polish film school

est. 1955 – 1963

The Polish Film School, referred to as the Polish New Wave, is an influential film movement that emerged in the post-World War II era. It stands as a beacon of creativity and intellectual exploration of cinema.

Origins of the Polish Film School

The origins of the Polish Film School can be traced back to the immediate post-World War II period, a time when Poland, like many Eastern European nations, was emerging from the ravages of conflict. The war had left an indelible mark on the country, with its population deeply scarred and its artistic and intellectual communities seeking to reclaim their cultural heritage. It was during this period of rebuilding that a new generation of filmmakers, inspired by the Italian Neorealists and their commitment to authentic storytelling, rose to prominence. These filmmakers sought to challenge the prevailing conventions of pre-war Polish cinema, which had favored escapism over realism.


As Poland came under the influence of the Soviet Union, and the communist regime tightened its grip, the Polish Film School provided a platform for artists to express their unique perspective on the rapidly changing society. It was one of the first artistic movements in Central and Eastern Europe to openly oppose the official guidelines of Socialist realism, underlying the role of the individual, as opposed to collectivism.


The movement emerged as a response to the strictures of Socialist realism, the state-sanctioned artistic doctrine that promoted idealized and propagandistic portrayals of life. Filmmakers of the Polish Film School rejected these constraints, opting instead for a more nuanced and critical examination of their reality.

Mother Joan of the Angels (1961) by Jerzy Kawalerowicz
Mother Joan of the Angels (1961) by Jerzy Kawalerowicz

Characteristics of the Polish Film School

The movement embraced cinematic realism, portraying the harsh and often grim realities of life in post-war Poland, emphasizing authentic locations, non-professional actors, and a raw approach to storytelling.


Symbolism and allegory played a significant role in the movement’s storytelling. Filmmakers used metaphorical narratives to convey deeper meanings, inviting viewers to engage with the layered meanings embedded in the narratives. This symbolic depth added layers of interpretation to their works. The Polish Film School was characterized by its intellectualism, delving into complex themes, including moral dilemmas and existentialism, using cinema as a medium for profound philosophical exploration.


The films of the Polish Film School frequently served as a vehicle for social and political commentary. Filmmakers depicted the complexities of life under communism, critiquing the oppressive nature of the regime and its impact on individuals. Their narratives provided a window into the human cost of political ideologies. The films of this era showcased an innovative visual style.


Cinematographers like Slawomir Idziak and Witold Sobocinski experimented with cinematography, using techniques such as deep focus, chiaroscuro lighting (low and high-contrast lighting, which creates areas of light and dark in films), and unconventional camera angles to create visually stunning compositions.

Important Filmmakers and their works

Regarded as the leading figure of the Polish Film School, Andrzej Wajda’s films like “Ashes and Diamonds” (1958) and Golden Palm winner “Man of Marble” (1977) are celebrated for their artistic depth and political engagement. Wajda received an honorary Academy Award, Golden Lion, and Golden Bear for his contributions to world cinema, which was a testament to the international recognition of the movement.


Andrzej Munk’s films often exhibited a keen interest in social and political themes. He gained international acclaim for his satirical war film “Eroica” (1957), which offered a unique perspective on heroism and the absurdity of war.


Although he gained international fame with films like “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Chinatown”, Roman Polanski had his beginnings in Poland. His early work, including “Knife in the Water” (1962), showcased his talent for psychological thrillers and his contribution to the movement.

Kanal (1957) by Andrzej Wajda
Kanal (1957) by Andrzej Wajda
Ashes and Diamonds (1958) by Andrzej Wajda
Ashes and Diamonds (1958) by Andrzej Wajda

Legacy of the Polish Film School

A testament to the resilience of artistic expression in challenging political contexts, the Polish Film School remains an essential chapter in the history of world cinema. Through its intellectualism, symbolism, and innovation, it not only challenged the conventions of its time but also pushed the boundaries of cinematic storytelling. Its legacy can be seen in the works of masterful directors like Krzysztof Kieslowski, and in contemporary Polish cinema, where directors like Pawel Pawlikowski and Agnieszka Holland continue the tradition of intellectual depth and philosophical exploration.


The Polish Film School’s impact transcends its borders. It laid the foundation for the exploration of cinema as an art form, influencing subsequent generations of filmmakers around the world. Moreover, it paved the way for later movements in Poland, such as the Cinema of Moral Anxiety, which continued to explore complex social and political themes with a critical and introspective approach.

Refer to the Listed Films for the recommended works associated with the movement. Also, check out the rest of the Film Movements on our website.