A Woman Alone (Kobieta samotna) (14th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival) Review

Agnieszka Holland’s once-banned drama A Woman Alone, shows in a new 35mm print at the Kinoteka Festival.

Wrocław. Irena (Maria Chwalibóg) lives in an apartment block with her young son Boguś (Paweł Witczak). She works as a postwoman, One day on her rounds she meets Jacek (Bogusław Linda), a disabled young miner, and they begin an affair…

Agnieszka Holland was born in 1948, the daughter of two journalists, and studied at film school in Prague. She began her career as an assistant to Krzysztof Zanussi and Andrzej Wajda. Her first film as a director, Provincial Actors, was made for Wajda’s production company. In it, a Polish theatre company becomes a metaphor for the country as a whole, with compromise and inability to speak freely the order of the day. Provincial Actors showed in last year’s Kinoteka Festival in a new digital restoration in the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema strand, and it’s showing again this year as part of the festival’s Holland retrospective.

A Woman Alone (Kobieta samotna, sometimes rendered in English as A Lonely Woman) was Holland’s third feature and is if anything much more direct in showing how people lived in Poland at the time. Downbeat to a fault, it was unlikely to find favour with the authorities; completed just as martial law was declared in 1981, the film was immediately banned, though developed a reputation via secret screenings. Holland had by then emigrated to France and continued her career abroad as a scriptwriter and director.

The film, is a portrait of a heavily circumscribed life, the screen (in Academy Ratio, still a viable theatrical ratio in Poland in 1981, even though widescreen had arrived in the country in the 1950s, the same as it had in western Europe and North America) enclosing Irena in further. The camerawork of Jacek Petrycki, who had photographed Provincial Actors, adds to the effect, with an emphasis on greys and browns, and low light, with occasional bold colours standing out, such as the reds of the Polish flags in a scene where Irena goes the the Party headquarters. A Woman Alone is a sad, but affecting and powerful film

A Woman Alone shows in a 35mm print of a new restoration on 13 April at 6.00pm and 18 April at 8.50pm at the BFI Southbank, London, as part of the 14th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival in its Agnieszka Holland retrospective. The showing of 13 April is followed by a Q & A with Holland.


Updated: Apr 13, 2016

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