The Meanders of Populism in Polish Cinema

Mazierska, Ewa Hanna orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-4385-8264 (2023) The Meanders of Populism in Polish Cinema. In: The Abstract Book of the International Conference Populism in National and Global Media. Vilnius University Press, pp. 10-11. ISBN 978-609-07-0998-6

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The term populism typically refers to a political position that contrasts ‘the people’ to ‘the elite’, presenting the former as a morally good force and the latter as selfish and corrupt. It is thus frequently associated with an anti-establishment position. From this perspective, Polish oppositional cinema of the period of state socialism, as encapsulated by Człowiek z marmuru (Man of Iron, 1981) by Andrzej Wajda, can be described as populist, as it pitted the people, united in the Solidarity movement, against the corrupt, weak and declining communist government.

The fall of the Iron Wall and the introduction of the parliamentary democracy resulted in the legitimisation of the government, which started to represented the people (or at least the majority of those who take part in the elections) and fragmentation of the ‘people’ into fractions representing competing political interests. By the same token, there is no more place for the old-style populism in Polish politics and its cinema. Instead, recently we observe political divisions along the lines: populism and anti-populism, with the former associated with the uneducated and conservative masses and the latter with the progressive, yet marginalised minorities. Such films became the domain of cinema made by women with feminist leanings, especially Małgorzata Szumowska (W imię…, 2013, Body/ciało, 2015), Córka boga, 2019), as well as Dzikie róże (Wild Roses, 2017) by Anna Jadowska and Pokot (Spoor, 2017) by Agnieszka Holland and Kasia Adamik. The main object of criticism in these films is the Catholic Church in Poland and people living in the province who follow its instruction, implicitly positioning oneself on the side of the (educated) elite. In my talk I will analyse the rhetoric used in Man of Iron and the new wave of Polish women’s films, pointing to their simplified depiction of the enemy. I will also compare Polish films with other films, described as populist, such as some Italian films and French romantic comedies.

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