Tag Archives: movies

Teachers that make no scientists (but make Polish people angry)

A long time ago I intended to write a post about why Polish scientists speak American English. Aleksander Wolszczan, the astronomer, and his likes.

It would be a post coarse in its simplicity. Money rules, blah, Poland pays, blah, for what foreigners take away, blah blah, brain drains worse than acid rains, blah blah, period”.

So instead I decided to wait for Poland to grow rich enough to buy some American brainwaves back. But all we have got is new Starbucks and new Star Wars. [Foreign stars came to this blog free, so it does not count as any brain back-drain.] Poland also failed to capture Switzerland and grab the Large Hadron Collider. Though nobody knows how LHC will pay off, everybody knows it will, eventually. LHC is said to be just as important as Copernicus’ revolution.

Copernicus was German – but it’s not his nationality that counts, it’s the source of taxation. It seems Poland was capable of making economic use of foreign Scientists ages ago — but not nowadays.

I read in the latest NF — there’s science (of analysis) and there’s Science (of synthesis). The big-S Scientists, the elite, the Noble-getters who give reasons for new industries to emerge with profits, they don’t work for Poland. The small-s scientists analyze stupidities: “Chickens can have erection once bombed by gay laughter“. That sort of science — which seems like something Polish analyses could fit in. Mind, Poland never had scientists who make local inventions that earn global fortune.

When my memory got searching for some examples of education, I recalled Aleksandra Lojek-Magdziarz. Fluent in so-many so-what languages. Handling Oriental stuff no one really cares about. Living in-/beside the world that thinks you highbrowed if you happen to know Iran is not an Arabic country. (Or is it?) Past the years to come, what Brits will wrinkle their foreheads, should their small talk divert to AL-M for any yet unobvious reason: “You mean the gal that used to write for the Grauniad?” — I guess remembering AL-M for her Grauniad thing would be as fair as pondering “John Cleese?…You mean that guy from that weird commercial for a bank in…was it Romania?”

Then I vaguely recall the Polish piano guy. — Can you?
No, I don’t mean Chopin — who’s working for the French capital.

No, I don’t mean the Keitel man in the movie about a prostitute selling herself for piano keys.
No, I don’t mean David Helfgott playing at Rach 3 speed – he’s Australian.
I mean that Glaswegian janitor, whose unremembered name I had to dig out there.

Then movie classics — Paweł, Jerzy and Zbigniew. One being a licensed literature professor. All educated enough to renovate a house under the Tuscan sun.
And then many other Poles (whose list I will spare for some other time).


Polish education, when not gone to waste, hastens abroad — but starts walking with the Polish teachers.

Did you know? –- Polish teaching load is 18 school-hours a week. Which means Polish teachers work for 54 round-the-clock hours a month (compared to average Pole’s 160). When they are at work, that is. Save Saturdays and Sundays, Polish teachers enjoy vacations: a summer bimonthly, a winter biweekly, a week in April, some 10 days round Hogmanay, annual Education day, a generous handful of feasts and other reasons to shirk just working. Heck, they can take a year (!) off, to revitalize their health, so they say. (But how could they say anything, when their larynxes and pharynxes are in ruins, so they say?) And when pupils have to buy books, teacher get their copies free. And when pupils pay to go for a school trip, teachers deign to get sponsored. And they get chocolates and flowers in public. And more expensive bribes in secrecy. In addition, they are regularly paid a lot. By the state, the safest payer. Employed by the state, the safest employer. And they score big extras for private lessons, net and untaxed. And at schools, they can just order their class to read some book and then learn it by heart. Or play ball. Or pray bull. If they don’t know how to download some tests from the net, they write ones themselves, but just once in their lifetime — then they simply reuse the stuff. And, hear! hear!, they do keep moaning about how hard it is to be a teacher. And that they have to retire sooner than anymany else.

I guess that’s it. No science’s muscles can be built around that kind of lazybones.

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Warning: there is more about teachers.

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Mała wielka miłość (Expecting Love): Movie Review

My god that was disappointing. I’m tempted to leave this review at that, along with a stern warning not to part with folding money in exchange for a viewing, but I suppose I should say a little more.

I say ‘disappointing’ because I was really looking forward to this movie and because it completely failed to satisfy any of my expectations. The central premise has an amoral young lawyer from California called Ian (Joshua Leonard) falling in love with a sweet Polish girl called Joanna (Agnieszka Grochowska), moving to Poland, and experiencing humorous ‘culture shock’ type situations. There’s a great and very funny movie to be made from that story, but this ain’t it boys and girls.

Ian (Joshua Leonard) and Joanna (Agnieszka Grochowska) completely failing to convince anyone that they’re in love.

Expecting Love is some kind of joint US-Polish production. I’m guessing it wasn’t a happy cooperation. Certainly the end result resembles a poorly stitched together Frankenstein’s monster rather more than a seamless marriage. It looks and sounds exactly like a classic American romantic comedy, but the story is shot through with jarringly unpleasant themes and characters. It’s a queasy combination, rather like taking a huge gulp of what you think is apple juice only to discover it’s actually rusty turpentine with 27 spoon-fulls of sugar in it.

Case in point. Joanna, when she discovers she’s pregnant, persuades Ian to come to Poland by pretending she’s under age and thereby laying him open to a charge of statutory rape. Now, I can imagine a darkly humorous movie in which this idea might play, but it just doesn’t fit in the kind of movie where the hero and heroine have their first big kiss when they get caught in the rain and the heroine has to have a slightly camp gay friend (Marcin Bosak). It’s like watching some bizarre collision between Will and Grace and Decalogue 6.

Caught in the rain = romantic kiss.

The most annoying thing about this movie is that, occasionally, it demonstrates how good it could have been. The scenes in which Ian runs into language problems with immigration officials and the police are very nicely played (Maciej Kowalewski and Maciej Wierzbicki are good here, don’t know if they’re already well-known). But even here there’s a weird disconnect between the sweet and glossy tone and the cops beating seventeen kinds of crap out of Ian when then find him sleeping on a bench. Okay, I’ll watch the movie in which the Polish police beat the stuffing out of a lost foreigner and then bung him in the klink and I’ll watch the movie in which the Polish police are charmingly bumbling fellows who offer a lost foreigner a cell to sleep in for the night, but put them both in the same movie and I get a headache in my sense of humor.

Mikołaj Grabowski doing acting, Agnieszka Grochowska apparently dead.

If I may gripe further. Agnieszka Grochowska is appalling, she delivers her English lines as if she was reading from a phonetic autocue and completely fails to engage the audience. Frankly I didn’t care in the slightest if Ian paid for her operation or left her to turn tricks on Poznańska. Warsaw is portrayed as consisting entirely of a short stretch of Krakowskie Przedmieście, a completely atypical suburban street somewhere in Żoliborz, and the roof garden of the university library. After months of teaching English to Polish students Ian still can’t pronounce ‘tata.’ If he really tried to live in that flat he’d be dead from frostbite by the middle of December. I didn’t like it… you may be getting that message by now.

Final verdict: If you can manage it without paying watch it up until the part with the police then give up, nothing remotely funny or interesting happens after that.

More Polish movie reviews? You have uncanny luck today!

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Schindler’s List Death Camp: Krakow – Off the beaten track

THERE’S MORE LIKE THIS ON OUR NEW SITE – POLANDIAN.COM

In 1992 Steven Spielberg built a replica of the Nazi’s Płaszów Labor Camp for his movie Schindler’s List. The remains of this highly realistic set can still be seen today a short distance from the center of Krakow. Rebuilt using the original plans, the replica of Płaszów was constructed in a quarry only a few hundred meters from the location of the real camp. The Liban Quarry, the site of the reconstruction, is one of the places where inmates of Płaszów were worked to death or randomly murdered.

Today the Liban Quarry is a peaceful spot, famous for it’s populations of rare lizards and endangered wild flowers. Young trees and shrubs were bursting into the supernaturally bright green of spring when I visited this early May weekend. After a slightly perilous scramble down unmarked chalky paths we found our way to the floor of the quarry and pushed through the burgeoning saplings to see what we could see. The most obvious features are visible from the lip of the quarry, but it’s worth finding your way down for a closer look.

Liban Quarry from the south side of Kopiec Krakus

Traces of the Schindler’s List set and other features

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The tombstone road

The real Płaszów camp was built partly on the site of Jewish graveyards. In a typical piece of Nazi theatricality the tombstones were used to pave the road into the camp so that inmates were compelled to trample over the relics of their ancestors on their way to and from work. This is shocking from our safe and distant perspective, but I’m sure it was the last thing that really worried the men and women who were trying to survive there. In the reconstructed camp concrete casts from real headstones were used to build a similar road. It would be interesting to find out exactly which original headstones were cast.

The reconstructed road of tombstones (it’s ok to walk on them, they’re not real)

Detail of the reconstructed road of tombstones (look carefully for the repetitions)

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The fences

The original Płaszów camp had an inner and an outer fence. The corridor between these fences was patrolled by SS guards. This is reproduced exactly in the Liban Quarry copy. The remnants of the movie set are incredibly convincing. The timber looks decades old, rather than less than 20 years old – did the set builders use timber from an older source? If so, I’d love to know what that source was. According what I’ve read, the real camp had concrete fence posts, but maybe this wouldn’t have looked ‘authentic’ enough in the movie (I was certainly surprised to find that the fences at Auschwitz have concrete posts – too many war movies I guess). Also, I have no idea if the original fences were electrified – the insulators on the fake fence posts suggest that they were but this could also be a touch or artistic license.

Corridor between the inner and outer fences

Another view of the fence posts and barbed wire

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The lime kilns

From my memory of reading Schindler’s Ark, the book upon which Schindler’s list is based, I recall that the work on Liban Quarry was focused on the production of quicklime rather than the quarrying of limestone for its own sake. To produce quicklime you need a lime kiln, and that’s what I believe those tower-like structures at the back of the quarry are for. Limestone goes in the top, burning coal or charcoal goes in about half-way down, and quicklime comes out the bottom. Looking closely at these structures they are clearly many decades old, not movie sets. It’s possible they are remnants of the quicklime producing facilities from the Nazi’s war time operation, but they could also date from after the war, when the quarry continued in use. Again, something it would be nice to discover the truth about.

Dark satanic mills – but from what period in history?

Detail of the lime kilns

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Visiting the ‘fake’ Płaszów camp is a confusing and disturbing experience. The remnants you see are the remnants of a movie set, not the remnants of the actual labor camp – the real labor camp was destroyed and tidied away by the Germans before the Russians arrived. Despite knowing this one can’t help but be moved by the remains of the fake camp. It looks and feels exactly as you would expect an abandoned and overgrown Nazi death camp to look and feel, but it is – literally – just a movie. These are not the fences that enclosed the pitiless and brutal murder of thousands of people, but they stand on the ground where exactly those things happened. These are not the smashed remnants of centuries-old Jewish culture reduced to paving slabs, but they are exactly like them and the lie on the ground where Jewish people were worked to death. The coincidence between the ‘Hollywood’ version 50 years later and the reality beneath your feet is deeply confusing and thought provoking. To my mind, the reconstructed Płaszów camp lies at the heart of our struggle to understand – a living essay on the power of film blatantly and horrifically tied directly to the reality that film tries to portray. I’m inclined to believe that the remnants of the reconstructed Płaszów Camp were perhaps the chief reason for the making of the movie… but that’s just me.

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How to get there

The Liban Quarry is on the south side of the Vistula River. From the center of Old Krakow simply walk down through Kazimierz (Krakowska Street) and cross the Piłsudskiego Bridge (an unmistakable iron bridge painted pale blue). From there, follow the map below up to the Krakus Mound from which there is an excellent view down into the quarry. If you do decide to try and make your way down into the quarry itself please remember it is an environmentally sensitive area and it is dangerous.

(Click for a larger version)

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