3 Female Polish Directors to Watch (Cannes)

Urszula Antoniak, Agnieszka Holland and Malgorzata Szumowska have all made strides outside of their native country.

Polish female filmmakers Urszula Antoniak, Agnieszka Holland and Malgorzata Szumowska all left Poland at different times in the country’s history and their own lives, and are now making the most of opportunities on the global film stage.

Antoniak has a film in this year's Director's Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival -- the 1.5 million euro [$2.1 million] Dutch-Danish co-production Code Blue.

The drama focuses on a repressed nurse who has trouble living her own life while being an angel of death for the terminally ill in the Netherlands, where euthanasia is legal.

“I witnessed someone I loved dying,” says Antoniak. “Death rather than euthanasia is what I wanted to explore in Code Blue. Holland’s legalization of euthanasia is just a sign that in the West, individualism has led to a wish to shape and control life; therefore, also the end of it.”

Holland’s latest In Darkness, a 5 million euro [$7 million] Polish-German-Canadian co-production, deals with someone who is called upon to save lives: Leopold Soha risked his life to save a dozen Jews from certain death, hiding them for 14 months in the sewers of Nazi-occupied Lvov, which used to be part of Poland and is now Ukraine.

Holland had her career outside of Poland forced by the hand of fate. In December 1981, she was promoting her film Provincial Actors in Sweden, when General Wojciech Jaruzelski cracked down on the Solidarity movement, arresting thousands of opposition members and imposing martial law. Holland was subsequently unable to return to Poland without being arrested.

“I settled in France, and worked in Western Europe and then the U.S. as a film director,” she recalls. “I was allowed to come back to Poland in 1988. I spend a lot of time there, my professional interests have centered on the U.S. for the last 15 years.”

Szumowska’s latest project: Elles, a Polish-French-German-Danish co-production tells the story of a journalist writing a piece on student prostitution.

“Now, I’m working on a 100 percent Polish film,” says Szumowska. “Poland and my roots are very important. At the same time, it’s great to have all this international experience, I now feel freer in my own country. I'm also more open-minded, having worked with so many people around Europe. They taught me what I couldn’t have learned  staying in my own country. This mixture of Polish, not Polish, European gives me a perspective to see Poland with ‘new eyes.'