This study explores the representation of international migration on screen and how it has gained prominence and salience in European filmmaking over the past 100 years. Using Polish migration as a key example due to its long-standing cultural resonance across the continent, this book moves beyond a director-oriented approach and beyond the dominant focus on postcolonial migrant cinemas. It succeeds in being both transnational and longitudinal by including a diverse corpus of more than 150 films from some twenty different countries, of which Roman Polański’s The Tenant, Jean-Luc Godard’s Passion and Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Trois couleurs: Blanc are the best-known examples. Engaging with contemporary debates on modernisation and Europeanisation, the author proposes the notion of “close Otherness” to delineate the liminal position of fictional characters with a Polish background. Polish Migrants in European Film 1918-2017 takes the reader through a wide range of genres, from interwar musicals to Cold War defection films; from communist-era exile right up to the contemporary moment. It is suitable for scholars interested in European or Slavic studies, as well as anyone who is interested in topics such as identity construction, ethnic representation, East-West cultural exchanges and transnationalism. 

Check out the book (and the individual chapters) at the Palgrave Macmillan website.


Provides a profoundly transnational approach, drawing on case studies from more than 15 countries

Adds a longitudinal and diachronic perspective to the subject of migration in European cinema

Offers an in-depth discussion of the nexus between migration and European identity/identities through the prism of modernisation and Europeanisation 



Kris Van Heuckelom is Professor of Polish Studies and Cultural Studies at KU Leuven, Belgium. He specialises in late modern Polish culture, with a particular focus on comparative and transnational perspectives, and has published several books, edited volumes and anthologies in these domains.


“This ambitious study charts the transformations of Polish migrants in European film against the background of Polish political and social history, histories of the countries which hosted Polish migrants and their respective cinemas. Van Heuckelom captures well the uniqueness as well as the typicality of the fate of the Polish migrant, who in European cinema was often equated with a generic Eastern European or Russian traveller. Sophisticated, elegant and jargon-free, Polish Migrants in European Film 2018-2017 will be a great resource for  anybody interested in discourses on migration and in the less known facets of Polish and European history and society.”

Ewa Mazierska, Professor of Film Studies, University of Central Lancashire

“Diligently researched, thoughtfully planned, and well-written, Kris Van Heuckelom’s book is a notable contribution to the studies on the perceptions of Eastern Europe in the West and a compulsory reading for anyone interested in Polish culture. The diachronic and transnational approach developed by the author is inspiring and can be reapplied to investigate diverse national stereotypes in other media and in relation to other ethnicities. The book also pays an indirect homage to European cinema and its alluringly complex history. Apart from relying on the works of acclaimed directors, like Jean Renoir or Roman Polanski, the author unearths numerous forgotten yet interesting films, like Georg Tressler’s Das Totenschiff (1959) or Christoforos Christofis’ Roza (1982). Van Heuckelom’s monograph succeeds in revealing the key factors underpinning the representation of migrants of Polish extraction in European film and his work will certainly inspire further exploration of the subject.”

Stankomir Nicieja, Head of the Department of Anglophone Cultures, University of Opole (book review in Studies in Eastern European Cinemas)

“A great strength of Van Heuckelom’s work is, undoubtedly, its orientation not exclusively towards directors, but also the fact that it offers a broader perspective, beyond the analysis of postcolonial migrant cinema.”

Beata Pieńkowska-Wyżyńska and Adam Wyżyński, Head of the Library of the Polish Film Archives, Warsaw (book review in the Polish-language journal Kino, January-February 2020)

“Van Heuckelom’s book fits into the current of reflection on where Poland – culturally speaking – actually lies, as represented by Przemysław Czapliński in his excellent study Poruszona mapa (The Moved Map, 2017), which looks into the geographical and cultural imagination of contemporary Polish literature. Polish Migrants in European Film complements the work of the Poznań-based literary scholar, because he assumes, like Van Heuckelom does, that a necessary precondition for self-knowledge is to confront oneself with what is different. Therefore, if the author of The Moved Map points to contemporary literature as a body of work that makes us realize that isolation is impossible today, then the work of the Belgian scholar confirms this statement with regard to European film of the last 100 years and the presence in it of Polish migrants characters. Both books are worth reading simultaneously, because each of them displays an awareness of one of the most important challenges of today, namely the challenge of living in constant confrontation and in constant interdependence with the Other.”

Agnieszka Morstin, film scholar at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow (book review in the Polish-language academic journal Konteksty kultury)

“The Belgian film scholar draws attention to fundamental problems regarding the theme of migration: the need to link local and global aspects in the study of the history of cinema, the possibility of situating film production in a transnational perspective, and the change of the image of Polish migrants over time. (…) The chronological arrangement of the book allows the author not only to capture the significant political and social changes taking place in Europe, but also to show their impact on the ways in which the migrants have been portrayed in films. One should emphasize particularly the valuable originality of the parts of the book in which Van Heuckelom presents his argument, referring to films rarely mentioned by other authors, and draws attention to their uniqueness in comparison with mainstream film production.”

Krzysztof Loska, Professor of Film Studies at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow (book review in the Polish-language academic film journal Kwartalnik Filmowy)

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