To see in the cinema: Green Border… Why did this very committed Polish film cause controversy in its country? –

Having passed through the Venice Film Festival, where it received a Special Jury Prize in 2023, “Green Border” by Agnieszka Holland looks at Poland's migration policy. And this very committed and humanist drama caused controversy in his country.

What does it talk about ?

Having fled the war, a Syrian family undertakes a grueling journey to reach Sweden. On the border between Belarus and Poland, synonymous with entry into Europe, they find themselves stuck with dozens of other families, in a swampy area, at the mercy of soldiers using violent methods.

They gradually realize that they are the unwilling hostages of a situation that is beyond them, where everyone – border guards, humanitarian activists, local population – is trying to play their part…

When politics gets involved

On September 9, 2023, the jury of the Venice Film Festival led by Damien Chazelle awards the Golden Lion to Poor Creatures by Yorgos Lanthimos and gives awards to Me, Captain by Matteo Garrone (Best Director and Best Newcomer Prize for Seydou Sarr ), Priscilla by Sofia Coppola (Best Actress for Cailee Spaeny) or Green Border by Agnieszka Holland.

Nominated for the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1992, thanks to Europa Europa, the Polish director was awarded a Special Jury Prize with this drama where the colors give way to black and white from the first seconds of this story of migrants where we follow different points of view.

Then aged 74, the filmmaker to whom we also owe episodes of The Wire, Treme and House of Cards, had no idea that the return to the country would not be as triumphant. A few hours before its release in Polish cinemas, on September 22, 2023, Green Border (title which refers to the color of the trees in the border area) is making waves on the political level.

A shameful and disgusting pamphlet which participates in what could be defined as the industry of contempt for Poland

Leader of the national-conservative Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski spoke out, according to comments reported by the PAP agency, against what he considers to be a “shameful and disgusting pamphlet which participates in what could be defined as the industry of contempt for Poland”and whose aim would be, according to him, “to insult the Polish uniform, to insult the Poles, to present the honest defense of the Polish border, the EU border, as a crime.”

Comments which refer to one of the segments of the feature film, centered on border guards, trained to have no qualms when facing migrants (described as potential terrorists by one of their superiors). An illustration of the anti-immigration policy of Mateusz Morawiecki's government, nuanced by the presence of a soldier less convinced by these speeches and injunctions.

Meeting on Wednesday September 21, 2023 within the National Security and Defense Committee, the Ministers of Defense, Interior and Justice opposed the film by adopting a resolution of “defending the reputation of soldiers in the armed forces and other services who ensure border security on a daily basis.”

Defamation complaint

A resolution that “takes on its full importance in the context of the presentation of the film by Agnieszka Holland. Film which attacks the honor and reputation of Poland, the soldiers of the Polish army, the border guards and the Polish police officers”adds the Minister of Defense while his Justice counterpart went even further.

“During the Third Reich, Germans produced propaganda films showing Poles as bandits and murderers. Today we have Agnieszka Holland.” Who, of Jewish faith, then threatened to file a complaint for defamation if an apology was not presented to her.

“This film is not propaganda, I made it to reach people who have open hearts and consciences” defends the main interested party to Release. “It requires confronting something in cinema that is hard, it’s a difficult film to see.” Because it is fully anchored in reality, with temporal and geographical markers which at times give it documentary qualities.

This film is not propaganda, I made it to reach people who have open hearts and consciences

The feature film takes place in October 2021. There are masks and COVID is mentioned more than once, just like Kylian Mbappé or Polish football star Robert Lewandowski. If the leaders are never named when it comes to government, it is not difficult to guess who is targeted in these cases.

Especially since Agnieszka Holland is not her first attempt when it comes to denouncing the authoritarian excesses of Law and Justice. But the director assures that she has not made a political leaflet. Although very harsh and uncompromising, Green Border aims to report on a complex situation through different angles, while warning of the resurgence of nationalism at work in Europe.

And he found himself, despite himself, caught in the crossfire of an electoral campaign in Poland. Here again, the filmmaker assures that the release date was to stick to the festival calendar, and not that of the legislative election of October 15, 2023, where the migration issue was central. In this context, the ruling party therefore saw it as a pamphlet against it.

To see in the cinema Green Border… Why did this
Zuma Press / Bestimage

Agnieszka Holland at the Venice Film Festival

“Unlike the Venice Film Festival jury which watched Green Border to the end, the minister seems to have made his unfounded and defamatory remarks without watching the film”responded the Federation of European Directors in an open letter.

“His comments constitute an insidious form of propaganda”concludes the Federation, which also welcomes the “strength and [le] courage of the director in the face of the terrible attacks against her and against the film in Poland.” Also attacked and insulted online, Agnieszka Holland was able to witness the defeat of Law and Justice, which lost its majority in the legislative elections last October.

A few months after these turmoil, Green Border is now visible in French cinemas from February 7. And what he tells, with strength and nuances, will be able to inform you as much as it will revolt you, even in its even more current epilogue.

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