Having seen this film, I’d hesitate to recommend people’s Poland as a fun holiday destination. It’s a rather grey, drab country with morose inhabitants. Someone’s always complaining about something: the weather, the queues, the Communist Party. Those who don’t complain spend most of their time writing reports on those who do: “9 o’clock to 9:23-the suspect is intimate with his wife. 9:23 to 9:26-the suspect washes his hands with soap.”
Interested? One Day in People’s Polandis a film guide to a place that has faded from memoryONE DAY IN PEOPLE’S POLAND, not because it was bad, but because it was fundamentally boring. There are endless shots of people working machines, getting on and off trams, breeding chickens and squeezing into strange biohazard suits. Voices read out official statements; we find out that a worker’s shoe must be open at the heel and that the penis can’t be measured when it has entered the vagina. This is followed by complaint letters to the authorities; one of them even complains about other peoples’ complaints. A monotonous voice reads out protocols written by some unfortunate secret police officer sent on notoriously dull spying missions. These texts are more or less randomly matched with greyish footage that grinds on relentlessly.
What one gets out of this montage is an overview of life in Communist Poland in the early sixties. Like on most average days, nothing much happens. People are born, others die; some queue at the shops, others toil in a factory. But archive has its own allure, even when everything that could be remotely interesting is cut out. The documented scenes need only be far enough removed from our own experience. Think of the 1901 film about the wild men of the Torres Straits. It’s not much more than shots of three individuals in skirts jumping up and down on the beach. Yet the film was made more than a century ago, and the three men are real “savages”. That somehow changes the picture dramatically. The same is true of the footage that was used for One Day in People’s Poland. I looked at some of the scenes like I’d look at a grey comet that’s just fallen from the sky. That made up for the time spent watching the general drudgery of a Communist worker’s day. Look out for Maciej Drygas’ film at your local festival, or on ARTE.
© EDN/ModernTimes (previously published in DOX Magazine).