Ewa Mazierska's book brings together film, identity, economy and class in the entirety of Polish cinema. The role of Polish film in constructing an externally recognised patriotic national identity, often against internal reflection and social reform, is clearly emphasised: "The most critically acclaimed Polish films show Poles fighting against external enemies, rather than dealing with everyday problems and enjoying the small pleasures in life" (p. 3). The book, then, shows how Polish cinema has carried macro-ideologies through its history and marginalised the micro-everyday: indeed, following Ben Highmore, downplaying the everyday risks by neglecting the dominated for the sake of listening to the dominating elites. Mazierska, who has published extensively on European cinema, as well as monographs on Roman Polański and Jerzy Skolimowski, writes of her work that "this project has much to do with listening to voices from below, or finding out why they are silenced or represented in one way rather than another" (p. 4). Mazierska utilises a concise (occasionally restrictive) Marxist approach: "I want to find out where, to use Marxist categories, there is a fit between the base and superstructure" (p. 25). She reverses the 'retreat from class' analysis of national cinema, a retreat caused in part by the disappointment with the defeat of the western working class in the struggle with capital. She also reverses the paucity of Polish film studies: "we barely see any studies analysing how the state of the country's economy and, especially, its transformation, affected representations, except for some general remarks" (p. 4).
The book is divided into three main sections, each focusing on the different economic and political system in power at the time. First, Mazierska outlines the interwar period when Poland became an independent country after a century of partition and the suppression of indigenous culture. The majority of Polish films produced in this capitalist 'small industry' were genre cinema. During this period, "the main social and political role of Polish cinema was to boost patriotism and create national unity" (p. 37). Second, and the dominant focus of the book, is the post-war period up to the fall of state socialism in 1989. Here, the caricature 'homo sovieticus' makes its appearance in film. The specificity of state industry meant that "the threat of unprofitability was of no concern" and therefore the 'star system' was absent because "the value of a star as the creator of extra profit was of little relevance to the film producers" (p. 99). The monopolist state directly affected the production and exhibition of film, although there was a liberalization of cinema towards the end of these transformative times. Thirdly, the author discusses the post-communist period and the emergence of the neoliberal norm, during which many film institutions, studios, and cinemas, which had previously belonged to the state, were privatized. More recently, however, the Polish Film Institute, established in 2005, has heavily subsidised film and considers Polish cinema a protected good.
Each chapter has considerable political and economic context; as Mazierska remarks, this is more extensive than other histories of Polish cinema, "amounting to about 30 % of the entire book" (p. 24). These include consideration of the new political order imposed at the Yalta conference in 1945; land reforms and the nationalization decree of 3 January 1946: "Although after 1989 it is easier to find a negative assessment of Polish industry than a positive one, in many ways it was a success story" (p. 83); the end of Stalinism and ascent of Gomulka in 1956; the fall of Gomulka and rise of Gierek in 1970; Gierek's decline in 1980 and the early victories of Solidarity in 1980-1; the imposition of martial law in 1981; the fall of state socialism in 1989; economic migration and adoption of neoliberal capital. The ability and occasional failure of Polish cinema to meet the ambition of functioning as a Fourth Estate or critical lens is apparent.
While the status of women and leisure is considered in Polish cinema, the representation of work and class is a prime focus. It is here that national changes are most evident. Mazierska writes that "what was represented in a film about a factory or an office could be read as pertaining to the country at large" (p. 100). Hence, at the end of Man on the Tracks (Andrzej Munk 1956), the comment "It is stifling here" resonates further than the film narrative, entering the colloquial language, and the expression "typified, in its understated way, life during the Stalinist era" (p. 100). The Office (Krzysztof Kieślowski 1966), consisting entirely of interactions at a government office service window, likewise functions metaphorically: "the whole of Poland as a bureaucratic nightmare where people work without commitment or pleasure and the same people wait for hours to be served by other alienated employees" (p. 179). A Story of a Man Who Filled 552 % of the Quota (Wojciech Wiszniewski 1973), officially at least, presents the record-breaking worker Bernard Bugdol as embodying the political as well as "an example to follow by everybody [… and a] confirmation that socialist competition led to the enrichment of the worker" (p. 207). Economic migration shifts the configuration of class and the workplace, and in Moonlighting (Jerzy Skolimowski 1982), a group of Polish workers travels to London where "they have to live in appalling conditions, in the very house which they are meant to renovate […] and they suffer from isolation, not knowing the local language" (p. 247). This film is prophetic where with the move from state socialism to neoliberalism, Žižek claims, manual work becomes a "site of obscene indecency to be concealed from the public eye" (p. 249).
Finally, the conclusion to the episodic Solidarity, Solidarity… (2005) with thirteen directors reconsiders and revisits the famous shipyard in Gdańsk where the Solidarity strikes began. It is now decimated, fragmented, and the massively reduced workforce is in the hands of over seventy private companies. Once famous for its ships and political engagement of workers, it now functions better as a destination for tourists. The yard, Mazierska says, "is now derelict, looking like a ghost town, a clear metaphor for the decline of the working class in Poland" (p. 308). Perhaps this is how the development of Polish cinema in relation to ideology and class is best conceived: the working class as ghost-like becomes the spectre that haunts Europe.
To conclude, if one wants a study, and indeed a model, of how the analysis of national cinema, political economy, identity, and representation should proceed, then Ewa Mazierska's Poland Daily – Economy, Work, Consumption and Social Class in Polish Cinema (2017) is an exemplar. The prime virtues of this encompassing book – the first to scrutinise the entirety of Poland's film history – are its clearly set out methodological approach (political economy and social class, popular cinema rather than auteurist paradigm), its command of Polish cinema from 1918 to date, and its analysis of the unique place of the political and economic history of Poland and much of Eastern Europe seen through the lens of its national cinema. This broad scope embraces early independence, pre-war 'embedded liberalism,' Soviet state socialism, and the neoliberal present. Perhaps this ambitious remit is one of few flaws in the book.
mgr Jon Baldwin: Recenzja: Ewa Mazierska: Poland Daily: Economy, Work, Consumption and Social Class in Polish Cinema, 2017, w: https://www.pol-int.org/pl/node/6691#r7711.