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It was the first lesbian romance from behind the Iron Curtain.  And in the main roles?  Two actresses from Poland

It was the first lesbian romance from behind the Iron Curtain. And in the main roles? Two actresses from Poland

When martial law was in force in Poland, two young Polish actresses went to Budapest to take part in a film that would depict the then forbidden love between two women. The creators of “Another Look” certainly did not expect that their film would one day be considered a cult film in queer circles. And in some things they turned out to be even more pioneering than their colleagues from the free West. I saw what is considered the first Eastern European film about lesbian love during the 1st edition of the Timeless Film Festival Warsaw.

It is rarely mentioned today, but the first Polish woman awarded the Palme d’Or for best actress at the Cannes Film Festival was Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieślak. The actress received it in 1982 for the main role in the Hungarian film “Another Look”. Interestingly, she was accompanied on screen by another Polish actress, Grażyna Szapołowska.

Our compatriots appeared in this film for a reason. Well, none of the Hungarian actresses dared to play in the film by Károly Makka, who was the first director from Central and Eastern Europe to decide to tell the story of lesbian love. Moreover, he set the reality in the second half of the 1950s, when the echoes of the 1956 revolution had not yet faded away.

They met in the grim reality of the 1950s, where it seemed that there was no place for love. And even more so for the “other” one

Szapołowska and Jankowska-Cieślak also took part in the film because of the martial law prevailing in Poland at that time. At that time, the artistic community boycotted state television, which gave many actors time to appear in foreign productions. Of course, only in those that come from the countries of the then Eastern Bloc.

Károly Makk’s film was based on the novel “Another Love” by Erzsébet Galgóczi, which devoted a special place to life in the Hungarian countryside in its literature. And although the film takes place mainly in Budapest, in a few scenes we move to the province where forced collectivization has just begun.

The main character of the film, Éva Szalánczky, played by Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieślak, also comes from a God-forsaken village. She is a young and non-conformist journalist who has trouble finding a job after the Hungarian Revolution. Finally, he gets it at the editorial office of the state newspaper “Prawda”, where he is given a desk in the same room as the enigmatic Livia (Grażyna Szapołowska), who is the officer’s wife.

After some time, a specific bond develops between the women, and the seemingly heterosexual Livia also begins to think about her friend in a “different” way. Then begins the tragic struggle of women for their own “to be or not to be”, which is still not easy for many today, let alone almost sixty years ago in a communist country.

Interestingly, compared to today’s LGBT+ cinema, the film is very sparing in its means of expression when it comes to showing the love of two women. This is not surprising, as the topic was extremely uncomfortable at the time. However, it is very symbolic, which is why the tone and emotions that accompany many dense scenes, despite the passage of time, can still have a strong impact on the viewer.

It used to be a special film for many people. Today, in the era of social media, the reception may be different

However, during the screening I noticed that not everyone was able to empathize with the realities of the Cold War at that time. For the group of queer teenagers sitting behind me in the cinema, the way Ewa confessed her feelings to Livia was an excuse to mock them. I felt a little sorry for them then, because the lives of many non-heteronormative people in Poland and Hungary still resemble those in the movies.

The reception of the film was definitely different over 20 years ago. In an article about the film on the website from 2003, we can read that “Another Look” is a cult film for Polish lesbians, which for many of them was often the first production with lesbian elements that they had the opportunity to see.

For us it is a legendary film, for many lovers of ‘industry’ films around the world it is a special film, because it was produced in a socialist country in the years when ‘industry’ films were just taking more confident steps in democratic countries and did not yet dare to show lesbian intimacy. And I’m certainly not exaggerating when I say that this is a pioneering film in many ways – we read.

Participation in a film about female-female love did not go unnoticed by the authorities. But Jankowska-Cieślak remained true to her values

Interestingly, the above-mentioned erotic scene was partly made with the use of stunt doubles. However, this did not prevent Polish actresses from having a hard time later. Despite receiving the award in Cannes, Jankowska-Cieślak later struggled with numerous problems in the country. The actress’s international success was inconvenient for the then authorities, who in 1983 decided to throw her out of the Dramatic Theater in Warsaw.

An international career also never came. For years, the actress thought that no producer was interested in her at that time, but this was not true. There were many proposals for Jankowska-Cieślak, but the communist institution Film Polski, which was then the only one authorized to contact foreign creators with Polish ones, was ordered to block all information from above.

The actress returned to the Dramatic Theater in 1987. Previously, she played at the Polish Theater for two years, although, as she admitted in an interview with “Scena” magazine, she did not have many roles. “I don’t play much today, although it doesn’t really worry me. (…) Besides, I think I have a strange status in this profession. Some people treat me like a crazy child in the fog, others even accept me, still others can’t look at me ” – we read.

But all this did not change her attitude towards the LGBT+ community, of which she is an ally. In an interview for “Replika” in 2020, she revealed that although she knew little about homosexuality during the filming, for her love was always love regardless of gender.

When I played Eva in love with Livia in 1981, I had no knowledge about homosexuality – but I was convinced that it didn’t matter, because love is love and it doesn’t matter whether it connects a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and a man. .

Timeless Film Festival Warsaw. “The best stories are timeless”

Timeless Film Festival Warsaw is a new event on the cultural map of Poland. The originator and founder of the festival is Roman Gutek. The idea of ​​the festival is to put cinema classics back into motion, which in recent years, on the one hand, has been relegated to home screenings, and on the other hand, has begun to regain its former glory.

The first edition of the event took place on April 8-15 and during it several dozen restored films were shown – both classic titles and lesser-known titles. “Another Look” directed by Károly Makka was shown as part of the festival’s largest section, “Classic Territories: World Cinema”, which also included lesser-known films by recognized masters.

Source: Gazeta

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