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Meet the Writers: Michal Oleszczyk

Editor's note: To give you a chance to get to know our writers better, we've asked them to respond to some questions. In coming weeks, we'll be posting their responses, which will always be available as a link from their contributor biography page. Here's Michał Oleszczyk.

The Movie Love Questionnaire

Where did you grow up, and what was it like?

I grew up in Poland in late 1980s and 1990s, which means I witnessed the transition from communism to (sort of a) capitalism without really understanding what was going on. All I knew was a gray world of severe scarcity that suddenly came to an end. I will never forget that first bite of a Big Mac. I kept the styrofoam box, which seemed fine china to me.

Was anyone else in your family into movies? If so, what effect did they have on your moviegoing tastes?

My Mom loves movies, even though she wasn't that much of a moviegoer when I was growing up. She did tell me of many movies she watched before I was born, and those stories always fascinated me. Her re-telling of "Fireman's Ball" made me laugh years before I watched it. I also remember her saying she was "disgusted" with "Last Tango in Paris", which boosted that movie to the very top of my must-see list.

What's the first movie you remember seeing, and what impression did it make on you?

Probably "Crocodlie Dundee". New York City seemed like different planet to my eyes, so I guess that was a case of total identification with the main character.

What's the first movie that made you think, "Hey, some people made this. It didn't just exist. There's a human personality behind it."

"Home Alone." I remember one particular camera movement I was replaying in my head many times after I saw it. I also learned the name of the cinematographer. Julio Macat.

What's the first movie you ever walked out of?

"Minority Report." I received an emergency phone call mid-way through the film and never came back to it after that. As for purposeful walk-outs, I only started them as a festival programmer later in life. When you're faced with onslaught of extremely varied product and have to sift through it, time becomes precious and your bullshit detector skips to a new level of sensitivity. Most recent festival walk-out: "I Declare War."

What's the funniest film you've ever seen?

When I'm by myself: "Miracle of Morgan's Creek." In a theater full of people: Chaplin's "The Circus."

What's the saddest film you've ever seen?

"The Terence Davies Trilogy". Here's why.

What's the scariest film you've ever seen?

Horror movies don't scare me any more. As a kid, I had nightmares after watching "Misery" and "It." Nowadays, I'd point to Elem Klimov's "Come and See." which will haunt me till the day I die.

What's the most romantic film you've ever seen?

"Mrs. Soffel"; a masterpiece still too few people have seen.

What's the first television show you ever saw that made you think television could be more than entertainment?

"Dynasty", which proved TV could be a lifestyle. In all seriousness: the original "Pennies from Heaven."

What book do you think about or revisit the most?

Shakespeare in general. "Hamlet" is the single work I read biggest number of times—both in English and in every Polish translation in existence. My favorite novel of all time is Henry James' "The Ambassadors," which contains the single most concise lesson about life imaginable. James should know: he didn't follow it.

What album or recording artist have you listened to the most, and why?

I have unhealthy love of Billy Joel. Favorite album: Stevie Wonder's "Innervisions." The single artist whose music I have listened to the most must be Stephen Sondheim.

Is there a movie that you think is great, or powerful, or perfect, but that you never especially want to see again, and why?

"The Birth of a Nation." I think it's a vile work of cinematic genius. I wrote about it extensively, researched it throroughly for a project I was once doing—but I don't think I could stomach another screening of it.

What movie have you seen more times than any other?

"Adam's Rib."

What was your first R-rated movie, and did you like it?

Even allowing for all the differences in the Polish rating system, the first "adult" film I've seen in a theater was "Boogie Nights." I both loved and abhorred it. (I was raised Catholic, you know.)

What's the most visually beautiful film you've ever seen?

Black & white: "The Scarlet Empress." Color: A toss-up between "The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith" and "The Thin Red Line."

Who are your favorite leading men, past and present?

I'm a sucker for a sexy voice, so: Herbert Marshall and Roger Livesey (past). Present crushes: Paul Rudd and Sean Astin. There, I said it.

Who are your favorite leading ladies, past and present?

Past: Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Greenwood (that voice!). Present: Viola Davis and Mia Wasikowska, whose "In Treatment" turn flung me around the room, Linda Blair-style.

Who's your favorite modern filmmaker?

Quentin Tarantino.

Who's your least favorite modern filmmaker?

Nicholas Winding Refn.

What film do you love that most people seem to hate?

"How Do You Know." And not for its utter Rudd-ness! (See question 17)

What film do you hate that most people love?

"The Tree of Life." That "National Geographic" opening and symbolic-beach-cum-City-of-Angels coda killed a true masterpiece sandwiched in between.

Tell me about a moviegoing experience you will never forget—not just because of the movie, but because of the circumstances in which you saw it.

Watching "Meet Me in St. Louis" with Terence Davies at my side, during a retrospective of his work I co-organized. I wrote a book on Davies and spent two years of my life inside his head. To see the man laughing his head off at Margaret O'Brien's antics was some sort of wonderful.

What aspect of modern theatrical moviegoing do you like least?

The trailers long enough for you to watch "Satantango" on your iPhone before the feature starts.

What aspect of moviegoing during your childhood do you miss the most?

The reel change.

Have you ever damaged a friendship, or thought twice about a relationship, because you disagreed about whether a movie was good or bad?

Civilians: no, that would be insane. But I have some filmmaker friends and discussing their movies with them is always tricky. Too much ego, too much vulnerability. In most cases, I’d rather pass.

What movies have you dreamed about?

I once dreamt an entire plot for an Eric Rohmer movie. It was all elegant plot twists, nice furniture and airy locations: the knee of a friend of a lover of a cousin, etc. It made no sense whatsoever.

What concession stand item can you not live without?

I grew up with no concession stands, so I don’t miss anything. When I finally was introduced to popcorn, I fell in love with the smell and the crunch. Carbohydrates are sexy.

Michał Oleszczyk

Michał Oleszczyk is a film critic and scholar based in Poland. In 2012, he has been named the Critic of the Year by the Polish Film Institute.

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