People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.
With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.
This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces and fascinating curios that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.
Interrogation Director – Ryszard Bugajski
Country - Poland
Year - 1989
Runtime - 118 minutes
Films that make powerful political statements
about the ruling authorities of the countries where they are made can fall foul
of censorship or even be banned outright. Interrogation is one such
provocative picture that became a political prisoner in its native Poland and
was banned for its bold stance against the communist party and their extreme
methods of probing those suspected of working against the state. Although this
bleak and potent tale of a woman caught up in the horrific communist prison
system was completed in 1982, it was not made widely available until 1989
following the dissolution of the communist party in Poland. Its harrowing
subject matter paints a deeply disturbing view of a country in political
turmoil after WW2 and it comes as no surprise that the graphic and troubling
content caused such a stir with the authorities.
Krystyna Janda takes on the lead role of Tonia,
a cabaret performer who is kidnapped and imprisoned by two charming men who
take her out drinking after she argues with her husband during a show. Tonia’s
confusion at being imprisoned turns to frustration and then total
disillusionment as the severity of the situation sinks in. Janda’s dedicated
performance is a phenomenal piece of acting that showcases the devastating
effects caused by the years of abuse and suffering Tonia endures at the hands
of her captors. Both the violent methods of torture and the psychological games
that are thrust upon Tonia weigh heavy on her soul and Janda evokes her
character’s distress with an unsettling realism as the never-ending torment
shatters her spirit.
The two officers responsible for dishing out the
barrage of cruel mind games are depicted as insensitive and abhorrent men. They
offer Tonia brief moments of respite and kindness only to then withdraw back
into their interrogation methods; providing her with a glimmer of hope only to
subsequently snatch it away from her grasp. Through this interrogation we learn
of the tenuous reason behind Tonia’s incarceration and this highlights how
almost anyone living in Poland during the era represented could have been
considered a suspect of conspiring against the state if the powers that be
deemed them so. This is depicted by the scores of women in a similar
predicament to Tonia who crack under the mental strain and confess to made up
crimes in the hope of easing the abuse from their captors.
This depressing and horrific journey through a
hellish prison system is a visceral and challenging experience for any viewer.
Constant screams and moans litter the background along with disturbing pleas
for help and cries of pain that crush your tolerance for the relentless
brutality and humiliating punishments that are shown on screen. These political
prisoners are accused of crimes against the state, but the guards are punishing
them with crimes against humanity; using debasing methods of torture that
should have been confined to the bowels of history a long time ago. The never-ending
barrage of misery is a tough notion to digest and is likely to leave you as
exhausted and drained as those suffering at the hands of the evil oppressors
who drive this twisted regime.
By exposing the atrocious conditions and the
inhumane treatment people were subject to during this troubled time in Poland’s
history, Director Ryszard Bugajski, took an incredibly bold risk to deliver his
damning indictment of the Stalinist Pro-Soviet regime and their extreme
interrogation methods. His heart stopping film slams the actions of those
involved so hard you can imagine there would have been a public outcry had this
been released when the communist party were still in power. The chilling
statement his film makes becomes even more disturbing when the devastating
denouement shows the psychological damage has also taken its toll on the
officers in charge of the interrogation. The extremity of the situation tears
apart the lives of people on either side of the fence in what amounts to a
tragic waste of human life.
It is difficult to sway the sweeping anger that
stirs inside when watching Interrogation. The overwhelming sense of
injustice and disbelief at the abject inhumanity rouses up like the unstoppable
wave of panic and fear that grips Tonia and leaves her in an almost catatonic
state. Few films are capable of drumming up such fierce reactions in the viewer
but Bugajski pushes and provokes us relentlessly in his visceral demonstration
of suffering that is intended to act as a stark warning on the abuse of power.
Those who endure the entire ordeal will emerge scarred and broken, reeling from
the savage impact of this remarkable film. Its raw power is a testament to
Bugajski’s talent as a Director and the phenomenal display of acting prowess he
coaxed from his leading lady is the performance of a lifetime. Take heed if
watching this film; its crushing misery will remain with you forever, but this
is one of the reasons why Interrogation is such an important landmark in
the fascinating landscape of Polish cinema.
If you take the time to watch Interrogation then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!