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OPENS FEB. 3
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In the ’50s, Hollywood produced extravagant epics that savored Roman imperial decadence while ostensibly telling tales of Christian redemption. Nobody makes such movies anymore—except veteran Polish director Jerzy Kawalerowicz. His 2001 Quo Vadis (at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 4; at 1:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 16) retells the story of Mervyn Leroy’s 1951 Quo Vadis?: A young Christian woman rejects a Roman soldier’s advances and is sent to the Coliseum to be devoured by wild beasts, only to escape and marry the Roman, who has conveniently converted. Kawalerowicz has made other sword-and-sandal dramas, notably 1966’s Pharaoh (pictured; at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 7; at 7:20 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 8). Both these films are in a sense Polish, because they’re derived from novels by, respectively, Henry Sienkiewicz and Boleslaw Prus. But this retrospective’s other entries stay even closer to home: 1978’s Death of a President (at 8:05 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 3; at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19) is based on the actual case of Poland’s assassinated post–World War I leader; 1961’s Mother Joan of Angels (at 6:40 p.m. Friday, Feb. 6; at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 8) concerns a historical incident in which a convent was supposedly overrun by Satan; 1957’s The Real End of the Great War (at 6:40 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 12; at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 17) is a postwar social drama; and 1959’s Night Train (at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 18, and Thursday, Feb. 19) is a clickety-clacking thriller. The series opens Wednesday, Feb. 3 (see Showtimes for a complete schedule), at the American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. $8.50. (301) 495-6700. (Mark Jenkins)