Agnieszka Holland’s early film, A Woman Alone, portrays a society on the brink of a catastrophe. The film was shot in 1981, when many of Holland’s colleagues, such as Andrzej Wajda, with whom she collaborated on 1977’s Man of Marble, felt optimistic about the rise of Poland’s independent unions. Its story centers on the life of Irena (Maria Chwalibóg), a single mother whose position in society is so marginal it becomes painfully oppressive. Belonging to neither the Communist Party nor Solidarity, Irena finds herself unable to count on anyone, except for her own meager resources. Living with her young son in squalid conditions on the outskirts of Lodz, she endures the lack of running water, heat, and electricity, not to mention her colleagues’ unshakable antipathy. Engaged in a stark battle for survival, she fights her neighbors and co-workers eager to take over her home and her job at a post office. In the midst of all this drudgery, Irena starts a romance with a disabled coalmine worker, Jacek (Bogusław Linda), and glimpses a chance of escape. The lovers’ wild plot to flee to the West comes to naught, however, after Irena steals money from pensioners to buy a used car and the two suffer a road accident.
Maria Chwalibóg (#1–10 of 2)
Watching My Name Is Ki, the debut by promising director Leszek Dawid, one might conclude that little has changed for women in his native Poland since the fall of communism. The economic situation that Dawid depicts is dire enough to beg the question of what, if any, support has been put in place for single mothers in what is now one of the sturdiest European economies. The movie’s protagonist, Ki (Roma Gasiorowska) is an aspiring artist, let down by her child’s father who seems more interested in overcoming his own emotional hang-ups. She finds herself blackmailed by a bigoted social worker and at her wits’ end.
The movie is haunted, albeit indirectly, by Agnieszka Holland’s fierce and brilliant A Single Woman. Holland’s film was an uncompromising study of a single mother, Irena (Maria Chwalibóg), her alienation and powerlessness, in a society that was closed-off and shell-shocked from years of communist brainwashing. Nineteen eighty one in Poland was when independent unions were squashed and military rule imposed. It was a dark period, and the final murder of Irena, at the hands of her handicapped, socially inept lover, Jacek (Bogusław Linda), who promises to take her abroad but ends up strangling her in a hotel room on their ludicrously failed escape attempt to the West, is symbolic of the brief period of openness and euphoria followed by interment camps and despair.