery of the Socialist Worker’s Party. Although the film was looked at as potentially harmful to the government, it wasn’t banned.

In Man of Marble, basically a film within a film, the character filmmaker, Agneiszka, an abrasive young student who smokes constantly while ordering around her male film crew. She is determined to finish her film, a documentary about a former Worker’s Party leader who rose to fame only with the assistance and manipulation of the government, unbeknownst to him. He was used like a puppet and they ruined his life; his life meant nothing to the success of the socialist leaders, which was the story of many in those days. Wadja displayed this to audiences to silently expose this truth. Poles knew about these injustices but weren’t allowed to talk about them. But here it was, the truth displayed for them on the big screen and their voices finally felt heard, which is why it was said that 1 in 3 people in Poland saw this film and celebrated it.

Man of Marble (1976)

Dressed in blue and white, Agneiszka resembles the Blessed Mother. And the film she wishes to make will resurrect the corruption and manipulation by the government in Communist Poland and possibly remind people of the continuation of it. The man financing the film gets scared to release the film and takes away Agneiszka’s equipment and orders that production end. “Why are they scared?” Her father asks her after the film gets terminated, “because they think it is dangerous,” she says. Her father replies by saying, “It is honest.”

Man of Marble (1976)

In Ashes and Diamonds, starring Zbigniew Cybulski (basically the Polish James Dean) the woman with whom the main character falls in love takes him for a moment to a hopeful land, where only love exists and beauty and poetry, “Life is so beautiful sometimes,” he says to her. He has taken her on a walk through heavy rain. They end up in an old crypt reading a poem by Cyprian Norwid…So often, are you as a blazing torch with flames of burning rags falling about you flaming you know not if the flames bring freedom or death. Consuming all that you must cherish if ashes only will be left and want Chaos and tempest or will the ashes hold the glory of a starlike diamond. The morning start of everlasting triumph.”

Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

All this while he wrestles with the idea of killing a party leader and falling back (which is what he was scheduled to do later that night) into the violence of the times or walking away from all of that to be with this woman with whom he has fallen in love.

Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

In Wajda’s film Kanal, he dipicts the Warsaw Uprising and the Home Army soldier’s escape through the sewers while the city of Warsaw is being destroyed by the German army. The soldiers leading the rebellion escape at night into the sewers. “Shouldn’t we be afraid the Germans will come down here?” One soldier asks, the woman replies, “No. The Germans would never come down here.” Insinuating the Germans thought they were too good for such a place, too clean, & too perfect.

Again Wajda highlights the courage of women. In this film, the woman knows the way through the sewers. She is leading all of the men and they are depending on her. She knows the way. But one by one the men get lost, not willing to stay behind her, because she is going slow, encumbered by her injured lover whom she is carrying. At the end of the film, the woman’s lover is dying and too weak to climb up the shaft that will save both of them. She decides to find a better route for them, but they come face to face with a opening with bars over it. She can see the other side of the river from the opening. Delirious from fever, her lover doesn’t see the closed opening but only light, so she tells them they are safe and they will sit by the light a moment to rest, but she knows he is dying. She gave him the last bit of hope he needed to make his transition to death in peace.

Kanal (1957)

All of these films were more like autobiographical accounts to Wajda and to the actors themselves; all of them experienced the hardships of Socialism, especially in Wajda’s earlier films. In one of his most recent films, Katyn, which depicts of the Katyn Genocide of 1940, a massacre of 22,000 Polish officers at the beginning of WWII. The Soviets blamed it on the Germans and the Germans blamed it on the Soviets, and no one knew what really happened to the officers until after the war. Mothers desperately looked for their sons, wives looked for their husbands, but to no avail until the truth came out years later. Like most of Wajda’s films, Katyn depicted most of this event as seen and experienced through the women. In an interview he mentions that the women are the ones that keep history going, that keep records and letters and without them we would have no memory of our past. The film was something Wadja had always dreamed of producing and directing but couldn’t because of the censor. So when all that ended in 1989, he began to think more about directing Katyn. His own father was one of the Polish officers killed in the Katyn forest and the lead actress’s (Maja Ostaszewska) grandfather was also a victim. So the actors themselves were very close to the story, as with most of Wajda’s political films, which is why they are so powerful.

Katyn 2008

I don’t think I would be so obsessed with these films if the casting wasn’t so good. Days after watching his films the characters still sit with me and think about the small almost imperceptible moments and shots. Like the moment in Man of Marble when Agnieszka is interviewing the former wife of the main character for her documentary and the wife begins to cry in the interview, so Agnieszka closes the window so the interview can no longer be recorded. Here, although she has a tough outer shell, displays her humanity, mercy, and generosity toward this other woman, and it shows that much of the pain of that era was felt behind closed doors and lived on years later. In this scene, Agnieszka seeks the truth, but not at the expense of another’s pain. This is admirable and very subtly displayed in the film.

These are the small details I think about days later. And I think about the characters days afterward too. They stick with me and their stories leave me with a gut wrenching heartache when the film is through.

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

When I was in college my mom and I stayed up until 4 am watching the TV series of The Thorn Birds on VHS. We binge-watched before there was such a thing!
However, she says now that the book is way better. I’m sure it probably is, but how could you not love watching Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward on screen?!

Any Thorn Bird fans out there? What do you think? TV series or book?

The Wisdom of the Desert by Thomas Merton

“One of Thomas Merton’s favorites among his own books—surely because he had hoped to spend his last years as a hermit.”
I have spent a lot of time in the “desert” or in the “wilderness” this past year. I think many, if not all of us have. But it’s how you move in the desert that can help you come out of it better than when you went in. The desert is a place for healing I think and a place for contemplation. It is a place for silence, prayer, and question. It can be a lovely place if you can see it with the eyes of love and not fear.

Intro to the Anamchara Fellowship Community!

I’m so excited for this journey! I have just joined the Anamchara Fellowship as a seeker for Aspirancy. Anamchara is a religious order of disbursed people from all walks of life canonically recognized by the Episcopal Church at large. It is for people who wish to continue their spiritual journey in a community. Together we pray the same prays each day and meet each night over zoom (the community is all over the US and the world) for evening prayers. The community uses the Northumbria Community book of Celtic Daily Prayer, every prayer in the book is so beautiful and flowing with green, rich Life. Each individual is committed to a certain Rule of Life which usually involves intentional prayer, recreation (exercise, art, music, whatever you love, etc.), meditation, and what I would call ‘gazing’ at God in all Creation—which is, at its heart, the Celtic way. I felt after doing eight months of my discernment course with the diocese that joining a monastic community was what I was called to do right now and bringing a piece of it, hopefully, back to the parishioners of my parish to benefit not just me, but all.

To Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donohue

This may sound strange, but I’ve been thinking of joining a dispersed religious order for people from all walks of life. That means married people like me can join. This would be a great next step for me in that it would give me a community of folks like me who are intentionally doing everything they can to grow spiritually. This is different than a church community. I love my fellow St. Philips peeps, but I think I could learn a lot from a group like this. And the thought of being in this type of community fills me with joy. There are two I’m looking into, one is a Franciscan order and the other is Anamchara, a Celtic fellowship that is supported by the Episcopal Church. In Anamchara they use John O’Donohue’s, To Bless the Space Between Us, as their prayer book, from what I understand. Just having this book in my house is a blessing! From it exudes so much life and lushness and creation and love—every word is so beautifully chosen. So as I’m discerning what to do, this book will help guide me I think into the next phase of my life of perpetual spiritual growth.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

The mystic in all of us…here is an example in a Puritan woman from 1675.

Trying to pick a couple easy paperback reads for our trip through spring break. I love travel stories, but the first narrative in this collection is of Mary Rowlandson who, along with her three children, was taken captive by an indigenous tribe while living in Massachusetts in 1675. The first draft was written in her own hand and it is of a different type of travel story in which she recounts the 150 miles she walked over the course of eleven weeks with her captors. The author of the prologue to her narrative said something very interesting and…can you believe…mystical! They write, “Rowlandson’s narrative, moreover, stands in contrast to the other narratives included in this collection, both in regard to its religious tone and in its significant lack of exterior descriptions. For in her depiction of a Puritan soul who struggles from sinfulness to regeneration, Rowlandson cares less for the surrounding wilderness and focuses instead on a more interior journey.”

So mystical and beautiful! When we struggle we look to our center and focus on that which is God. Rowlandson was eventually returned to her husband. She was not mistreated by her captors at all. However, her little daughter died from injuries she received when she was first kidnapped.

The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila

Just started this!! I love St. Teresa of Avila, no one messed with her. If you need human strength, her words can help. I’ve heard this is her book about prayer but as I’m reading it, it seems that it is more about the intentional spiritual journey, the drawing closer to union with God, and the way to ‘perfection’. Perhaps I heard wrong or maybe I’m misinterpreting the book so far, but as I’m envisioning her descriptions it seems to be more of a pilgrimage to the pointing to God, which we are striving to do.

I had a little castle, but I put this appropriately shaped barnacle in the scene instead. Can anyone guess why? 😄 hint: it has to do with the book. Haha 🥸

Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh

Getting into it!! So excited to be reading something beautiful and inspiring again!!

My Lenten devotion to meditation is going well, but I had to put down Cynthia Bourgeault’s book on centering prayer, because it was too pragmatic in its thinking about something that really can’t be explained. I think Thomas Keating and she have done a lot to bring ‘silence’ out of obscurity in the Christian religion, but I found both their books about centering prayer dry and cold. I know they are both acclaimed writers on this subject but I couldn’t get into it. Too many big words for me. 😄

Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault

Part of my Lenten devotion was to be more intentional with meditation and prayer. Was able to start reading this last night. Looking forward to getting into it more! It always takes me about a week to think about what devotion I will take into Lent. I’m always coming to the show late after thinking and thinking…maybe I’ll give up chocolate, cheese, wine…but in the end I chose to add rather than subtract. So I got up this morning at 5am to do morning meditation. With all the different schedules I’ve had to get used to lately this is the only time left for silence. Sacrificing sleep won’t kill me but rather, in this case, help me live!

Niels Lyhne by Jens Peter Jacobsen

A well known recommendation from poet Rainer Maria Rilke. It fell out of circulation for a while because Jacobsen’s prose was difficult to translate. This translation, however, by Tiina Nunnally has won awards and so far it’s been an enjoyable read and so incredibly deep. This was Jacobsen’s masterpiece written after he was diagnosed with chronic tuberculosis which he knew would eventually kill him. So it is a story of a soul really, a soul’s journey from childhood into adulthood pondering questions of immortality.