Poland has a rich cinematic history. Coming out of the brutal repression of World War II, Poles have spent the past 70 years making heart-breaking comedy, black comedy satires and insightful documentaries. If you’re learning Polish, this is great news. Movies are a great way to supplement your language learning. And if you’re not sure where to get started, we’ve got some recommendations for great Polish movies. Films in Polish can be a bit harder to locate than other languages — Spanish and French movies are everywhere, Eastern European languages not so much — but we’ve included places you can find all of these Polish movies.
If you are learning Polish and want to start supplementing your lessons with movies, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, make sure you can find a subtitled version of the films, because dubbing really won’t help you. At the same time, don’t get too focused on the subtitles at the expense of listening to the actual Polish dialogue. It may even be worth it to watch these movies a second time without subtitles to test your vocab skills. And even if you are struggling with the language, Polish movies are a great way to immerse yourself in the country’s culture and history.
7 Polish Movies To Watch
Winner of the 2015 Academy Award for Best International Feature Film, Ida is an instant classic of Polish cinema. The black-and-white film follows the titular character, who is a Catholic nun living in the year 1962. She was orphaned as a child, and so it comes as a shock when she’s told that her parents were Jewish. The revelation sets her off on a journey of self-discovery. It is very much a movie about the aftermath of World War II, but much of the tragedy is left unsaid. In fact, one of the reasons this movie is so high up on this list is that the dialogue is sparse and simplistic, making it easier for a beginning Polish learner to understand. Don’t let the perceived simplicity fool you, though — the film packs a massive emotional punch.
Ida is available for streaming on Kanopy, Fandor, Hoopla and Sundance Now, and it can also be rented from a number of other streaming services.
Miś (“Teddy Bear”)
Don’t let the English title of this film mislead you, because Miś isn’t a children’s film. It’s a cult classic 1981 comedy about a man who gets trapped in Poland when he discovers his ex-wife has destroyed his passport. In order to get out of Warsaw, he develops a ridiculous scheme to find a doppelgänger whose passport he can steal and use. The movie was primarily a satire of Poland under the bureaucratic socialist regime, and it was heavily censored when it was first released. Despite this, it flourished in the black market and has become a highly quotable film.
As of now, Miś is only available on a service called Eastern European Movies. It’s not a very well-known streaming service, but if you plan to watch a lot of Polish movies, it could be worth the investment.
Krótki Film O Miłości (“A Short Film About Love”)
In 1988, a series of 10 hour-long films called Dekalog was released on Polish television. Each of the films was themed around the Ten Commandments (“Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not steal,” etc.). Two of the films from Dekalog were adapted into slightly longer films, and Krótki Film O Miłości is one of them. Its original version was Dekalog: Six based on the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” This background information can probably tip you off that this is not exactly a happy romcom. It’s about a quick love affair between a young man and an older woman, who believes that there is “no love, only sex.” Heartwarming!
Krótki Film O Miłości is available on Kanopy and the Criterion Collection. The other film that was adapted from Dekalog — Krótki Film o Zabijaniu (“A Short Film About Killing”) — is also available on both.
Sztuka Kochania. Historia Michaliny Wislockiej (“The Art Of Loving: The Story Of Michalina Wislocka”)
Getting a book about sex published in the 1950s wasn’t an easy task in pretty much any country. But censorship was widespread in Poland, and this presented a particular challenge. Sztuka Kochania is the biopic of sexologist Michalina Wislocka, focusing in particular on the writing and publishing of her book. The book in question, which shares a title with this movie (though was first translated into English as “A Practical Guide to Marital Bliss”), is considered the first book about people’s sex lives to be published in a communist country.
Sztuka Kochania is available for streaming on Netflix.
It probably comes as no surprise that World War II has had a lasting influence on Polish culture, and on Polish cinema in particular. The 1958 film Eroica was one of the earliest examples of Poland addressing the war head on. It’s a black comedy, drawing on Poland’s rich tradition of biting satires. The film comprises two stories. One is about a young man who drunkenly stumbles into being a hero despite his cowardice, and the other is about a different young man who futilely tries to escape imprisonment. Both poke fun at the madness of World War II and the general concept of hyper-masculine heroism.
This film is also only available on the Eastern European Movies streaming service.
Ucieczka Z Kina “Wolność” (“Escape from the ‘Liberty’ Cinema”)
Ucieczka Z Kina “Wolność” is a 1990 film that goes very meta. It’s similar in concept to The Purple Rose of Cairo, a Woody Allen film about a woman who falls in love with a movie character, and then is shocked when the movie character comes to life. In fact, Ucieczka directly references Cairo for comedic effect. Yet whereas Cairo is a film about romance, Ucieczka is a film about politics. When characters in a budget movie theater start rebelling and insulting the audience, a censor is called in to take control of the situation. While the premise is hilarious and there are jokes throughout, there is a dark undercurrent that is created by the harsh Polish regime that led to a huge amount of censorship in the latter half of the 20th century.
Ucieczka Z Kina is only available currently on the Eastern European Movies streaming service.
Zimna Wojna (“Cold War”)
Zimna Wojna is another film from Paweł Pawlikowski, who also directed Ida. In some ways it’s similar to Ida, and it takes place once again in post-World War II Poland (though being released in 2018, it’s the newest movie on this list). Zimna Wojna traces the love story of two Poles over the course of three decades, from their youthful meeting to their later trials and tribulations associated with the Cold War. It’s also loosely based on the love story between Pawlikowski’s real parents. Part of the movie takes place in France, meaning the dialogue switches to French at some points, so you’ll either have an advantage or disadvantage depending on your familiarity with both of these tongues.
Zimna Wojna is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.