Melbourne Cinematheque- Angry Harvest: The films of Agnieszka Holland

4 Oct

For the next three weeks Melbourne Cinematheque is screening six films by Agnieszka Holland (note: she’s from Poland and not The Netherlands as the name would infer). Starting her career as an assistant to Krysztof Zanussi and Andrzej Wajda, Holland began her own work in the 1970s and after two of her films were banned in Poland moved to France. The programme presented throughout October includes both of these once-banned films, along with Holland’s praised Europe Europa (1990) and Olivier, Olivier (1992) and her lesser-known films.

To begin is Europe Europa, based on the autobiographical novel ‘I Was Hitler Youth Solomon’ by Solomon Perel, which follows the life of Solomon. In order to escape the Holocaust Solomon not only lies about his Jewish heritage but masquerades as a poster-boy for the ‘Aryan race’. The Night of Broken Glass occurs on the eve of Solomon’s bar mitzvah and, with his sister having been killed, Solomon and his family escape to Poland. Through the causality of war Solomon is placed in an orphanage run by the Soviet Union until it is overtaken by Germans. Becoming a German-Russian interpreter Solomon finds his way back to Germany where he is forced to keep up the charade, loosing friends, family and ideals along the way. The film ends with the real Solomon Perel singing and slowly walking away.

Provincial Actors (1979) was Holland’s first feature film. Following a small-town theatre troupe, the events of the film acted as an allegory to Poland’s political situation at the time. Whilst a young director wishes to stage a classical play with modern elements, the older and more experienced lead actor tries to keep things ‘traditional’. Going on to win the International Critics Prize at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival, Provincial Actors is staged along Brechtian atmosphere and philosophy, allowing Holland to explore and highlight the characters claustrophobia and tensions.

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