Krakow in the film
The historic alleys of Krakow have already served as a location for Jim Carrey and Bollywood superstars on the silver screen, but the city of Wajda, Wojciech Jerzy Has, and Polański has many more stories to tell film lovers. Which ones are particularly worth mentioning here?
From Spielberg to Kieślowski, or old Kraków on the silver screen
In the mind of professional and amateur historians of cinema, Krakow is primarily known as the scene where Schindler’s List unfolded. Indeed, Steven Spielberg’s famous film from 1993, based on the true story of 1,200 Polish Jews saved from the Holocaust by the German industrialist Oskar Schindler, is not only a timeless masterpiece of cinema but also a picture that brought the first foreign tourists to the foot of the Wawel Hill, back at the onset of the political transformation, to change the city forever.
A standard tour of Krakow cannot omit the original building of the Oskar Schindler Enamel Factory, today home of a branch of the Krakow Museum with a stirring exhibition presenting the times of occupation, Liban Quarry where the KL Plaszow camp was reconstructed (in fact, located slightly farther away, over the edge of the quarry), and the charming backyard at ul. Meiselsa, which played the Krakow ghetto (actually set up by the Nazis across the river, in the eastern part of the Podgórze district).
But the cinematic Krakow can also be seen in the key scene on the Main Market Square, included in the famous Double Life of Véronique from 1991, the work of Krzysztof Kieślowski, a master of the ‘cinema of moral unrest’. It appears also in Andrzej Wajda’s Man of Marble (1976), in which the Polish director, awarded with an Oscar for his life’s work, captured Krakow’s younger sister – Nowa Huta – trapped between the communist propaganda slogans and the tough reality of an ordinary worker’s life. The old, bourgeois town passing through the transformation with varying luck, immortalised in films after Jerzy Pilch’s prose – The List of Adulteresses by Jerzy Stuhr from 1994 or the sombre The Mighty Angel by the expressive voice of contemporary Polish cinema, Wojciech Smarzowski, from 2014.
The list could go on…
The city of filmmakers
However, Krakow is not only a static open-air location but a formative place and a living space of memories for many first-league directors and cinema people. It was here where Roman Polański spent his childhood and the drama of the occupation; luckily, he survived the ghetto. His selected Krakow addresses, including the apartment of his friend, photographer Ryszard Horowitz, but also Hala Targowa (Market Hall) beloved by Kraków residents’ and sausages sold out of a blue van that they would eat there at night (the so-called ‘sausages from the Nyska’, after the model of the van), are presented in the 2021 film Polański, Horowitz. Hometown.
The aforementioned Polish cinema doyen, Andrzej Wajda, has his own story with Krakow, too. It was here that he studied, he took his first steps as a playwright in theatre, which became a prelude for his great directing career. it was on his initiative that, opposite the Wawel Royal Castle, the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology was built in the early 1990s, to become home to a wonderful art collection from the Land of the Flowering Cherry and contemporarily understood culture. The director’s grave can be found in the picturesque Salwator Cemetery, located at the foot of the Kościuszko Mound in the residential district of Salwator.
Wojciech Jerzy Has, the master of surrealist adaptations of literature, including Jan Potocki’s The Manuscript Found in Saragossa (directed in 1964, and much-loved by connoisseurs), and Bruno Schulz’s Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass (directed in 1973), closes the list of personalities of cinema subjectively deemed as worthy of a special mention. For the needs of the latter picture, an unusual film town inspired by Schulz’s hometown of Drohobycz was created in an old quarry in Skałki Twardowskiego. On the internet, you can also find a short film My City from 1950, in which Wojciech Jerzy Has pays tribute to Krakow of his childhood: a half-imaginary city, whose space was marked out by ‘the house, the side street and the yard’.