Five Bleak Picks From Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema

The Polish landscape is cold, cloudy and bleak, and serves as a perfect backdrop for films that mine the existential frustrations of the human experience, including the 21 recently restored films in Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, a series that begins tonight at the Sie FilmCenter. Many of these movies reflect struggles of adults coming to terms with life's banality in a hostile society where there is no clear path toward liberation from the mundane. Some use humor; many are just grim.

Digging into this impressive selection by directors including Krzysztof Kieslowski, Krzysztof Zanussi, Andrzej Wajda and Jerzy Kawalerowicz, we selected five of our favorites -- but encourage you to check out the rest, too.

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Camouflage August 12 Camouflage is a biting satire about petty academics stomping each other with cruel words and deeds at a rural academy. It's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf goes to summer camp in a pastoral landscape, where competing academics, students and professors fight to advance their careers at each others' expense while slowly going mad. For anybody who has dipped their toes in the toxic waters of higher education, this film will feel all too familiar. Director Krzysztof Zanussi will present the film. The Illumination August 13 In Zanussi's The Illumination, an aspiring physicist struggles to make it through school. When he persuades a woman to marry him and the two have a child, he is forced to quit his studies and begins to resent the life he has created. Bound by the pressures of parenthood, he takes a job in a factory before taking another foray into the academy. Trying to catch up with his peers and prove his worth as a physicist, he slowly deteriorates. The film ultimately asks viewers: How much work can one person do without breaking down, and where is life's joy found -- with family or career?

Read on for more picks from Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema.

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A Short Film About Killing August 15 All people are murderers, whether they have the law behind them or not, suggests A Short Film About Killing, Krzysztof Kieslowski's cinematic treatment of murder and capitol punishment that condemns human violence but fails to suggest that there are alternatives to the ongoing morbidity shrouding the human condition. After all, the system and the people it represents are all complicit in ongoing violence -- and whether people kill for sadistic pleasure or a sense of justice, within the world of this movie, everybody enjoys inflicting pain. The film weaves dark comedy with grim realism and ends on a bitter, joyless note. The Last Day of Summer August 16 Tadeusz Konwicki's The Last Day of Summer is a surrealist allegory for post-traumatic stress syndrome and grief caused by war. A woman whose life has been wrecked by the loss of her husband runs into a man who is wandering, alone and traumatized. Together they find solace in each other during a tense day at the beach where nothing seems certain -- even their very existence. The possibility of death, abandonment and violence constantly erodes the romance building between the couple. The Constant Factor August 16 A young man whose family has been cursed with a string of bad luck tries to live up to his father's legacy as an adventurer. He travels the world for his job. While he is gone, his mother falls ill. He takes unpaid leave from work to care for her, and eventually she dies. After his mother's death, his patience with his boss wears thin. He finds himself in legal trouble and broken by the cruelty of his fate. The series plays at the SIE FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax Avenue, August 12 through August 16. Tickets for individual films are $15 for nonmembers and $12 for members. A festival pass is available for $90 general admission and $75 for members.

Find me on Twitter: @kyle_a_harris

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