Jowita Bydlowska

The Universal Bull Of Team-Building Activities


Marek Piwowski, “Rejs” or “The Cruise” (1970)

The Cruise” is a story about a trip down the Vistula River. A passerby gets onto a cruise boat by mistake and the boat’s captain assumes that the ticketless man is the government-appointed Communist Party Cultural Leader. To keep up appearances, the intruder quickly adopts his new role and organizes an assembly and appoints an entertainment committee.

Everyone on the boat breathes a sigh of relief. This is what the people under the Polish communist regime are used to: assemblies, committees, pseudo-artistic events, idiotic games and over-the-top officious statements.

The entertainment committee doesn’t disappoint. Lots of nonsense ensues.

The movie was shot over a three-day period with a mostly non-professional acting crew pickled to the gills on vodka. It became an underground hit and eventually a top cult movie in Poland in the mid-90s when it was (ahem) rediscovered by the young culturatti. The dialogue often verges on the absurd; the scenes barely adhere to any sort of a storyline; and the finished product is a brilliant piece of (potentially over-exclusive) former Eastern-block humour.

But even though a lot of the humour is too specific and insider to be got by everybody, the film is of such a nature that anyone who’s ever been a participant or a victim of the corporate world should understand it instinctively. What is easily translatable and universal are the type of violently awkward events where groups of strangers are forced to do activities together in order to “break the ice,” show “community spirit,” or otherwise engage in “team-building” exercises.

From a randomly Googled site, www.corporateteambuilding.com: “If you ask any group what they think ‘team building’ means, you will get a many different answers. Some will say that it’s about building trust, others say getting better acquainted, still others say its all about communication, practicing leadership skills, or even learning about creative problem solving and group brainstorming. But the bottom line, team building is always fun.”

The following scene is from the main event of the cruise. My translation is below.


Marek Piwowski, “Rejs” or “The Cruise” (1970)

THE BIG QUIZ

CULTURAL LEADER
Oh! Please, welcome. Welcome, please. Please. Go on. Go on, over here. Go on. Please, welcome. Welcome, please. We’re very happy. First question. Can you hear me well?
HIPSTER
Me?
CULTURAL LEADER
Yes, you.
HIPSTER
Yes, I can hear you well.
[APPLAUSE]

CULTURAL LEADER
Next question. Onward. What is the name of the town by the river Vistula? As a hint I’ll add that it was the name of a Polish king who rebuilt Poland.
HIPSTER
But what town?
CULTURAL LEADER
I’m asking what town.
HIPSTER
Oh.

Well, I don’t know.
MAMOŃ
Mr. Kazimierz! Do you have the bathroom key?
CULTURAL LEADER
Ladies and gentlemen please don’t give out any more hints. Please.
HIPSTER
Keytown!
CULTURAL LEADER
The right answer: Kazimierz.
HIPSTER [shaking hands with him, thinking that the cultural leader is introducing himself says his name]
Roman.
[APPLAUSE]

THE OLD MAN contestant

CULTURAL LEADER
Next question. Please. A domestic animal that lives by the river Vistula. Please make the sound that the animal makes.
OLD MAN
Please repeat the question.
CULTURAL LEADER
Animal, domestic, lives by the Vistula, the sound.
OLD MAN
Piotr Pietrzyk. Rzeszów.
CULTURAL LEADER
You misunderstood. I’m not asking about your name. I’m saying ANIMAL, Vistula. And the sound.
OLD MAN
How much time do I have?
CULTURAL LEADER
But… realistically. Do you know or not?
OLD MAN
Of course… cow.
CULTURAL LEADER
What do the judges think?
JUDGE 1
Cow, sure. But we’re thinking…
JUDGE 2
Of a horse.
JUDGE 1
Of a horse. Please make the sound.
[old man jumps trying to imitate the sound of a galloping horse]
CULTURAL LEADER

Stop. Stop. Time’s up. What do the judges think?
JUDGE 1
Unfortunately the answer is not fully correct. We’re asking about the mouth-made sound.
[old man tries to make the sound of a hoof]
Clip clop
JUDGE 1
“Wehee!”
We meant this, of course.
OLD MAN
The questions are subjective.

- Jowita Bydlowska

Ryeberg Curator Bio

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Jowita Bydlowska was born in Warsaw, as in Poland. She moved to Canada as a teenager. That hurt. She got over it eventually and now she likes it in Canada. She lives in Toronto with her little family in a little house. She's the author of "Drunk Mom," a memoir, published by Doubleday Canada and HarperCollins Australia. She’s written a couple novels that she hopes will also be published at some future date. For fun she takes weird pictures, usually of herself, because she and herself are on the same page most of the time so it's just easier that way. More from Jowita Bydlowska here.