Ewa Mazierska: Poland Daily: Economy, Work, Consumption and Social Class in Polish Cinema

New York — Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2017, ISBN 978-1-78533-536-5, pp. 338.

Michał Oleszczyk
Czesław Niemen; Andrzej Wajda; Poland; Polish history; Polish cinema; post-war cinema; labour; class; work; society; communism; capitalism; consumption.

Ewa Mazierska’s body of scholarly work is nothing less than outstanding – both in its steadily growing volume and its relentless focus on Polish and Eastern European cinema. While she occasionally writes on other subjects both in English and her native Polish (her Wong Kar-Wai and Pedro Almodóvar monographs remain the key books on both directors to have been published in Poland), Mazierska’s true forte is presenting Polish cinema to the international reader, often in ways that reinterpret the received wisdom about the historical, social, and political dimensions of films made in her native country. Even her recent turn towards popular music studies, which resulted in such books as Polish Popular Music on Screen (2021) and a forthcoming study of Czesław Niemen’s seminal album Enigmatic (which she co-wrote with Mariusz Gradowski), is tinged with the author’s lively interest in the way audiovisual culture of Poland has reflected the country’s troubled history throughout the 20th and 21th centuries.

While I sometimes disagree with Mazierska’s interpretations of the works by key Polish filmmakers (I particularly felt that her book on Jerzy Skolimowski, The Cinema of a Non-Conformist did not do full justice to the complexity of the work of one of Poland’s most fascinating directors), I recognize her 2017 volume, Poland Daily: Economy, Work, Consumption and Social Class in Polish Cinema, as her most important and richest work to date. The power of the book stems chiefly from the freshness of perspective the author has assumed. Although it may be shocking to an international reader, Mazierska’s book is the first-ever full monograph to focus on the history of Polish film through the lens of socio-economic class seen as the determining factor of the world represented on screen.

Given that Poland was a socialist state between 1945 and 1989, the statement I have just made may seem paradoxical, if not downright suspicious. And yet, it is a simple statement of fact. Marxist analysis of Polish films was tainted with ideological and propagandist distortions in the People Republic of Poland, and thus was never fully trusted as a proper lens of analysis in academia that largely defined itself in opposition to the dominant political discourse. After 1989, the opposite became true: Polish film studies have become almost pathologically averse to class-based analysis, as if dabbling in it was somehow redolent with usage of the compromised ideology of the freshly sealed-off past. This psychological reaction of large parts of Polish academia resulted in a paradox: while Polish cinema was ripe for deep analyses that would showcase the myriad contractions and tensions in presenting social class on screen, Polish scholars stubbornly focused on other aspects of Polish cultural production, such as its entanglements with Polish literature, history, national symbolism, and/or gender roles. Economics as such remained almost a dirty subject: at best, a trivial pursuit, at worst – a subject deeply unwelcome in cultural studies, as well as redolent of the communist rhetoric of the willfully forgotten era.

In this context, Ewa Mazierska’s book is nothing less than revelatory in its focus – as well as sweeping in its scale. Mazierska performs a complete re-telling of the history of Polish film via the lens of economy, production, work, class, and leisure, which at times feels positively eye-opening. Of course, she is necessarily selective in the examples she uses, but since the films she chooses for a closer analysis are expertly selected, one gets the feeling of a holistic re-reading of many classic titles in a completely new light.

The book is structured chronologically, with each chapter focusing on a different decade and offering a brief overview of relevant historical events, followed by a detailed analysis of representations of class in several films that Mazierska deems characteristic of the decade. While I believe that the historical capsules provided at the beginning of every chapter are necessary for the foreign reader to understand the context better, I sometimes had the feeling that they may be too dense with information for a non-Polish reader to absorb in a single sitting. Still, this would need to be confirmed by readers themselves. As for the analytical parts of the book, Mazierska remains attentive both to the physical manifestations of consumption registered in films themselves as well as to the consumption patterns amongst Polish citizens at various times in history. This is especially important, since film itself remains a commodity subject to acts of societal and economic exchange – a fact that is relevant to the entirety of Polish cinema history, and not only to its ‘capitalist’ periods of pre-1945 and post-1989.

What is especially refreshing in Mazierska’s tone is the lack of reference to Polish filmmakers as significant social figures, which sometimes may stifle discourse in other Polish publications on Polish cinema (in which the word ‘Master’ and Wajda have become dangerously interchangeable). Mazierska’s book is full of clear-eyed insight into the economic status of film artists in People’s Republic of Poland, as well as the fact that operating within the system of state-sponsored film production required the minimum of political compromise and complacency. More interestingly, Mazierska is acutely attuned to class resentment that was and remains widespread among Polish cultural workers and intelligentsia, who often remain deeply hostile (or at least bitingly ironic) towards rural and/or working-class population. While writing on Janusz Kondratiuk’s cult comedy Dziewczyny do wzięcia / Girls to Pick Up (1972, Poland), Mazierska states:

Watching Girls to Pick Up one gets the impression that these girls and boys will stay forever in the place where they started their journey: in the province, understood as both a physical and cultural place. I see Girls to Pick Up as being made from the perspective of somebody who achieved social promotion and guards his position against possible attack by outsiders. The fact that Kondratiuk’s film, in common with [Marek Piwowski’s] Cruise, achieved the status of a cult film has much to do with the secret communication between the filmmakers and the metropolitan intelligentsia […], united in their sense of superiority over characters trying to invade their territory (Mazierska 2017: 193).

It is hard for me to convey to the international reader just how refreshing the above statement is in the context of the overall lack of class-focused research in Polish film studies. Mazierska’s reading of this film, but also of earlier pre-war features, such as Dziewczęta z Nowolipek / Girls from Nowolipki (1937, Poland) by Józef Lejtes and Strachy / Ghosts (1938, Poland) by Eugeniusz Cękalski, allows the reader both to see the connections between class-based judgments that occur in pre-war and post-war Polish cinema as well as realize that Polish culture remained as class-conflicted under state socialism as it had been during the pre-war period (and as it remains today). What may prove to be of particular interest to international readers are Mazierska’s interpretations of the pro-capitalist films made in the immediate aftermath of the 1989 political transformation, as well as some films, like Feliks Falk’s Capital, or How to Make Money in Poland (1990), which tried to satirize the new economic reality in ways that Mazierska finds deeply problematic: “Although Falk in his films criticizes the vulgarity and sloppiness of post communist work and culture, his own film betrays the same vices which he criticizes” (ibid.: 269). These films remain barely known outside of Poland. They do, however, serve as a fascinating document of a society in radical transition.

It has to be said that since 2017, when Poland Daily was published, there has been a significant wave of young Polish film scholars who have displayed similar and wide-ranging interest in researching the representation of consumption and class on Polish screens. Most notable among those are Justyna Jaworska with a terrific study on ‘socialist consumerism’ in Polish cinema of the 1970s and Michał Piepiórka, who wrote the definitive history of class paradoxes in the cinema of Polish transformation from socialism to capitalism. Given that the past years have seen a renewed interest in Polish history as written and seen from the perspective of working-class citizens, as well as from the perspective of ‘people’s history’1), Mazierska’s book serves both as a harbinger, a trailblazer, as well as a work I personally see as her most accomplished. It is clear that Mazierska’s gaze as a cultural historian is constantly expanding (she recently published a volume of short prose under the title Neighbors and Tourists) and Poland Daily is a perfect proof of that.

Michał Oleszczyk, Ph.D.
University of Warsaw, „Artes Liberales” Department



1 see Adam Leszczyński’s Ludowa historia Polski (Warszawa: W.A.B., 2020).


Michał Oleszczyk is a script consultant, story editor, and film scholar based in Warsaw. He teaches film at Artes Liberales Department at the University of Warsaw. He works as a Story Editor for Canal+ Poland (he oversaw the Polish version of BBC's "The Office"). He contributes to Cineaste, RogerEbert.com and the Criterion Collection website. Between 2013-2016 worked as the Artistic Director of Poland’s largest festival of Polish films – Gdynia Film Festival. He won the Polish Film Institute Award and the Krzysztof Mętrak Award for his contributions to the field of film criticism.


Jaworska, Justyna. 2019. Piękne widoki, panowie, stąd macie. O kinie polskiego sockonsumpcjonizmu. Kraków.

Leszczyński, Adam. 2020. Ludowa historia Polski. Warszawa.

Mazierska, Ewa. 2013. Jerzy Skolimowski: The Cinema of a Nonconformist. New York – Oxford.

Mazierska, Ewa. 2019. Neighbors and Tourists. New York.

Mazierska, Ewa. 2017. Poland Daily: Economy, Work, Consumption and Social Class in Polish Cinema. New York – Oxford.

Mazierska, Ewa. 2021. Polish Popular Music on Screen. London.

Mazierska, Ewa. 2007. Słoneczne kino Pedra Almodóvara. Gdańsk.

Mazierska, Ewa. 1999. Uwięzienie w teraźniejszości i inne postmodernistyczne stany. Wong Kar-Wai. Warszawa.
Piepiórka, Michał. 2020. Rockefellerowie i Marks nad Warszawą. Polskie filmy fabularne wobec transformacji gospodarczej. Warszawa.

Suggested Citation

Oleszczyk, Michał. 2022. “Ewa Mazierska: Poland Daily: Economy, Work, Consumption and Social Class in Polish Cinema.” Special issue of Apparatus. Film, Media and Digital Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe 14. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17892/app.2022.00014.289

9URL: http://www.apparatusjournal.net/