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


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


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)


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


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


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.


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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Polish Entry, Working Girls and Knocking

Where there’s a gun, there’s a way. The uniformed men in Poland stood for authorities. Alien authorities, often. German Gestapo, Soviet NKVD, PRL secret police officers could raid into a Polish flat without a warrant. Needless to say, the men in uniformed power were not as polite as this Monty Python’s constable:

Members of the military, police, militia, forest inspectorate, postal service, gas works, electricity works, firemen, doctors, priests, anyone in outwardly authority-marking clothes would always have the hand upper than the hand of a ‘regular’ plain clothes or plain pyjamas Pole’s. Especially when it could carry a gun, a baton, a court summons. Media (such as TV) were power, too – a journalist could enter places where mortals dared not. Clerks used to be (and sometimes still feel to be) in power to, apparently more important than citizens.

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Still, you will easily find politeness in Poland wherever it is needed – in a shabby-clad burglar, for example. Start watching this piece of “Alternatywy 4” [from 02:10] A burglar named Balcerek is requested to break into a flat of one of his neighbours. He has his principles: it is professionally unethical to go burglarise your own homestead. Assured it’s a matter of life and death, Balcerek agrees to break in, accompanied to the target door by the neighbours. What should a burglar do before he starts his job? He KNOCKS.

Or, note that men of the Polish resistance knock. Only then they can break into a rendez-vous (watch first 50 secs)].

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One comment below the post about the English exit was about a water–meter inspectoress, allegedly rude. Her iconic precedent is Kobieta Pracująca (the Working Woman), a jill of all trades, mistress of just as many.

See her walk in bravely as a gas / electricity works collector, demand a place to seat, wanting the mess on the table removed. Don’t dismiss her rudeness too hastily: she pays back with many a piece of advice on a variety of subjects, free of charge, not even for a cuppie. In another episode she says “excuse me” to offer insurance policy instantly in the middle of the household under marital argumentation. Both episodes merged below:

See her as a saleswoman, offering veal, turning into a plague-fighter since the need be. See that not only Polish home is not a castle, but a bedridden man’s bed does not stand within any area of unpeeped-in privacy. See the lady toss “good evening” and barge in to offer pants-sewing service. Two episodes in one tube again:

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The times they are a-changin’. There can be less arrogance and more pleasure in life. So, I’ll leave you with a gas detector inspector and a morgue representative paying their visits to a damsel (in distress?).



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No woman working here.

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Pora umierać (Time to Die): Movie Review

The prospect of a Polish movie with the title ‘Time to Die’ doesn’t immediately fill one with expectations of a fun-packed two hours. Fortunately it’s nowhere near as grim and depressing an experience as the title and pedigree might suggest. Although Dorota Kedzierzawska’s October 2007 film has been around for a few months now I only got around to watching it this weekend. It tells the story of Aniela (Danuta Szaflarska), an elderly woman who lives in a rambling old house with her slightly loony Collie dog. Aniela is beset by the usual problems of the elderly and under-appreciated; her son (Krzysztof Globisz) is an unkempt loser married to a nagging harridan, her granddaughter (Patrycja Szewczyk) is an overweight ten-year-old who don’t speak proper, and the neighbourhood hooligans seize every opportunity to poke their tongues out, nick stuff, or mess around in her overgrown yard. On top of these run-of-the mill trails Aniela’s ghastly nouveau riche neighbour wants her out so that he can knock her derelict pile down and expand his own suburban palace.

Danute Szaflarska as Aniela: Do not mess with this grandma


The opening scene of the film has the, apparently, frail and timid Aniela visiting a doctor’s office. Treated with brusque disrespect by the harridan of a doctor Aniela promptly tells her to “Kiss my ass” and walks out. In other words this is an old bird not to be messed with. She’s got ‘spirit’ in a rather cliched old-woman-with-an-attitude kind of way. It has to be said that, although crusty-with-spirit films are fairly common in the west, they are rare in Poland where the first flush of trend-driven ‘yoof’ culture has not yet worn off. Non-Polish readers should also be made aware that the star, 92-year-old Danuta Szaflarska, is a reverently respected pillar of Polish cinema. This is part of the joke of course.

Much of the film has Aniela cooped up inside her moodily photographed home (the entire movie is shot in black and white) peering through its multitude of windows at the hostile world outside. She spies on the ghastly neighbour and his bimbo wife, watches the urchin inmates of the nearby drop-in center, and generally stares off into space all the while keeping up a querulous commentary for the benefit of her dotty dog. The dog, Phila, is one of the highlights of the movie; one of those highly-intelligent and highly-strung animals that whines and ruffs in a conversational manner and has strange secret obsessions and motivations all of its own. The house itself is also a highlight; a beautiful wooden structure wreathed in casement windows set among whispering pines. There’s lots of arty nonsense with fractured views through window facets that is supposed to suggest her bifurcated state of mind as she looks out into the present and inwards into the past. And yes, there are slow-motion soft-focus scenes in which the young Aniela is seen dancing in the moonlight with her handsome beau or playing with her young son. I for one would have been happier if these had been implied rather than spoon fed like dollops of treacle.

Aniela’s house. I want one, simple as that.


Time to Die winds up to a climax that will come as no surprise to anyone who takes the trouble to notice the title, but not before Aniela comes to terms in some way with the difficulties she faces and makes peace with those who deserve to have peace made with them. Dry eyes were not to be found in this house.

Final verdict: Thoughtful and surprisingly light-hearted, but unlikely to set pulses racing.

More movie reviews (you insatiable fiend you)?

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