Polish Cinema: Hands Up! (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1981, Poland)

Purportedly Jerzy Skolimowski’s favorite film of all the films he directed, Hands Up! is an often inscrutable and frustrating effort from the Polish auteur who has failed to neatly fit into categories. The film is actually two films - most of the footage is comprised of a film Skolimowski shot in 1969, which was banned by censors. Skolimowski received a call in the early 1980s from the cultural minister that the film could now be released. Skolimowski reenacts this exchange with the cultural minister in the opening prologue of Hands Up!, which is a mish mash of various footage - scenes of bombed out Beirut (where Skolimowski was shooting Circle of Deceit with Volker Schlondorff), scenes of Skolimowski on the set of that film, images of oceans set against the music of Penderecki, as well as a Solidarity march in London’s Speaker’s Square.
The most interesting part of this initial prologue, which feels somewhat pretentious, is Skolimowski’s showcasing of the art of Polish painters, including Zdzislaw Beksinski. He tells us that his friends who remained in Poland could say more in their paintings than he could say in his films, explaining why he left Poland. 
This introductory section is followed by the film Skolimowski shot in 1969, an avant-garde piece featuring a group of students on a train car. Influenced by Brecht, Ionesco, and certainly the great Polish playwright Tadeusz Kantor, this segment of the film is essentially filmed experimental theater. Within this segment, Skolimowski muses on the consumerism of the new generation (all of the students take their names from cars), the ghosts of trauma from the past (“our parents escaped from trains like these”), and the Stalin era (in one scene the students unveil a mural dedicated to him, but with two sets of eyes). While this segment doesn’t always remain engaging, it is nevertheless an interesting curio.



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