November 15, 2022

9 movies you should watch before or after visiting Warsaw

Warsaw is a city with an extremely rich history. No wonder that the fate of this city has been inspiring artists from all over the world for years. On the basis of true stories from the life of Warsaw and its inhabitants, films are made that ignite the imagination and bring the complicated fate of our city to millions of people around the world. Whether you already know Warsaw well or you are just planning your arrival in the capital of Poland, it's worth finding time to watch at least a few of the following movies.

1. The Pianist (2002), dir. Roman Polański

This movie needs no introduction. Even if you haven't seen it (yet!), you must have heard a bit about it. An outstanding work by Roman Polański telling the story of Władysław Szpilman - a Polish pianist of Jewish descent. The film received critical acclaim around the world and many prestigious awards, including the BAFTA, César or Golden Palm in Cannes. The film was also honoured with several statuettes of the American Film Academy, including for Roman Polański for directing and Adrien Brody for the leading male role. The background of the film is Warsaw from the times of World War II, and some of the places presented in the film can still be found in the capital today, e.g. during our Jewish Warsaw tour.

2. The Zookeeper's Wife (2017), dir. Niki Caro

This is the story of the director of the Warsaw Zoo, Jan Żabiński, and his wife Antonina, who hid Jews in the zoo during World War II. For many years, this story remained forgotten, which makes it all the more gratifying that the director reached for it when creating her film in 2017. The film is certainly worth watching, remember, however, that it’s not a documentary and while the general plot is based on facts, some elements are not historically true. Well, Hollywood has its own rules. During our Alternative Warsaw tour you can see the Warsaw Zoo, one of the main places of this film.

3. The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler (2009), dir. John Kent Harrison

While on the topic of World War II, it is also worth reaching for the film about Irena Sendler, Righteous Among the Nations, who helped Jewish children during the war by smuggling them from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Aryan side of Warsaw. The film had its world premiere on April 19, 2009, on the 66th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Although the film did not gain as much publicity as The Pianist (in the USA it was shown only on TV, not in cinemas), it is worth seeing, if only for the role of Anna Paquin, winner of the 1993 Oscar for supporting female role.

4. Korczak (1990), dir. Andrzej Wajda

One of the most underrated Polish films about the Second World War. Korczak is the story of Janusz Korczak, an educator, pedagogue, teacher, director of a Jewish orphanage, and his pupils. Everything that is best meets in this film: a strong story, a well-written script, for which the wildly-known Agnieszka Holland is responsible, great direction by the Oscar winner for the lifetime achievement award—Andrzej Wajda, and world-class acting (Wojciech Pszoniak as Janusz Korczak is brilliant!). It is undoubtedly a must-have item on the list of anyone interested in history or cinema.

5. Kanał (1956), dir. Andrzej Wajda

Kanał is one of the most important Polish films. Filmed over 60 years ago (in 1956!) by the aforementioned Andrzej Wajda, it shows the last moments of the Warsaw Uprising, when a unit of Home Army soldiers tries to pass through the sewers to Śródmieście that was still defending itself. Over half a century ago, the film drew the attention of the West to Polish cinematography. It was then that people began to speak and write about the "Polish film school". In 1957, Andrzej Wajda received the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for Kanał. Interestingly, in the film all the roles of the insurgents were played by students of the National Higher School of Theatre in Warsaw.

6. City 44 (2014), dir. Jan Komasa

A story about love, friendship and the pursuit of adventure in the bloody and brutal realities of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. It is the first film fully devoted to the Warsaw Uprising since Andrzej Wajda's Kanał. Although the film didn’t win critical acclaim, it brought many young people closer to the times of World War II. If you’re interested in this period, join our Warsaw at War tour, during which our guides will tell you about the struggle, heroism and everyday life under the occupation.

7. Kamienie na szaniec (2014), dir. Robert Gliński

The film is an adaptation of Aleksander Kamiński's book, written during the German occupation. It tells the story of a group of Warsaw scouts who were entering their adulthood at the outbreak of World War II, and whom the war faced with difficult choices. The main characters are three friends - members of the Gray Ranks: Jan Bytnar "Rudy", Tadeusz Zawadzki "Zośka"; and Aleksy Dawidowski “Alek”. The history is very well known in Poland, because the mentioned book is obligatory reading at school.

8. Jack Strong (2014), dir. Władysław Pasikowski

A political thriller based on the story of Ryszard Kuklinski (aka Jack Strong), a colonel of the Polish People's Army, who spied for the CIA during the Cold War. Although the character of Ryszard Kukliński causes a lot of controversy, the film itself doesn’t give any clear answer and doesn’t take sides. The film holds you in suspense for almost two hours and it’s a pleasure to watch. Marcin Dorociński, one of the best Polish actors of the 21st century (you might know his face as the rival of Anya Taylor-Joy's Elisabeth Harmon, in the Queen's Gambit, Valeriy Borgov), who played the title character, had a significant share in the film's success. You can learn more about the times presented in the film during our Communist Warsaw tour.

9. Maria Skłodowska-Curie (2016), dir. Marie Noelle

Marie Noelle's film is not the first attempt to transfer the biography of an outstanding scientist to the silver screen. Maria Skłodowska-Curie is a very solid film. It reliably tells the story of the amazing life of a discoverer of two elements, but also builds a portrait of an extraordinary woman who, thanks to her intelligence and hard work, managed to win the world of science, always dominated by men, over. Maria Skłodowska-Curie was certainly extraordinary and it’s worth finding out as much as possible about her, whether by watching a movie or by joining our Warsaw Historic Centre tour.

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