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Conflict and Controversy in Small Cinemas

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Edited By Janina Falkowska and Krzysztof Loska

This book examines small cinemas and their presentation of society in times of crisis and conflict from an interdisciplinary and intercultural point of view. The authors concentrate on economic, social and political challenges and point to new phenomena which have been exposed by film directors. They present essays on, among others, Basque cinema; gendered controversies in post-communist small cinemas in Slovakia and Czech Republic; ethnic stereotypes in the works of Polish filmmakers; stereotypical representation of women in Japanese avant-garde; post-communist political myths in Hungary; the separatist movements of Catalonia; people in diasporas and during migrations. In view of these timely topics, the book touches on the most serious social and political problems. The films discussed provide an excellent platform for enhancing debates on politics, gender, migration and new aesthetics in cinema at departments of history, sociology, literature and film.

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9. Before coming out: Queer representations in contemporary Polish cinema (Sebastian Jagielski)

← 124 | 125 →

Sebastian Jagielski

Instytut Sztuk Audiowizualnych, Uniwersytet Jagielloński, Poland

9. Before coming out: Queer representations in contemporary Polish cinema

Abstract: In 2013, Polish cinema – owing to two popular films: In the Name Of… by Małgorzata Szumowska and Floating Skyscrapers by Tomasz Wasilewski – came out of the closet, which does not mean that queer issues had hitherto been absent in Polish cinema. The subject of this chapter will be the representations of non-normative men placed within the socio-cultural context of the latest Polish mainstream cinema. First, we will concentrate on popular romantic comedies that attempt to carry out affirmative politics. Next, let us look in detail, at the film Suicide Room (2011) by Jan Komasa, a film that directly preceded the premiere of Szumowska’s and Wasilewski’s movies, which clearly oversteps such identity politics, rejecting ← 125 | 126 → the stable and irrefutable identity for liquid identity, which does not come down to a choice between hetero- and homosexuality, but attempts to extract the plurality of its kinds.

Keywords: Polish cinema, queer cinema, queer representations, homosexuality, Suicide Room

In 2013, Polish cinema – owing to two popular films: In the Name Of… (W imię…) by Małgorzata Szumowska and Floating Skyscrapers (Płynące wieżowce) by Tomasz Wasilewski – came out of the closet1, which does not mean that queer issues had hitherto been absent in Polish cinema. It is worth taking into consideration what preceded such a coming out. The subject of our interest will be the representations of non-normative men placed within the socio-cultural context of the latest Polish mainstream cinema. First, we will concentrate on popular romantic comedies that attempt to carry out – via images of white, asexual and monogamous, well-situated middle class gays – affirmative politics, based on the assumption that the more homosexuals resemble heterosexuals, the easier it will be for society to accept them. Let us look in detail, however, at the film Suicide Room (Sala samobójców, 2011) by Jan Komasa, a film that directly preceded the premiere of Szumowska’s and Wasilewski’s movies, which clearly oversteps such identity politics, rejecting the stable and irrefutable identity for liquid identity, which does not come down to a choice between hetero- and homosexuality, but attempts to extract the plurality of its hues. The rejection by the Polish directors of stereotypical, domesticated, bourgeois images of gays in exchange for representations glorifying the diversity and plurality of sexuality has meant that critics – as I will attempt to demonstrate – have begun to manipulate the subversive potential contained in the texts, to conceal their true content so as to reclaim these films for the wider audience, simultaneously gaining power over them in order to support, and not destabilise, the dominant order.

Towards emancipation

After 1989, Polish gays and lesbians come out of the closet. Their disclosure, initially timid, over time more and more daring and liberating, is the consequence of the political system transformation. In communist Poland, the issue of homosexuality was devoid of its representation in the public discourse and, without any representation, it did not actually exist in the collective awareness. In the West, we witnessed a linear emancipative narration that led from the essentialist homogeneous movement of the 1950s through the gay-lesbian movement of the 1970s to the constructivist queer theory in the 1990s and 2000s. It was unlike in Poland where “the communist past created different social structures and modalities. Visually, this [the functioning of homosexuals in Poland and in the West – SJ] can be presented as two separated geopolitical and temporal modalities/temporalities/time-images that function in a somehow parallel manner; and when one of them ends in 1989 the other one begins to be universal”2. Admittedly, the history of emancipation of lesbians and gays in Poland dates back to the 1980s but it was the early 1990s that brought some liberated animation along with the abolition of censorship. It did not last long, however, because the 1990s “saw the return of the worst kind of nationalistic and religious traditionalism”3, and capitalist ← 126 | 127 → Poland turned out to be exclusively male and heterosexual. The second wave of emancipation dates to the turn of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries4 when the lesbian-gay organisation Kampania Przeciw Homofobii (Campaign Against Homophobia) is established and the first pride parade, called Parada Równości (Equality Parade) takes place, and the first draft law on homo- and heterosexual partnerships is prepared. However, it was first in 2003 that the lesbian-gay issue got into the public discourse with the symbolic collective coming out – the social campaign Let Them See Us (Niech nas zobaczą) (the slogan itself conveys well the lack of visibility of gays and lesbians in the public space), which consisted of an exhibition of photographs by Karolina Breguła depicting 30 lesbian and gay couples holding each other’s hands. The exhibition was intended to be first shown at a gallery and then on billboards in the larger cities of Poland. But following a smear campaign in the press and homophobic attacks by right-wing politicians, who did not perceive the action as promotion of tolerance and equality but as the promotion of homosexuality, galleries withdrew from earlier agreements and the billboards were devastated. Kitliński and Leszkowicz, who took part in the campaign by appearing in one of the photographs, remark, “The photographs displayed that which people were unable to talk about, which was outside the boundaries of the official language and image. (…) The portraits restore visibility to the invisible citizens and fill the ideological schemes with real people”5.

We witnessed absolute anti-homosexual panic, the escalation of violence and the language of hatred along with the subsequent Tolerance/Equality Marches that took place – or were illegally banned by city mayors – in Cracow, Warsaw or Poznan. A particularly animated media coverage illustrated the famous 2004 Tolerance March in Cracow supported by the Nobel Prize winners Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska, during which the participants were attacked outside the Wawel Castle and in the Cracow Main Square by right-wing militants, and the Church called the peaceful march a “provocation”6. Politicians noticed that they could gain political capital on homophobic slogans and they were not going to give ← 127 | 128 → it up. Especially after 2005, the gay – who according to the right-wing discourse came to Poland from the West and thus was alien to the essence of the Polish national identity – was perceived in the public debate as a national enemy7. Right-wing politicians’ anti-homosexual actions (the banning of the 2004 Warsaw Equality Parade by Lech Kaczyński, homophobic activity of the then Minister of Education Roman Giertych as well as of other Liga Polskich Rodzin [League of Polish Families] and Law and Justice politicians), attacks by right-wing militants during the peaceful marches (both literal and symbolic, to mention the telling shouts, “We’ll do to you what Hitler did to the Jews”, “Gas the faggots!”, “Lesbians to labour camps!”8) and – a bit later (2012–2015) – seven arson attacks on the Rainbow (Tęcza) artistic construction by Julita Wójcik located in the Saviour Square in Warsaw and symbolising equality of rights of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community, caused that the postulates of the sexual minorities gained allies among the defenders of the broadly understood freedom. Thus, lesbians and gays found themselves in a better social and legal situation than in the early 2000s. They appeared in the social awareness, for which much credit has to be given to the media, above all. The media provided wide coverage of not only the Tolerance/Equality Marches but also the phenomenon of the Polish gay literature (Michał Witkowski, Bartosz Żurawiecki, Marcin Szczygielski) or the high-profile coming-outs of some public persons (Krystian Lupa, Maria Janion, Michał Głowiński). Thereby, after 1989 in Poland, we experience the resignation from hiding, which was characteristic of the communist period, influenced not only by communism but also by Catholicism, for the benefit of overt confrontation and battle of the LGBTQ community for their rights. It seems that only visibility, social activism and defiance – both in the West as well as in Poland – can push forward the emancipatory endeavours of sexual minorities. ← 128 | 129 →

The gay of fashion

Those events have their part in the changes in the images of the LGBTQ community in Polish cinema. The late 1980s and early 1990s, along with the abolition of censorship and an eruption – albeit momentary, as it was to turn out – of emancipation, brought the increase in the representation of sexual minorities in the Polish cinema. Gays (lesbians were only shown sporadically in the domestic films9) marked their presence above all in the heritage films (e.g. Farewell to Autumn, Pożegnanie jesieni, Mariusz Treliński, 1990; Horror in Happy Swamp, Horror w Wesołych Bagniskach, Andrzej Barański, 1995), while their appearance in films with contemporary settings was only occasional (e.g. Time for Witches, Pora na czarownice, Piotr Łazarkiewicz, 1993). The thriving of the gangster cinema and the reign of the strong manhood caused that the images of gays were then dominated by shameful stereotypes, a “faggot” (Krugerandy, Wojciech Nowak, 1999), a dangerous deviant (Deborah, Ryszard Brylski, 1995; Weekend Stories: Harlot Charm, Opowieści weekendowe: Urok wszeteczny, Krzysztof Zanussi, 1996) or a suffering decadent artist (Nocturnal Birds, Nocne ptaki, Andrzej Domalik, 1992; Egoists, Egoiści, Mariusz Treliński, 2000). Gays disappear from the Polish screens together with the fading away of the momentum of the first wave of emancipation in the mid-1990s, but they return in the 2000s when the macho type was put out to pasture and was replaced by a man who did not fulfil himself in dominance and aggression. The slightly greater visibility and greater diversity in creating queer images were influenced by a lot of interrelated factors. Firstly, the political and social activism of the sexual minorities prompted by the discriminating policy of the Law and Justice (2005–2007, 2015-). Secondly, the transformation of the understanding of the human gender and sexuality, inspired by considerations in the style of gender studies and queer theory developing in the West. Thirdly, the blossoming of the queer cinema and unprecedented diversity of images of the LGBTQ people in the American and West European mainstream cinema. ← 129 | 130 →

The fear-provoking, depraved “faggot” or the grotesque old queer occupying railway stations and parks were replaced in the 2000s by other images in the films serving the affirmative policy-telling stories of the coming out of the closet – the independent Homo Father (2005) by Piotr Matwiejczyk and the short story Sleepiness (Senność, 2008) by Magdalena Piekorz. In both of them, homosexual couples resemble ordinary heterosexual couples, in both of them gays are persecuted and in both of them there appear strong accents targeted at the homophobic right wing. But it was not those quasi-emancipative films – of limited distribution, let us add – that showed gays to both Polish men and women. They saw the gay first of all in popular romantic comedies in which he appeared as the bourgeois gay of fashion. He can be tolerated but only when he conforms to the prevailing norm. No way for him to be himself. Marcel (Marcin Bosak) from Expecting Love (Mała wielka miłość, 2008) by Łukasz Karwowski dresses up in colourful things and when a friend (Agnieszka Grochowska) begins to give birth, he unexpectedly passes out (his maternal instinct is stronger than that of the future mother). The man, as befits a new buddy film, does everything in his power so that his friend may finally find her Prince Charming. But should he find his own Prince Charming is of no interest to the director. Marcel, whose life we know nothing about, only exists to such an extent that is needed by his female friend. In Female–Male War (Wojna żeńsko-męska, 2011) by Łukasz Palkowski, in turn, the thirty-year-old gay “Pe” (Wojciech Mecwaldowski) is – indeed – the best friend to women but only to those with traumatic experiences: forty-year-old Barbara (Sonia Bohosiewicz) and “Baba” in her mid-fifties (Grażyna Szapołowska). What do they have in common? Women after forty, as he explains, have “the same chances of finding a husband as myself in this country.” What is more, he discusses with them ladies’ jackets, high heels and neckerchiefs. He advises them not only on what they should wear (“you look like the Old Town after a bomb raid”, he says to Barbara) but also on how to effectively pick up a man. Also “Pe” himself is successful in this task and he enters a relationship with the bossy Bartek (Tomasz Kot), editor of the Perverse Magazine for Ladies in which Barbara achieves success with her column in which she diagnoses men’s personalities based on the size and shape of their penises. “Pe” does his best to keep his lover with him (he irons, cooks, wears G-strings, etc.), however to no avail. Gays, unlike forty-year-old women, are not meant to be happy in this world. In another comedy, Ladies (Lejdis, 2008) by Tomasz Konecki, the gay character played by Piotr Adamczyk is equally stereotypical and episodic. Artur is a member of the European Parliament and husband of one of the title “ladies”, Gośka (Izabela Kuna), who wants to become pregnant by him. However, the repeated attempts fail. Nothing helps, whether fresh strawberries ← 130 | 131 → or champagne, incense sticks and even, as Gośka puts it, “whore thongs”. Artur is ailing and that’s that. At last, Gośka realises what it is all about: “Darling, I can’t get a dick of my own”, she says outraged. They split up but Artur soon returns in order to cry on her shoulder because his guy left him. So, the wife brews fresh mint for him. Well, a gay is a woman’s best friend, even if he happens to be her husband too. With Karwowski, the gay of fashion is merely a trinket shimmering with colours; with Palkowski and Konecki, he already has some story, experiences ups and downs but all of this is free of any genuineness, anyway.

The homosexual in the latest popular Polish cinema will either be domesticated and devoured (he will be like the hetero) or he will be no more at all (at the best, he will be degraded to homophobic jokes, as in Weekend, Cezary Pazura, 2010). Gays on the screen are thus polite and do not have sex, nay! they do not even kiss. As in the Christmastime Letters to Santa (Listy do M., 2011) by Mitja Okorn where Wladi (Paweł Małaszyński) is looking for a girl who would be willing to assume the role of his fiancée during the family dinner on Christmas Eve. At the moment when Doris (Roma Gąsiorowska) leaves him in the lurch, he decides to come out and invites his partner, which is unexpectedly received with full acceptance by the family. Gays here are colourless, stiff and banal, albeit handsome. In the last scene, when love triumphs and all the heterosexual couples appear on the screen, that gay one is missing. As if the image of men in love were to annihilate the joy of the Christmas morning. The filmmakers expelled the gay couple from the film space, which did not prevent them from including the gay anthem Over the Rainbow in the soundtrack. Thereby, on the one hand, the domestication of the gay in romantic comedies causes him to be absorbed, devoured by the heteronormative system, but on the other hand, it contributes – despite the stereotypical aspect of those representations – to a greater visibility of homosexuals in the public sphere and thus to a greater social acceptance.

Suicide Room

It is from the emancipative policy of identity towards the queer-like understanding of diversity that Jan Komasa traverses in his debut Suicide Room. The director rejects the essentialist model based on the sharing by all gays and lesbians of a stable homosexual identity – a genesis searched for in common experience: desiring someone of the same sex and social oppression – for the benefit of the queer perspective, destabilising normative identity and questioning any and all actions founded on a stable and rigid identity, and demonstrating that such identities are performatively construed, manufactured, fabricated and generated through rituals ← 131 | 132 → of bodily symbols10. Thereby Komasa does not aim so much for the change of the negative approach of the heteronormative society towards gays and lesbians – typical of politics of positive identity – as for the glorification of sexual diversity, so characteristic of the queer perspective.

The central narrative structure here – as in the case of In the Name of… and Floating Skyscrapers – is the motive of coming out of the closet. Dominik (Jakub Gierszał), the son of a high-ranking official in the Ministry of Finances (Krzysztof Pieczyński) and mother (Agata Kulesza) making career in the advertising industry, is in the final year at secondary school. He lives in a villa, a chauffeur drives him to private school, he often attends the opera (Orpheus and Eurydice by Gluck) with his parents. But everything is changed by his apparently innocent kiss with Aleks (Bartosz Gelner), which was meant to be a school-ball joke. However, during a judo training session when the boys’ bodies are intertwined, Dominik has an erection. His body, so to say, speaks for him or rather – speaks in defiance of him. Roland Barthes wrote, “I can do everything with my language, but not with my body. What I hide by my language, my body utters”11. The class, who watched their colleagues’ transgression at the ball with amusement and applauded, now humiliate, deride and reject the boy. The homophobic stigmatisation contributes to Dominik’s being forced into a new “social constitution”12, a new social position – that of subordination. Because an injurious word, as Butler writes, “does not only name something but also, in a sense, performs something, and in particular, (…) performs what it names”13. In Didier Eribon’s opinion, gay identity is initiated by a stigmatising and excluding “word of insult” (e.g. “You faggot”), “The one who uses an insult makes me realise that they captured me and have power over me and that it is above all the power of injuring. The power of injuring my consciousness by inscribing shame into the deepest corners of the soul. This injured consciousness, being ashamed of itself, becomes the constitutive element of my identity”14. ← 132 | 133 → Gay identity is constituted through a performative act of putting someone to shame15. Before he moves to the virtual world of avatars, Dominik will boldly challenge the stigmatisation. He will defy the school persecution with the queer strategy of “combat makeup”16. Because, as Butler remarks, “the injurious address may appear to fix or paralyze the one it hails, but it may also produce an unexpected and enabling response”17. Dominik’s response will be a provocative rejection of the obligatory heterosexuality. Dark makeup and black nail varnish provide the strategy of resistance staged on the surface of the body, a way of expressing his rebellion, his dissent to the school oppression; it is a way to manifest his self-confidence even if this self-confidence were to be merely a mask hiding pain and fear. The strategy proves effective as no one dares to insult the boy in public, and Aleks does not even look him in the eyes. Queer strategies will prove helpful again when Dominik comes out at the opera. The coming out is here a subversive, strongly theatricalised performance rather than a painful confession: Having confessed the truth, Dominik demonstratively kisses a Greek statue on the lips. This confession is so conspicuous that the parents and their friends accompanying them mistake it for a juvenile prank. The mother talks about “a fashion for gayness” and the father advises him that, if he actually is a gay, he should keep it to himself. Dominik then locks himself in his room, escaping the reality into the world of virtual avatars. This escape essentially closes the gay narrative and opens a narrative that belongs to a heterosexual romance, albeit virtual. Virtual, i.e. unreal. Dominik falls in love with a phantom girl. If they met in reality, the affection would probably burst as quickly as a soap bubble. But the second (heterosexual) part of the film does not by any means negate the first (gay) one, nor does it break with the queer view of the world, which emphasises the instability and fluidity of sexual identity. The director himself talked about it, “I have a problem with the terms homo or hetero. I think this is so fluid. (…) Those who depart from the norm are very many, a certain queer style has formed now. We observed such situations at a school-ballgay narrative. We attended such a ball ← 133 | 134 → before the film and I decided to recreate such things”18. But nothing of this kind can be found in reviews published by the papers. There, the Suicide Room turns out to be a completely heterosexual film.

It was accurately captured by Błażej Warkocki,

When (…) I was walking out of the cinema after the screening of the Suicide Room, my primary thoughts were that I had just seen the first Polish gay film, and not a bad one at that. With a full house and the silent but noticeable approval of the young audience. However, it soon turned out that I was wrong. Listening to the actors’ statements, watching the trailer, reading the reviews or interviews with the director, I was convinced that the film was universal. In short, it sounded like this: parents, go with your children to see the Suicide Room and you will see the effects of the lack of communication and the dangers lurking on the Internet for sensitive young souls. The gayness has either disappeared altogether or it appeared to be there after all but with absolutely no significance because it is not what the film is about19.

An example of the former of the strategies recalled by Warkocki is a review published in the Kino [Cinema] monthly where the reviewer does not mention the gay thread at all, which is obviously not easy because the entire dramatic structure of the work relies20 on it. Yet we read, “Because the director asked before the screening not to reveal too many details of the plot, I will but mention that one day Dominik will find himself on a shaky ground”21. The reviewer notes that Komasa made an “important” film as it shows the problem of Internet addiction. The gay issue disappears completely from the plot in this approach. The latter strategy, which is aimed at proving that the homosexuality that is present in the film is void of meaning, is excellently illustrated by the review by Tadeusz Sobolewski. Admittedly, the reviewer of the Gazeta Wyborcza [Electoral Newspaper] daily notices that this thread is essential, “The key but hardly touched upon psychological thread of the Suicide Room is related to Dominik’s ‘gayness’ sealed ← 134 | 135 → with a sort of rape – to what extent assumed and to what genuine?”22. The word “gayness” was put in inverted commas, which suggests to us that the gayness was only pretended here; that it is a mask covering something else; that it is just a pretext. “Well, indeed”, continues Sobolewski, “Here lies the heart of the drama: the moment when the immature boy, deprived of any contact with his father, assumes the homosexual role imposed upon him by the milieu; what is more, he attempts to play the game in his rebellion against his parents”23. Thus, homosexuality turns out to be a mere game and a way to attract the parent’s attention. According to the critic, Dominik does not fall in love with his classmate; quite contrary, he experiences “genuine love” for a girl: “The desperateness of his situation (…) consists in that taking part in an insane game [the virtual reality of avatars – SJ], the boy experiences genuine love, such as he never experienced in the real world”24. The reader of Sobolewski’s review has thus no doubts any more. A film that became a box-office hit in Poland could not be gay after all. The gay reception of the Suicide Room is altogether different. Krzysztof Tomasik asserts that Komasa has treated the gay thread schematically and marginally to abandon it in the middle of the film in favour of “lengthy computer animations”25. Thus, the columnist did not find in this film the expected traditional gay narrative. Warkocki, in turn, commented on the film, “we received a not so bad Polish semi-gay film with a queer solution and one leg in the closet”26. The literature reviewer criticises the metamorphosis of the gay narrative into a universal narrative but, contrary to Tomasik, paradoxically points to its advantages: “A universal film is likely to attract more people than a gay one. School homophobia (…) can be defined as a universal problem. And this is at least something – in circumstances where Polish pedagogues just wash their hands”27.

Conclusion

The Polish cinema increasingly less commonly puts the gay to death, increasingly less commonly punishes and stigmatises him. And it less commonly makes fun of him. However, both the depraved “faggot” and the dandified gay of fashion are ← 135 | 136 → equally unrepresentative. The ideal, thus, is such diversity that would reflect the complexity of the non-normative experience28. Even if the Polish cinema more and more frequently assimilates queers, it does so on its own (normative) terms. In Magdalena Podsiadło’s opinion, “the society of ostensible tolerance (…) would be happy to get rid of the queer but it falls victim to the schemes and norms – including the declared tolerance of the post-emancipative society that is merely a theory while people know better anyway”29. The fashionable gay, well, why not, but only as a walk-on part; on the other hand, a story about gay-bashing will probably be touching to the more enlightened part of the audience sensitive to harm done to others. There’s not a scintilla of truth in it. But at least no one will be able to accuse the Polish cinema of promoting homophobia.

Thus, what is the epochal character of Szumowska’s and Wasilewski’s films actually based on? Above all, In the Name Of… and Floating Skyscrapers are films that place gay problematics at the centre of narration and are brimming with – particularly in the case of Wasilewski’s film – gay stylistics and erotica. The central narrative structure of both films presents the process of coming out of the closet. Coming out, on the one hand, signifies recognition of the truth about oneself, the truth hidden thus far, forced out or altogether subconscious or barely sensed, and on the other hand, it signifies the revealing of the truth about one’s own sexuality before others. Because queers, in order to avoid being excluded and stigmatised (or sentenced to prison), were for years forced to hide their sexual identity30. The ← 136 | 137 → action of In the Name of… is set in motion by the scene in which the priest Adam (Andrzej Chyra) is watching from a concealed place as his pupils are having sex. After this shock, he falls into alcoholism, seeks assistance in a church but this is locked, weeps to his sister, who knows better that he cannot be a “faggot” because he always used to like girls. It is first an ordinary lad from a village in the Masurian Lake District, nicknamed “Dynia” [lit. “Pumpkin”] (Mateusz Kościukiewicz), that gets him out of the crisis and unexpectedly follows in his footsteps. So, there will be no happy ending: although it would be consistent with the emancipative narration, it would not prove likely in the Polish provincial reality. In the last scene we see “Dynia” in a seminary.

The Floating Skyscrapers in turn tells the story of a traumatic coming out of the closet of two boys in love with each other: Michał (Bartosz Gelner) and Kuba (Mateusz Banasiuk). But the profound pessimism of the film is not so much related to the overt homophobia depicted here but rather to the lack of space for expressing oneself, one’s emotions and desires. A quick fellatio in the swimming pool toilet, anal sex in an archway (shown explicitly and not merely suggested), passionate kisses in front of the block of flats but never inside flats where it is only heterosexual love that can be pursued. Even Michał’s conversations with his mother about his sexuality, which precede the coming out before his father, take place in a car. For the LGBTQ there is no place anywhere. Poland, the director seems to suggest, is not a place for queers.

However, the ground-breaking character of In the Name Of… and Floating Skyscrapers is also based on the fact that the movies actually made it into the mainstream. Mainly due to their awards at international festivals (Teddy Awards at the Berlinale for the film by Szumowska, the Grand Prize at the East of the West competition at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival for Wasilewski) and the distribution and reception abroad, thanks to which they could not be ignored. These films may be banned (the right-wing party Prawo i Sprawiedliwość [Law and Justice], after regaining power in 2015 and taking control over the public media, forbade the film by Szumowska to be shown on public television) but they cannot be passed over in silence. Furthermore, Wasilewski and Szumowska were followed by other directors. Since the premieres of In the Name of… and Floating Skyscrapers, there have appeared several important and esteemed films that place non-normative sexuality and non-normative lust – especially, which ← 137 | 138 → is essential, between women – in the very centre of the narration, among others in The Lure (Córki dancingu, Agnieszka Smoczyńska, 2015), United States of Love (Zjednoczone stany miłości, Tomasz Wasilewski, 2016) or Nude Area (Strefa nagości, Urszula Antoniak, 2014). To the young Polish filmmakers – Agnieszka Smoczyńska, Tomasz Wasilewski, Kuba Czekaj or Małgorzata Szumowska – it is obvious that the diversity of gays and lesbians, the style of our culture can have a positive and refreshing effect on the development of the cinema and the entire culture. Thus, the diversity and distinctiveness of the LGBTQ community is not something that should be overcome but a strength that should be exploited.

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Podsiadło, Magdalena. “Kochający inaczej. Homoseksualizm na ekranie”. In: Odwieczne od nowa. Wielkie tematy w kinie przełomu wieków ed. Tadeusz Lubelski. Kraków: Rabid, 2004, pp. 139–159.

Sobolewski, Tadeusz. “Emo hipnotyczny i martwy”. Gazeta Wyborcza, 3.03.2011, p. 14.

Sypniewski, Zbyszek, Błażej Warkocki. “Wstęp”. In: Homofobia po polsku, ed. Zbyszek Sypniewski, Błażej Warkocki. Warszawa: Sic!, 2004, pp. 5–13.

Szulc, Łukasz. “Queer in Poland: under construction”. In: Queer in Europe: Contemporary Case Studies, ed. Lisa Downing, Rober Gillett, Surrey: Ashgate, 2011, pp. 159–172.

Śmiałowski, Piotr. “Sala samobójców.” Kino, No. 3, 2011, pp. 70–71.

Tomasik, Krzysztof. “Sala samobójców.” Replika, No. 30, 2011, p. 24.

Walters, Suzanna Danuta. All the Rage: The Story of Gay Visibility in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Warkocki, Błażej. “Biedni Polacy patrzą na homoseksualistów.” In: Homofobia po polsku, ed. Zbyszek Sypniewski, Błażej Warkocki. Warszawa: Sic!, 2004, pp. 151–169.

Warkocki, Błażej. Różowy język. Literatura i polityka kultury na początku wieku. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Krytyki Politycznej, 2013, pp. 231–236. ← 139 | 140 →


1 Michael Brooke, “Poland’s coming out.” Sight and Sound (2014): 1 Feb. 2017 http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/features/poland-s-coming-out.

2 Joanna Mizielińska, „Idee pogubione w czasie – polityka LGBT vs teoria queer w Polsce i na Zachodzie“ [Ideas Lost in Time: LGBT Politics vs. Queer Theory and Practice in Poland and in the ‘West’], Przegląd Kulturoznawczy, Vol. 13, No. 3 (2012), p. 289. See also: De-Centring Western Sexualities: Central and Eastern European Perspectives, ed. Robert Kulpa and Joanna Mizielińska (Surrey: Ashgate, 2011); Łukasz Szulc, “Queer in Poland: Under Construction”, in: Queer in Europe: Contemporary Case Studies, ed. Lisa Downing, Rober Gillett (Surrey: Ashgate, 2011), pp. 159–172.

3 Paweł Leszkowicz and Tomek Kitliński, Miłość i demokracja. Rozważania o kwestii homoseksualnej w Polsce [Love and democracy. Reflections on the homosexual question in Poland] (Kraków: Aureus, 2005), pp. 55–56.

4 Zbyszek Sypniewski and Błażej Warkocki, „Wstęp“ [Introduction], in: Homofobia po polsku [Homophobia the Polish way], ed. Zbyszek Sypniewski and Błażej Warkocki (Warszawa: Sic!, 2004), p. 8. “The basic difference between the first and the second wave is the fact that the latter managed to penetrate the public discourse, and not necessarily as an exciting curiosity at that but as political and legal demands”.

5 Paweł Leszkowicz and Tomek Kitliński, Miłość i demokracja, p. 20.

6 Cf. Błażej Warkocki, „Biedni Polacy patrzą na homoseksualistów“ [Poor Poles watch homosexuals], in: Homofobia po polsku [Homophobia the Polish way], ed. Zbyszek Sypniewski and Błażej Warkocki (Warszawa: Sic!, 2004), pp. 151–169.

7 Agnieszka Graff, Rykoszetem. Rzecz o płci, seksualności i narodzie [By a Ricochet. On gender, sexuality and nation] (Warszawa: W.A.B., 2008), pp. 33–68.

8 Agnieszka Graff, Rykoszetem, p. 113. Graff analyses the collocation “gay i.e. Jew” as a code of vernacular culture, a mental shortcut that breeds aggression: “Judaisation of the enemy provides a handy tool because it actuates loads of contempt and fear in people who have similar views. There is no need to build anything – emotions and ‘arguments’ are ready-made. This is also a shortcut to violence: since ‘they’ are like the Jews, then they are everywhere and plotting against ‘us.’ And if so, the you not only can but have to defend yourself. With stones, for example.”

9 Representation of lesbians in the Polish cinema after 1989 is definitely less common and typically episodic; however, like gays, lesbians do appear on the Polish screens along with the emancipative waves of the early 1990s and late 2000s, to mention such films as: Femina (Piotr Szulkin, 1990), In Flagranti (Wojciech Biedroń, 1991), White Marriage (Białe małżeństwo, Magdalena Łazarkiewicz, 1992), Two Moons (Dwa księżyce, Andrzej Barański, 1993), Seven Stops on the Way to the Paradise (Siedem przystanków na drodze do raju, Ryszard Maciej Nyczka, 2003), Aria Diva (Agnieszka Smoczyńska, 2007), The Perfect Guy for My Girlfriend (Idealny facet dla mojej dziewczyny, Tomasz Konecki, 2009) or Oh, Charles! 2 (Och Karol 2, Piotr Wereśniak, 2011).

10 Cf. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble. Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (London and New York: Routledge, 1990); Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, The Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990); Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter. On the Discursive Limits of “Sex.” (London and New York: Routledge, 1993).

11 Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, trans. Richard Howard (London and New York: Penguin Books, 1990), p. 44.

12 Judith Butler, Excitable Speech. A Politics of the Performative (London and New York: Routledge, 1997), p. 18.

13 Judith Butler, Excitable Speech, p. 43.

14 Didier Eribon, Réflexions sur la question gay (Paris: Fayard, 1999), p. 30.

15 Cf. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Touching Feeling. Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003), pp. 35–66; Heather Love, Feeling Backward. Loss and the Politics of Queer History (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press, 2007).

16 Błażej Warkocki, Różowy język. Literatura i polityka kultury na początku wieku [Pink tongue. Literature and cultural policy at the beginning of the century] (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Krytyki Politycznej, 2013), p. 234.

17 Judith Butler, Excitable Speech, p. 2.

18 This comment is taken from TV programme shown on TVP 2, recorded soon after the Gdynia Film Festival, where the Suicide Room won the Silver Lion prize. In earlier interviews, the director was silent about Dominik’s sexual identity.

19 Błażej Warkocki, Różowy język, p. 232.

20 Also the film distributor did of great job here when he wrote in promotional materials, “Dominik (…) has a lot of friends, dates the prettiest girl at school (…) and one day one kiss changes everything.” These materials, deliberately of course, mislead the spectator suggesting the hero’s heterosexuality. In the film, there is no mention of Dominik having a girlfriend. These materials deliberately fail to inform that the said kiss is not heterosexual.

21 Piotr Śmiałowski, „Sala samobójców“ [Suicide Room], Kino, No. 3 (2011), pp. 70–71.

22 Tadeusz Sobolewski, „Emo hipnotyczny i martwy“ [Emo hypnotic and dead], Gazeta Wyborcza, 3.03.2011, p. 14.

23 Tadeusz Sobolewski, “Emo hipnotyczny,” p. 14.

24 Tadeusz Sobolewski, “Emo hipnotyczny,” p. 14.

25 Krzysztof Tomasik, “Sala samobójców” [Suicide Room], Replika, No. 30 (2011), p. 24.

26 Błażej Warkocki, Różowy język, p. 236.

27 Błażej Warkocki, Różowy język, p. 236.

28 Harry Benshoff, “(Broke)back to the mainstream: queer theory and queer cinemas today,” in: Film Theory and Contemporary Hollywood Movies, ed. Warren Buckland (New York and London: Routledge, 2009), pp. 193.

29 Magdalena Podsiadło, „Kochający inaczej. Homoseksualizm na ekranie“ [Those who love differently. Homosexuality on the screen], in: Odwieczne od nowa. Wielkie tematy w kinie przełomu wieków [The timeless anew. Great topics in the cinema at the turn of the century], ed. Tadeusz Lubelski (Kraków: Rabid, 2004), pp. 143. Cf. also: Suzanna Danuta Walters, All The Rage: The Story of Gay Visibility in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), p. 161; Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffin, Queer Images. A History of Gay and Lesbian Film in America (Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006), p. 261.

30 Tomasz Basiuk, “Coming out po polsku” [Coming out the Polish way], in: Queer studies. Podręcznik kursu [Queer studies. Course handbook], ed. Jacek Kochanowski, Marta Abramowicz, Robert Biedroń (Warszawa: Kampania Przeciw Homofobii, 2010), pp. 115, 121. Basiuk notes that, “a coming out typically has a narrative character, even dramatic – it is a confession of a breakthrough, describing the discovery of the truth about oneself where this truth concerns sexuality.” It is no wonder then that the gay and lesbian cinema based its narrative structures above all on the formula of coming out of the closet. A coming out is usually depicted as a liminal and breakthrough moment, and thus “burdened with risk and requiring courage”. However, the revealing of the truth about one’s own sexuality usually bears the fruit of social integration and acceptance, however uneasy that might be.