Posts Tagged ‘Andrzej Wajda’

Promised Land (1975) | Ziemia Obiecana | Kinoteka 2017

Director: Andrzej Wajda | Cast: Daniel Olbrychski, Wojciech Pszoniak, Andrzej Seweryn, Anna Nehrebecka, Tadeusz Bialoszcztnski, Bozena Dykiel, Franciszek Pieczka, Danuta Wodynska | Poland  160min

The Promised Land is Epic in every true sense of the word. It is a massive, sprawling, all-encompassing, vast film that rolls relentlessly onwards with all the energy of the industrial revolution that it portrays and yet never leaves behind the microscope on the wild, immense , tangled emotional landscape of the people that populate it. Wonderful.

Despite being made almost forty years ago, this astonishing work hasn’t aged a day. Concerning Lodz’s emerging textile industry at the turn of the century, three young friends, a Polish aristocrat, a German and a Jew plot to make their fortunes by building their own factory, whatever the cost.

And here, Wajda is in his element, displaying the insane wastage of wealth, built out of the rags and ruins of the destitute, forced to work as children in the hard, filthy, dangerous factories, to be inevitably plucked either by the wealthy or by the work.

As with all the best films created under a punitive regime, this is a work of allegory and symbolism all wrapped in a huge dollop of humour and laced with arsenic; there’s no hiding the fact that this depiction of rampant capitalism actually alluded to the Communist politics of the time.

This is filmmaking at its peerless best. The concept, the execution, the cast, the design and the acting all conspire to create a masterwork in film. It’s what we go to the cinema for. Wajda’s vision and the mastery of his medium was there for all to see in his WWII trilogy, A Generation, Kanal and Ashes And Diamonds; three films worshipped and copied by a generation thereafter. Heaven only knows why this one didn’t go on to win its nominated Best Foreign Film Oscar.

Andrzej Wajda survived the Second World War in Nazi-occupied Poland. In 1942, he joined the Resistance until the war ended in 1945. In 1946 he moved to Krakow where he attended the Academy of Fine Arts, before moving on to study film. His appreciation for life as well as art must indeed have been hard won.

The cast is enormous and some of the larger scenes have a host of extras that today’s directors can only dream of. One of the many outstanding qualities ofThe Promised Land is the fully-rounded, flawed nature of all of the characters. Not many come out the other side as morally sound or principled and the steamroller charitably called ‘progress’ soon crushes those that do.

Tradition, honour, integrity, respect, faith, humanity and an honest living are all tokens thrown in to stoke the fire of greed, driving this story forward. Things being what they are now, it is  hard not to reflect how the story this film tells was never more apposite. A visionary film with its evergreen themes. MT

 KINOTEKA 2017 | 16 March 19.00 | CLOSE-UP CINEMA

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Afterimage (2016) | Kinoteka 2017 | 17 March -5 April 2017

Dir: Andrzej Wajda | Script: Andrzej Mularczyk | Cast: Boguslaw Linda, Aleksandra Justa, Bronislawa Zamachowska, Zofia Wichlacz, Zofia Wichlacz, Krzysztof Pieczynski | Biopic | Polish | 98min

The last work of Poland’s most revered postwar filmmaker, Andrzej Wajda (Promised Lands, Pan Tadeusz), is a fiercely committed obituary of Wladyslaw Strzeminski, one of his country’s most strikingly visionary contemporary artists, victimised by the communist regime all the way to his death in 1952. As played by Boguslaw Linda, whose features bear more than a passing resemblance to both Wajda and Strzeminski, this is a fitting end note to Wajda’s career; the filmmaker recently passed away at the age of 90, leaving a filmography largely dedicated to crucial moments and leading characters in the history of his country.

The film stands as an imposing monument to the memory of a great artist although it’s clearly a festival item per excellence – after all, no film event would want to miss the last work of a grand master. This is an essential addition to the tragic cultural history of the communist era in Eastern Europe and the disasters wrecked by this totalitarian rule. Since Wajda’s career was launched at about the same time this story takes place, his intimate knowledge of the background is not necessarily the result of thorough research but also an expression of personal frustrations and pain he experienced himself through long patches of his own artistic life.

Strzeminski, born in 1893 in Minsk, now the capital of Belarus, and educated in St. Petersburg, lost an arm and a leg in WW1, despite which he attended the First Free State Workshops in Moscow and was close to such ground- breaking avant-garde artists of that period as Malevich and Chagall. In 1923 he moved to Warsaw to become one of founders of the constructivist group Blok.

A scholar, theoretician and art historian, Strzeminski formulated the Unism theory, an artistic conception based on the integrity of the universe which considers the levels of artistic, scientific and cultural achievements as an indication of social development. Most of his ideas about art in general and visual arts in particular are to be found in his posthumous Theory of Vision, published by his students after his death.

Wajda’s film, written by Andrzej Mularczyk, picks Strzeminski up in 1949, when he is about to be fired from his teaching job at the Higher School of Visual Arts in Lodz over preaching a modernity strictly opposed to the populist demands of the Communist Party.

The film’s plot follows the regime’s systematic efforts to break down this headstrong, unbending artist who refused to compromise on any artistic grounds whatsoever. A chain smoker and man of great personal charm, exclusively dedicated to his art who, notwithstanding his disabilities, was living on his own at the time – apart from irregular visits from his teenage daughter – he carried on teaching his devoted students in as much as was tenable.

With his work systematically destroyed and obliterated, Strzeminski was gradually deprived of any income, fired from the Artists Union and even denied the right to buy paints. Pushed into utter misery and forced to accept degrading jobs, only to be kicked out of them as well, he collapsed one day on the street, was taken to a hospital where he died of tuberculosis in 1952.

Wajda, whose early films (Generation, Kanal, Ashes and Diamonds) are considered definitive portraits of Poland of that period and who clashed often throughout his long career with the Polish communist regime (on films such as Man of Marble), evidently felt strongly for Strzemynski and his fate, seeing in him a symbol of the creative artist crushed down by a narrow-minded, ferociously dictatorial regime which allows no digression.

Lynda, one of his country’s leading actors, who was associated with most of the great films coming out of Poland in the 80’s and 90’s – including Wajda’s own Man of Iron – is probably the perfect fit for the role, not only because of his obvious thespian gifts but also his physiognomy.

A remarkably neat, correct, and historically faithful picture, Wajda’s passionate veneration for Strzeminski clearly led to a rather didactic approach. Characters are not too deeply probed, there are heroes we admire, villains we detest and nothing much in between, but some scenes, such as the funeral of Strzeminski’s estranged wife, the sculptor Katarzyna Kobro, and the moment when he finds out about her death, a few days later, are truly moving.

DoP Pawel Edelman are, as always, exquisite, but the art direction fills the screen with freshly made, antiseptically clean sets, seemingly never lived-in before. This may be rather out of tune, but despite it, the film still stands as an imposing monument to the memory of a great artist. AS

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