A man obsessed by the impending death of his mother and a dream of climbing mountains retreats into mathematics, trying to discover a ‘constant factor’ that will make sense of the world’s apparently random capriciousness. It’s one of Zanussi’s most mordantly clear-eyed films about the moral challenges posed by trying to maintain a normal life in a corrupt bureaucracy.

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Black comedies about the Second World War were understandably thin on the ground in post-war Poland, but this brilliantly incisive two-part dissection of ‘courage’ and ‘valour’ offers a decidedly subversive take on the traditional image of Polish heroism. In the first half, a hapless incompetent becomes a Resistance hero; in the second, Polish POWs are anything but keen to escape.

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A hallucinatory head-swiveller of a film, which combines several of Bruno Schulz’s short fantasy works into a floridly baroque journey of a man visiting a mysterious sanatorium. He enters a world based as much on his anxieties and long-buried memories as it is on objective reality, a world crammed with exotic birds, mechanical automata resembling historical figures and haunting images of Poland’s now-vanished Jewish past.

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This dazzlingly original film-essay combines an intensely intimate portrait of a young would-be scientist with a quizzical analysis of his sincere (if fumbling and naive) attempts at grasping the very meaning of life, to which end he switches from studying physics to biology. Its frequent scholarly digressions into both art and science anticipated Peter Greenaway by many years.

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