Second Run are one of the more remarkable labels operating in the UK, focusing on forgotten and obscure Eastern European films during the past decade. There is one concurrent theme common in many of the titles they pluck from obscurity, their political awareness. The by-product of this is a dual pronged education; the first is one of pure discovery with the second requiring a little in the ways of political awareness and acclimatization. You’d expect a film banned for political reasons like Escape from ‘Liberty’ Cinema to fall on those truths a little hard with its powerful satire rallying against authoritarianism, while true there is also a prankster hid in plain sight. Wojciech Marczewski’s anti-totalitarian satire is a classic case of not judging a book by its cover.
This absurdist black comedy follows censor Janusz Gajos daily life of altering press statements or playing piggy in the middle for squabbles between state and press. Recieving a phone call, he is dragged into the horrifying prospect unfolding at his local cinema of slick melodrama Daybreak. Only this isn’t a technical, the actors have gone on strike by refusing to act. No work simple workplace dispute the film is in fact still being projected while the actors are doing nothing as if a live feed broadcasting in. If only, there is more to it than that with the actors on-screen interacting with the patrons in the cinema; arguing, stealing property as if the cinema screen was a door leading to another room. Recalling and referencing The Purple Rose of Cairo, Marczewski goes further still by punctuating this madness by having his supporting cast break out spontaneously into operatic song to fully earn his surrealist stripes.
The very first line of dialogue sees Gajos deliver a monologue stating flatly that censorship is an art which keeps civil order intact and without them only chaos could ensue. Historically films that delve into either politics or surrealism tend to overlook character development. Even if Marczewski goes on to examine the cultural and personal ramifications of the censor he never overlooks his protagonist. Despite his character only being known as ‘the censor’, he becomes a relatable lead developing from someone who believes firmly in the power of censorship and whose own daughter likens to a rat into a man who rediscovers himself through professional hardship.
Freedom and awakening from the talon of totalitarianism define everything. A text that forms the underlying substance of one of the more surreal inclusions, that awakening defines these bureaucrats breaking into deliberate, awfully dubbed and, vitally, hilarious arias. Including secondary and sometimes incidental characters tells of the rare consideration employed by the director. The climax shows alone show how freedom from the shackles doesn’t automatically negate the cause and effect of history.
Freedom doesn’t come without suppression and Marczewski was no stranger to the overwhelming power of the state making only two notable films with this and his previously (Second Run) released Shivers. Escape from ‘Liberty’ Cinema feels like a natural conclusion to that conflict with the director openly suggesting that the government cares only for order with personal expression forbade under communist rule. An opinion bluntly expressed when a film critic brought for help only hinders by claiming that the “rubbish” these actors are performing is exactly what is wrong with Polish cinema; describing the industry as “frighteningly provincial, with no interest in appealing to the wider world”. Strong words but indicative of such an intoxicatingly rebellious film.
In pinning its satirical intent to fantasy trappings there is a more immediate accessibility that his fellow Polish films lacked, at least in Marczewski’s eyes. For someone who hasn’t the first clue about the idiosyncrasies of Poland’s history, the reward of the commentary and comedy cannot be underestimated. The spontaneous joy of the opera breakouts are only part of the pleasures to be had, take the arguments between crowd and actors and the dominant feeling that the director is poking a bear with a stick – Escape from ‘Liberty’ Cinema is inundated with the small pleasures of rooting for the underdog.
If escape from ‘Liberty’ Cinema was made today it would be rightful lauded among the best films of any year for the masterpiece it is. With that not being the case, the unfortunately subjugated talents of Wojciech Marczewski are as clear as day in making the twenty-five year old worries of Poland relevant to a modern audience. If nothing else, such films show exactly why Second Run are one of the best boutique film labels of the day.
• New HD digital transfer with restored picture and sound, approved by the director.
• Exclusive filmed interview with director Wojciech Marczewski.
• New and improved English subtitle translation.
• 20-page booklet featuring a new essay on the film by editor, film historian and DVD producer Michael Brooke.
Escape from the ‘Liberty’ Cinema is now available on Second Run DVD.