Painterly themes in Polish movies. Jan Jakub Kolski’s “Republic of Children”

Painting motifs seldom appear in Polish cinema. Recently, the success of the Polish-British co-production "Loving Vincent" (2017) motivated its makers to create an animated adaptation of the novel "The Peasants" (it is expected to hit theaters in 2022).

Interesting, erudite painting references appeared in Wojciech Smarzowski's “The Wedding” (2004), in which the framing of many scenes mimics some of the most famous canvases of Polish artists at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. These references do not determine the content of the movie, they are but a relish, an intellectual game, a pun to be decoded by the viewers, allowing them to get a sense of participation in culture.

Jan Jakub Kolski in his newest movie - “The Republic of Children”, uses painting references in a completely different fashion. The director known for his moody, romantic stories translates the mysterious atmosphere of Jacek Malczewski’s paintings into the language of cinema. The story of children striving to exercise their rights is infiltrated by denizens of Malczewski’s imaginary world such as fauns, chimerae, rusalki, Thanatos, Thobias with his angelic companion and many others. Rather than turn to computer animation, the filmmakers used more traditional techniques - make-up, costume, body painting. They help blur the line between the mundane and the fantastical and create a distinctly modern fairy tale, tackling many current hot issues, but maintaining the slow pacing and symbolic language characteristic of Malczewski’s paintings.

The natural world, so important in the work of Polish late XIX century painters, is also a protagonist in the movie. The artists themselves appear as well - Józef Mehoffer i Witold Wojtkiewicz visit Jacek Malczewski to discuss the disappearance of key characters from their canvases. Their conversation touches serious questions such as the price of freedom, but is not devoid of gentle humor.

The movie without a doubt deserves hearty recommendation - the visually striking fairy tale is at the same a tour of cinematic genres and different aspects of culture and a gentle invitation to reflect upon our values.

This post was inspired by Jan JAkub Kolski's movie "The Republic of Children" (Poland 2020).

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