Combining colour footage from labs at the Design Institute in Warsaw with shots from shops and flats, Plucińska offers a quick survey of arts and design in the 1950s Poland. Narrated off-screen by Zofia Mrozowska the film aims to promote the work of qualified designers versus commercial ‘kitsch’.
Plucińska starts by displaying examples of contemporary jewellery, ceramics, graphics and textiles. These images are intercut with shots from craft workshops. The voice-over praises the skill and effort of the men and women dedicating their lives to produce objects that please the eye. The meticulous process of verifying prototypes catches Plucińska’s attention.
Her camera observes fashion designers assessing apparel models before sending them to the factories for mass production. Showing quality controllers, Plucińska makes the viewer aware that only the best pieces win their approval.
For the first time, the narrator mentions ‘taste’ but what is considered tasteful and what is not mirrors the standards of intellectual elites of the time. The voice-over states that ‘taste should be taught at schools, just like reading and writing’.
To prove this point, Plucińska shows footage from souvenir stands, department stores and pre-war homes. With humours comment, the narrator dismisses all these examples. Popular souvenirs and commercially sold decorations are labelled as ‘distasteful’, ‘cliché’ and ‘kitsch’.
We also learn that traditionally furnished interiors are cluttered reflections of petit-bourgeois mentality. To live an elegant and comfortable life, the viewers are encouraged to furnish their houses with minimal and contemporary furniture that look classy and modern.
Today, it is difficult not to see that when folding sofas and futons replaced traditional double beds and coffee tables substituted dinner tables, the Communist flats appeared functional but less warm or comfortable. The lack of space in blocks of flats forced the Poles to embrace such practical interior design trends. When dedicated bedrooms and dinning rooms disappeared, the new multifunctional living spaces needed adequate furniture.
In the final sequence the camera offers glimpses of functional, yet beautiful designs. It is hard not to notice that Plucińska favoured clean industrial lines and depersonalised, tidy spaces that imitated modern design trends from the West. To make it obvious, she ends with close-ups on issues of foreign art and design magazines on a table in one of the show rooms.
Plucińska propagated modern, cosmopolitan art and design as the epitome of progress. Her seemingly snobbish views on the traditional folk aesthetics echoed European voices. Ironically, the inspiration from the West that showed pre-war styles as backwards and primitive couldn’t find a more fertile ground than the 1950s Communist Poland, where the government kept pushing for technological progress.