Sunday, 27 April 2014

Pod Mocnym Aniołem – film review

If you have ever wondered what amount of filth a director can squeeze into a single film and your supposition was ‘finite’, watching the most recent Wojtek Smarzowski’s film (literally titled ‘Under the strong angel’; the title should tell you nothing) should put you straight. And if watch the fifth consecutive film directed by the same guy and the filth is dosed up copiously, it simply bores you stiff. Mr Smarzowski’s first film, ‘Wesele’, was a wry and brilliant depiction of shortcomings of parochial, provincial Poland. “Dom zły’ niftily took viewers back to the dark side of Poland in late 1970s and during the martial law. I found ‘Róża’ tedious and gave up on watching it around the middle. In ‘Drogówka’ the director and screenwriter (both roles fulfilled by Mr Smarzowski in the flesh) went over the top and the newest film, which premiered early this year, is another example of overkill, suggesting it is time to draw a line.

Having read the first reviews, I resolved not to bother to watch it in the cinema and put back the moment I familiarise with the film until it is available online. Watching such abhorrent film at home gives a tremendous comfort of being able to pause or stop playing or omitting some scenes if in need and an even bigger comfort of not having to observe reactions of audience, spanning from hissing in disgust to outbursts of uncontrollable chuckling.

Mr Smarzowski’s films are featured with unique naturalistic style, something I have grown fed up with. How many times can you watch crass intercourses (easily recognisable, as the couple always make characteristic moves and moan)? What is the pleasure in seeing inebriated folks urinating, defecating or throwing up uncontrollably and then still wearing grimy clothes? Is it necessary to watch several similar scenes in which delirium-stricken alcohol addicts quiver? Too much off-putting form, too little substance, plausibly intended to leave the viewers shell-shocked…

Denying the film the substance is unfair, although at times a viewer can wonder whether the film has a coherent plot. The plot, at times moving on without rhyme or reason and its patchiness reflects perception of reality by a compulsive drinker. The world is seen with eyes of people whose lives have been ruined by alcohol and the picture is dejecting.

For the sake of fairness, it has to be underlined not only craving for alcohol can make people stoop very low. Each and every compulsion: drugs, gambling, shopping, computer games and all other, can be turn an addict’s and their relatives’ lives upside down. Each spoils relationships, deprives of money, destroys careers and reputation. So why alcohol?

Because it has always been a part of Polish identity. Tipples have been with Poles when they were happy and when they were sad, in moments of glory and in moments of despair, Alcoholic drinks have come in useful in celebrating successes and in drowning sorrows. Teetotallers as a matter of principle were dubious, accused of being sneaks. Alcohol has added courage and has helped break the ice; helped to hit it off and let go inhibitions. This appeal made it indispensable for addicts…

Some of the guests of film’s premiere in January 2014 declared they feel like not reaching out for alcohol any more. I find such reactions excessive. Alcohol, as many other stuff, if used in small amounts and infrequently, does little harm. As long as you do not sit behind the wheel when intoxicated, can control what you do and remember what you have done (and do not regret doing it) and your body does not signal you have drunk too much, everything is in the proper order.

Oddly enough, Mr Smarzowski’s films, despite oozing with muck, are generally praised and receive favourable reviews and good publicity. The chap beyond all doubt is gifted and has guts to tackle gruelling topics in his films, but if all of them have so akin murky setting and in form are akin to one another, at some stage one can be sick of it… Despite the general dislike for recent creations of the uncanny director, I cannot pledge not to watch his next film. No matter how repugnant it is, I will probably not resist the temptation to see it out of sheer curiosity. But for heaven’s sake, may the next film contain more substance and diminish in form…

Monday, 21 April 2014

1984 revisited

Early last week, I felt an irresistible temptation to reach out for a second time for the George Orwell’s book. I first and last read it on the spur of the moment in the summer of 2006 and just like with The Beautiful Mind, I remembered little from the first encounter with the work. For no apparent reason until the beginning of the last part, I was deluding myself that the book would have a happy ending, something totally unimaginable in the communist nightmare depicted in George Orwell’s last remarkable piece of writing.

While delving into the book and taking in its purport much better than when I was eighteen, I wondered what had inspired George Orwell to think up horrifyingly bleak picture of the future world. Was there any premise in 1947 or 1948, when the book was committed into paper, why the world order could develop into a gloomy picture of communist tyranny? Three years have elapsed since the end of WW2, half of the very war’s duration. Great Britain was drowning in penury, Europe was divided into two political spheres of influences, Germany was divided into four occupation zones, in each Western European countries communist parties were meaningful, although not main players in political arenas, ordinary people were fearing the onset of the third, much more cruel world war. Was the threat of communism spilling over Western swathes of Europe so conceivable?

Around that time communism was still spreading and robustly competing capitalism. The Korean war about to break out in 1950, the communist party took over rule in China in 1949, Fidel Castro got hold of power in 1959, Stalin was still alive and mighty. At that time it could be said the peril of communism spreading far and wide was as serious as never before. Shortly after the warning George Orwell wanted to give to the world was published, the peril began to slowly wane. Stalin died in 1953, subsequently the totalitarian system in the Soviet Union and in the Soviet bloc countries set off to gradually thaw out. There was no possibility to break away from the fetters of the dreadful ideology, but its intensity was less callous. In the meantime in other parts of the world setting up communist regimes was in overdrive. The communism was to hold up well for a thousand years. For (above all) economic reasons it failed to stand the test of time much faster. In countries not being a part of Soviet bloc the system began to fall into pieces gradually. The Soviet bloc disintegrated in 1989, after a decade of progressing decomposition. These days the hard-core communist regime has its last bastion in North Korea and despite economic misery, the isolated country does not seem likely to break free.

George Orwell surely drew inspiration from the darkest side of Stalinist purge of 1930s, yet the cruel regime of Oceania outstripped the pre-WW2 Soviet Union. The abhorrent vision of totalitarian regime puts status of Poland when it was a part of the Soviet bloc in interesting perspective. Although Poland was not a free country, the oppressive system could have suppressed Poles much more. Władysław Pasikowski, director of Jack Strong, in his interview for Polityka weekly, attempting to weigh up whether Mr Kuklinski’s liaison with CIA was a treason, tackles the problem with a question, whether People’s Poland was an independent country or the 17th Soviet republic. Although we do not concur in assessment of Mr Kuklinski’s deeds, Mr Pasikowski very wisely points out Poland was neither a sovereign country, nor a part of the Soviet Union. It was somewhere in between. Between the white and the black there always is a wide area, with different shades of grey. In People’s Poland ordinary people, who led ordinary lives could feel they enjoyed some degree of freedom, while the statesmen and all the people active in top politics at that time were much closer to the Soviet Republic. Fortunately, in authoritarian Poland after 1956 individuals were given some autonomy and even if their lives were miserable, they at least could feel safe, provided they did not stick their neck out. From the perspective of Stalinist Russia, so much, from the perspective of today’s free Poland, so little…

On one of wintery evenings, being at the loose end, I indulged in watching Dziennik Telewizyjny, the main TV news broadcast in the state-controlled television. One of early January 1987 issues contained two long reports of Poland and United States struggling onslaught of winter. Footages from Poland showed snowploughs pushing away snowdrifts, trucks coming over with supplies of food to villages cut off from the rest of the world, news of heat supply being uninterrupted by winter, etc. In the meantime in the United States winter wreaked havoc to all the infrastructure – airplanes stranded, airports closed, drivers freezing in their cars on motorways, people falling over on slippery pavements and breaking limbs, cars skidding on icy roads. The message put over between the lines: look, winter brings the capitalist country to its knees, while we, despite adversities, are moving on! I was kind of impressed by the efforts of propaganda-engineers, at least their output was more clever than crass reports of “exceeded five-years plan of shoe-polish production”.

It took me two evenings to read the book from cover to cover. The next masterpiece of 20th century literature to swallow will be the Master and Margarita, to be revisited after over nine years.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Jerzyk, shut your mouth up!

Poland is a country is which an individual is faced with lack of prospects, in sport, in business and in private life; where the youth of the nation study only to flee the country, where the up-and-coming sportsmen train in sheds – this is the picture of Poland painted a few days ago in a outburst of wrath by Jerzy Janowicz, a young and talented Polish tennis player, after he dropped out of the Davis cup.

Then he went on with his rant against journalists, who interrogated him why he had failed to live up to their expectations. He advised them to live through the sacrifices all the successful sportsmen have to make and only then start criticising and having expectations, since those entitled to have them are those who had committed themselves to help him pursue his career.

The heavy coin the tennis player dropped sonorously has two sides. On one side, I am not taken aback by his irritation over expectations, bad form, etc. I am also fed up when bystanders who have little notion about the effort sportsmen take to pursue a victory and all the mental pressure they are under begin asking about causes of someone’s poor performance, mistakes, etc. At some stage, successful sportsmen become a country’s teddy bear and whenever for any reason they do not come up to exorbitant expectations, everyone holds it against them and dissects the letdown.

The other story is how he slated Poland as a country. I am far from flag-waving and national-pride kind of patriotism, but as a young citizen of Poland, I felt outraged. Not because, as some claim, he said what everyone knows but leaves unsaid for sake of good manners, but because his tirade was an utter twaddle! The course of his career best disproves his lousy statements. His parents sacrificed a lot to assist him in developing his tennis skills and invested thousands of zlotys in him and until now the outlays have paid back several times. He is damn lucky to be one of the most talented players to stand out and make international career. Overwhelming majority of his peers had no chance to get that far and so what? Should the government, with money collected from taxes, fund trainings for everyone who claims to have makings of a future sport star?

My indignation stems from my beliefs. I am of the opinion a man’s fate lies mostly in their own bare hands and blaming “the system” (government, schooling, labour market and all the factors that somehow affect one’s success) is taking the path of least resistance. If you want to reap, you need to sow. Sports career is like setting up a business. Many businesses go bust and very few grow big and successful. In many cases what entrepreneurs invest goes down the drain. Tough luck, such is the life!

As another young and successful Pole I would never, ever have the temerity to slam my homeland so unkindly, even in a private conversation. Cross my heart, I do not think Poland is a country where youngsters have no prospects, although I hear it often and whenever I take issue, my interlocutors ask me whether I am not out of my senses. Cross my heart, I do see a reason why I would need to seek opportunities to pursue my career abroad, if there ample in Poland. Cross my heart, I owe what I have attained to my own sheer hard work, skill (something that is inborn but if not exploited, is useless) and luck (once I happened to be in the right time and in the right place, I knew such opportunity might not repeat and seized it), not thanks to connections or bribery. And I believe decrying the homeland in public is deplorable!

Nevertheless, as a representative of the young generation I need to express my concern over prospects the most talented and best educated university graduates see for themselves. The biggest ambition of the gifted young people is to work in corporations where the play the role of a cog in the machine. I also am one of them and see the simple reasoning driving youngsters there. Corporations give some degree of security. Although you can be fired, if you work well, it is less probable than bankruptcy if you run your own firm. You get a fixed, decent and timely paid salary. Rules of the game, although not always fair, are at least clear. This is just a concern, I sadly admit I cannot see myself in any other role, so I am even unable to come up with any constructive criticism. Long live the corpo-world. Roll on Monday!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Sorts of workmates

Following up on the last week’s post of job (or rather employer-related) lassitude, I compiled a list of personalities I have come across during my stint where I am who, not necessarily in large measure, have tended to throw me off balance. It does mean I wish to besmirch some types of behaviours or attitude towards work, nor claim I am free of all the shortcomings. Treat the wry depiction below with a pinch of salt. Despite some irritating traits, most of my workmates who served as prototypes for the list below are actually likeable :)

Piece-of-office-furniture. Office seems to be their first, not second, and preferable home. They spend more time there than they need to, most probably to show others how ardently they work or to avoid coming back home where bothersome spouse and vociferous offspring wait. Spending up to 12 hours a day in the office does not translate into higher efficiency, as they work long, but not smart. The only drawback for fellow workmates is that they expect other employees to keep late hours as they do and do not realise other people can have different priorities than spending evening at work.

Conceited. Always knows best, is wiser than others and thinks others are more stupid than they are. With time their intuition is often proven wrong, yet they always find excuses for why they missed by a long shot. Despite huge expertise hard to be persuade and standing their ground as a matter of principle.

Martyr. Tends to send e-mails in the middle of the night or during weekend just to show their workmates how committed they are and how much of their private time they sacrifice for the welfare of the company. Whenever you remind them what they were supposed to do, they barrage you with a litany of what they have on their plate and how busy they are. At the end of the day, their efficiency is not higher than average.

Irreplaceable. Frequently underlines how crucial for the company they are and how all the stuff would fall apart if they quitted. Unfortunately lacks courage to hand in a notice and provide empirical evidence for their assertions.

Scatterbrained. Might be good in setting up new relationships with clients, but fails to look after them, once they are established. Forgetful. Expects other people to take care of their affairs. As an employee might be precious for the company, but needs to be surrounded by more responsible persons…

Deadline-challenger. Whenever reminded of a tight deadline, they always respond there is a plenty of time and they will make it before deadline. Then when the eleventh hour comes up, they race against time and often lose the race. Not my style…

Nouveau-riche. Usually in their early thirties, after two or three promotions, with at least one earned in pre-crisis era, when bargaining power in negotiating salaries was much higher than today. Grew in provincial Poland in a poor family (I have nothing against such people as long as they behave normally) and shows off their first big money. Their ostentatious wealth is often debt-financed and most income is spent on lavish consumption intended to impress other people. Nothing condemnable, but not my style.

Dirty-linen-washer. Particularly intolerable in open plans where everyone hears everyone. Often tells stories from their private life that should not reach wider audience. Marital problems, break-up with partner or sexual habits are not what everyone around needs to listen about.

Trumpeter. Does little but talks a lot (and says little). Spends more time talking how much they do (blowing their own trumpet) and hence has little time to put in sheer hard work. Because of superb publicity they can make, they are often highly evaluated by supervisors, yet many managers have become immune to people who create less value than they claim to.

Office-politics fan. Knows everyone well, if familiar with what other people are like and generally in what is going on in the company. Knows who to flatter, who to avoid and how to conform to a specific situation. The only drawback is that they spend too much time devising office politics strategies than on sheer hard work.

Silent and dubious. Seldom opens their mouth. Is taciturn, rarely participates in conversations in which many people are engaged, but often listens in. Maybe this has appearance of a whistleblower obsession, but I am not fond of such types.

Lacking self-preservation instinct. Totally does not realise their position is unsustainable, unless a change is brought about, i.e. if no there is no work, their fruits of their work do not cover the costs of their position. Doing little and earning much even in a self-focused corporation is a short-term survival strategy, but in the long run, is dead-end.

Sponger. Akin to the aforementioned type, but lives off the backs of workmates. Knows a team needs to generate some value, but does everything to have possibly smallest share in that pie.

Beauty. Young, attractive female, aware of her charm and knowing how to use it. Does not have to make a step too far to achieve what she wants by only simpering with pliable males. I developed a strategy of playing a game with such women. I join it, pretend to fall for her and when she thinks the deal is nailed down, I back down ruthlessly.

Delegating. Their key activity is assorting tasks among other employees who are not their subordinates. I recall an e-mail from such person, written in a very professional language, stating we are in the point, where something has been achieved, further actions required are these and those, persons responsible for execution are these and those, deadlines are as set. In effect, tasks have been delegated and they will oversee. Quite annoying, but beware; this was the only person out of the prototype who has been fired, for their attitude towards work.

Not-give-but-take. Typical Polish entitlement advocate. They deserve a pay rise, appreciation from managers, an hour-long lunch break and to pop out for two hours to town when they need to handle something, but refuse to take up additional tasks or stay overtime. Ignores a simple rule that you cannot have a cake and eat it. Either you are a mediocre employee and you salary and position are also mediocre, or you stand out and then hold out for more.

And for the very end, my drawbacks at work:
- I tend to get hot-tempered,
- the tone of my voice is sometimes so unpleasant that my interlocutor can think I am ordering them about,
- what is worse, the tone of my voice is even condescending or patronising,
- I happen to claim I am right without double-checking facts backing my assertions,
- I am generally quite strict when I take steps to receive what I need to receive.