Any description of contemporary cinema in Poland begins, properly and inevitably, with the work of Andrzej Wajda, whose influence has been so deep and broad as to defy easy assessment. If there was one particular time rather than another when this became true, it was with the making of Man of Marble (Człowiek z marmuru, 1976), the film which launched the movement among filmmakers to undertake a moral examination of Polish life and modern Polish history.1.
There was a certain antecedent to this provided by Wajda when he made Ashes and Diamonds (Popiół i diament, 1958), in which an anti-Communist is the hero. Brilliantly realized, that movie became a touchstone. Fifteen films later, Wajda created another important moment in the history of Polish cinema with Man of Marble. He had been trying for fourteen years to get permission to make this film, ever since he first read the screenplay by Aleksander Ścibor-Rylski, but the project was rejected by the Ministry of Culture. Then, in early 1976, permission came. The delay was not surprising, given the sensitive elements of the story: Stalinism, cynical manipulation, repression—all involved in recapturing the authenticity of the period. In fact, the script was inspired by an actual event.
During the early fifties, Polish workers were subjected to the Soviet-inspired Stakhanovite phenomenon: that is, certain workers were cultivated to exceed greatly the norms of production and then accorded publicity and rewards. It happened that the workmates of a particularly successful model bricklayer, angry at the pressure he created for them, passed him a hot brick, causing injury. Around this actual event Wajda and Ścibor-Rylski built a filmic tale of one Mateusz Birkut, an honest, good bricklayer who tries to do his best, is cultivated by the authorities, and is hailed and exploited as a national hero. After he is passed the hot brick, his friends are arrested and accused of sabotage. Birkut defends a friend he feels has been falsely accused with so much vigor that he finds himself in trouble and then in prison. Publicity ceases. A marble statue of him is removed to the basement of a museum.
Those Stalinist years, although officially called a period of errors and distortions, were not open to discussion; references in literature and history were suppressed. It was Wajda’s intention to educate the young, so, to that end, he adopted the point of view of a young film student who, in the course of making a documentary, discovers the marble statue and sets out to learn the story behind it.2 Played by Krystyna Janda, Agnieszka, the student, encounters resistance among those originally involved with Birkut, but she perseveres.
Wajda thus has us following two stories at once, the bricklayer’s and the filmmaker’s: related stories because one is about the manipulation of reality, the other about trying to find out what reality was. Although Birkut and Agnieszka never actually meet, they meet thematically in their insistence upon integrity. They also meet at one remove when she finds his son and learns that he is dead. There are oblique suggestions that he might have been involved in the riots of 1970 and shot down. (A cemetery scene which makes that plain was excised from the film, but later included in Man of Iron.) Ultimately, she does not finish her documentary, because a supervisor whose approval she needs is not willing to grant it. Nonetheless the movie ends in an up-beat way through the use of music, lighting, and camera-work to suggest that as long as there are people like Agnieszka, there is hope for truth.
The authorities saw the finished product in the fall of 1976 and viewed it with consternation. Like Ashes and Diamonds it broke the norms. Since its production attracted notice in Poland and elsewhere, it would have been embarrassing to shelve it. It was released quietly to one theater and drew such crowds that it made the officials nervous. To thin the crowds, the film was released widely and was an enormous popular success. It was not, however, accorded the attention normal to such a hit. Positive criticism was spiked and a limit was placed on negative criticism in order not to attract notice. The annual awards festival at Gdansk was proscribed from giving it any kind of award, but following the official ceremonies an award was presented on the steps outside the hall by Wajda’s colleagues: a brick tied with a red ribbon!
Whereas in Man of Marble cynical manipulation was one of the main subjects, in Wajda’s next piece it became the total substance of the story. Because of Man of Marble, there were attempts to make the director into an unperson. He and his film unit were subjected to discrimination and no mention of him was found in the media. He was, as it were, being excluded from life. Agnieszka Holland’s screenplay on such a theme fit his mood very well. Without Anesthesia (Bez znieczulenia, 1978) is a story of a journalist who returns from abroad and in an initial interview says something on television which for some reason is found to be offensive. While it is ambiguous what it is that he has said that was disturbing to the powers that be, he is made the victim of a bureaucratic freeze-out. He also discovers that his wife is leaving him for a younger man, whose views incidentally are politically orthodox. When he has essentially been deprived of the decencies of life, and even made the subject of malicious slander in a divorce hearing, he dies by burning. The implication is suicide.
How is it possible, Without Anesthesia seems to ask, to change the image of a man from positive to negative without anything noticeable happening to bring it about? How can the conditions of life be so manipulated as to make it seem that a man has almost ceased to exist? Whose fault is it? There is no answer. The journalist (played by Zbigniew Zapasiewicz, one of the finest actors in Poland) is caught in a society in which there is no moral framework, in which there are no dependable standards of good and evil, or even of quality and mediocrity. Anyone can suddenly be on the bottom of the pile. Since there are no solid or fixed values from which to form moral judgments, cynical manipulation becomes a way of life.
Both theme and narrative are direct. To accommodate this, Wajda switched styles. In Without Anesthesia there is nothing baroque, nothing spectacular, no structural complexity, little in the way of symbol and metaphor. This variation in style fit precisely with what younger directors were doing, directors who were concerning themselves with moral themes directly explicated and plainly presented. In Man of Marble Wajda broke new political ground from the angle of ethics and values. In Without Anes-thesia he demonstrated that an older director, one used to a film language of greater complexity, could work superbly well in the new, plain mode.
As if to demonstrate his versatility further, Wajda switched again when he made The Maids of Wilko (Panny z Wilka, 1979), which was nonpolitical, lyrical, delicate, nostalgic, about time, memory, and love. This film will probably remain his most beautiful work. It was made as a kind of tribute to the writer Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, author of the story on which the film is based, a story with delicately efficient portraits of a number of women, the multiple characterizations held together cinematically by milieu and visual atmosphere. In The Maids of Wilko the principal visual idea is contained in the concept of autumn. This is an autumnal film in the sense that it is about the way nature withers and changes colors, and relationships do also; autumn for all its beauty still diminishes what was once new, fresh, vibrant. The autumnal quality as realized visually is a breathtaking tour de force.
This film met with a universally positive, even avid, reception. Even those “official” critics who had attacked Man of Marble and Without Anesthesia praised The Maids of Wilko, calling it Wajda’s masterpiece.
Wajda had less success with The Conductor (Dyrygent, 1980), perhaps because of production complications that came about with the limited availability of John Gielgud. The great British actor, whose family origins were Polish, was glad to accept the role, but his schedule was tight. The final script and background shooting were done in confusion, with the result that the seams in the movie are too evident. Manipulation was once again a theme, in this case the manipulation of people by a mediocre provincial music director whose tawdry character stands out starkly against the portrayal of an old, morally noble conductor (Gielgud). Some have assumed a political allegory in The Conductor (music director-regime vs. orchestra-society), but this interpretation makes no sense here. This a thoughtful, delicate rendering of art, love, maturity, integrity, and the destructive force of hatred. It actually had little impact in Poland; the attention of the public was turning to the drama of reality. Solidarity was about to come into existence.
During the critical strikes of August, 1980, Wajda went to Gdansk, the focal city of unrest, to see about making a documentary there, Workers 80 (Robotnicy 80, 1980). At the shipyards the strikers were admitting no one, fearing provocateurs; nonetheless, when Wajda arrived he was admitted immediately and taken directly to the strike committee. Along the way, someone suggested to him, pointing to the metal hulls and cranes, that he should now make a film about a man of iron. Of course, that is what he did. Ścibor-Rylski wrote a script, completing the first draft in eight days. Time was crucial. Political circumstances might change, making such a film impossible.
The plan was to make a sequel to Man of Marble, in which the bricklayer’s son, Tomczyk, would be an activist striker now married to Agnieszka, the documentarist from Man of Marble. The structure of the film had to accommodate the different time periods, remaining topical with respect to the then-current events. In addition there was the problem of obtaining quick approval. Józef Tejchma, Minister of Culture when Man of Marble was made, had been dismissed. During the liberal flare-up of 1980 and 1981 he had been once again appointed, and found the screenplay of Man of Iron on his desk. Once again he approved it and then later was dismissed. But Man of Iron (Człowiek z zelaza, 1981) started production in the early spring of 1981.
To tie the elements of the story together, Ścibor-Rylski created the character of an alcoholic journalist who is blackmailed into gathering information about the strikers for the security police. The more this man learns, the more he loses his cynicism. Finally, he turns his back on the official who had suborned him, but by then he has lost the trust of the strikers. As he leaves the yards following the victory of the strikers in their negotiations and the signing of the agreement, he runs into his old boss, an apparatchik, who dismisses the agreement with the workers as meaningless. This final scene was, as it turned out, prophetic.
Man of Iron has artistic deficiencies, not surprising given the intense production schedule. The hero, Tomczyk, is one-dimensional. The narrative is uneven. There are seams where the staged sequences, documentary material, and segments related to Man of Marble join; but the movie is unique in the way it uses all its different elements to give an impression of immediacy, suspense, and power. For effect it compares with Costa-Gavras’ “Z” or State of Siege. At Cannes that year it received the highest award. Man of Iron opened in Poland on July 26, 1981, and quickly became the most popular Polish film of all time. The fact that millions were allowed to see it was a sign of new conditions. Since December 12, 1981, when a form of martial law was declared, it has not been seen again in Poland to the time of this writing.
Some found a gloss on post-martial-law political life in Poland in Wajda’s next film, Danton (1983), which was made in France. Viewers saw Lech Wałbsa in the character of Danton and General Wojciech Jaruzelski, party chief and prime minister, in the portrayal of Maximillian Robespierre. The film does invite some comparisons; for example, the posture and carriage of Wojciech Pszoniak, who plays Robespierre, suggests he might be miming Jaruzelski. Given that Danton is about a country in upheaval it is not surprising to find political reference points in the dialogue, and to be sure, the Polish audience did find metaphors. In France, not surprisingly, the movie was read in terms of French politics. The Republican and Gaullist opposition identified with Danton and linked the ruling Socialists and Mitterand with the doctrinaire Robespierre. Wajda and his writers reject the linkages.3
Danton was a compelling drama because of very intelligent scriptwriting and brilliant performances by the leads, Pszoniak and Gérard Depardieu as Danton. The director succeeded in maintaining heavy suspense and an atmosphere of threat from start to end, partly by compressing events into three days but mainly because of his masterful control of his actors and his cameras.
Less successful aesthetically and dramatically was Wajda’s Love in Germany (Miłość w Niemczech, 1984), with a screenplay by Bolestaw Michałek and Agnieszka Holland from a book by Rolf Hochhuth. It is the documentary story of a Polish prisoner of war who is hanged for having an affair with a German woman. The movie, like the book, is concerned with mass psychology, Nazi paranoia and racial ideology, and it adds a special dimension of its own, the torrid performance of Hanna Schygulla as a woman who has lost emotional and sexual control of herself in a lusciously and sensuously convincing way. The script effectively evokes the complicity of ordinary people. For obvious reasons the film was not well received in Germany (it was a German-French coproduction). It has never been shown in Poland.
Relations between Wajda and the authorities were never very good. Things came to a head in 1983 when the regime dissolved Wajda’s company, Unit “X,” effecting in that way their intention to dismiss Wajda and Bolestaw Michatek, his literary director. Once again his name was little used in the official media, but it is impossible to make him an unperson in Poland. His stature is simply too great, both as artist and as cultural hero.
It is fair to say that Man of Marble opened an important chapter in film culture in 1976, but that chapter had many other authors, none more important than Krzysztof Zanussi, previously known for The Structure of Crystal (Struktura kryształu, 1969), Illumination (Iluminacja, 1973), and Balance Sheet (Bilans kwartalny, 1975), alternatively titled A Woman’s Decision. Zanussi made Camouflage (Barwe ochronne, 1976) in the same year that Wajda made Man of Marble. With it he made his own special contribution toward inaugurating the new mood: his technique and substance less spectacular, more philosophical, analytical, and precise, but with a deep respect for the ambiguities of existence. His is the quintessential cinema of intellectual morality.
The point of departure for Zanussi’s Camouflage is, not surprisingly, philosophical rather than political. It brings together two views of life represented by the two main characters, one of them a naturalist, the other a humanist. To put it another way, they argue positions for life as it is versus life as it should be. But this is not just philosophy, and I suspect an irony in the title. Zanussi is playing at camouflage because the obverse side of the dialectic is clearly political and thus, implicitly, so is the film. The thematic duel is developed verbally and dramatically between a young assistant professor, an idealist and moralist, and on the other side a seasoned, worldly professor whose strength is in cynicism. The young man believes that life should be lived according to the values of veracity, justice, and loyalty, values which the older man believes to be naïve at best. For the latter, life is a game of survival in which we must learn from nature to adapt to our environment, to put on protective coloring as so many species do. There are clear social extrapolations here, and the professor sets out to convert the assistant to his view of life as an exercise in adjustment and accommodation.
Clearly Zanussi favors the young man’s position, but just as clearly he intends no two-dimensional morality tale. His characters face critical choices, test those choices morally and psychologically, and make commitments. In the closing scene of Camouflage the protagonist and antagonist get into a physical fight when the assistant, seeing cynicism and duplicity successful, attacks the professor. They battle to a stand-off. That stand-off is part of the message.
The audience saw through the protective coloring of the movie and found in it a comment on political and social life. The professor is a rendition of a particular Polish type—the careerist, the manipulator, to whom idealism is naïve and moral rebellion stupid. By avoiding direct political reference, Zanussi made the personal moral issues more incisive. Wajda’s Man of Marble addressed national integrity by referring to history. Zanussi’s Camouflage speaks directly to the integrity of the individual soul. Both were seminal to the many films that came to be categorized as “the cinema of moral concern” (kino moralnego niepokoju).
The release of Camouflage prompted actions by enemies of the new cinema which exemplified the kind of manipulation that was a theme for many movies. The film was a success even though there were attempts at first to keep this from happening. Favorable reviews were suppressed, and, with no bad reviews, there was silence. The aura of the forbidden gave rise to more word-of-mouth information and enhanced the film’s appeal. Then the approach was reversed in order to use Camouflage to divert popularity and attention from Man of Marble. Moreover, there was concern about the Gdansk awards and the officials were set against Wajda getting the prize. If, however, an inferior movie were rewarded, that would simply court ridicule. Since Camouflage was universally deemed important and was not well-liked by the regime, it seemed that the award could be shunted there without making the officials look too bad and the award could be kept from Wajda’s politically explicit work. Zanussi turned the manipulation upon itself by declining to accept the grand prize.
Zanussi’s next film carried him further into philosophy and psychology than any of his works to date. Spiral (Spirala, 1978) is distinguished in every way and may be his masterpiece. It is the story of a man who knows that he is dying and decides to end his life in the mountains by perishing of exposure. That decision, the meaning of it and of his life, of other lives, is measured by the relationships he begins the night before he goes into the mountains, where he is, in fact, rescued before he freezes. The film is an existential confrontation with death. We see the dying man’s relationship to the thing he now italicizes as life and his reactions to those who will go on living. We also see the reactions of those who feel compelled to respond to his dying.
Zanussi is brutal in maintaining focus even when we would rather turn our heads away. His is the forcefulness of a relentless thinker and an insistent artist, an insistence that we stay with the fundamental questions of life and death until we have worked our way through to some resolution or until we are defeated. It is not always clear which of these is happening.
In 1980, sensing the velocity of current events and anxious about future production conditions, Zanussi made two films at once, Contract (Kontrakt, 1980) and The Constant Factor (Constans, 1980). A single crew was organized to make both, sometimes shooting scenes from the two on alternate days.
Contract is the story of a wedding in which the bride says no at the ceremony. The cast of characters is an inventory of certain types familiar in contemporary Poland, filling out a bitter metaphor. There is the spoiled young would-be groom, son of a rich physician. The physician himself is a corrupt hospital director, somewhat reminiscent of the old Polish intelligentsia, not above taking special gifts from his patients. There is a business manager, rude, uneducated but shrewd, a product of the system, pushy, puffed up with success. There is a foreign relative, exotic, who turns out to be an embarrassment, and there are others.
No one is terribly put off by the fact that the wedding aborts. In any case the guests do not care much. They only attend such affairs to make contacts, do business, make their way among the privileged few of a socialist society. The bride’s honest rebellion is insignificant, it seems. We are left with an image of a sleazy and corrupt world and a feeling that it must all collapse. So let it collapse! Zanussi seems to be saying.
The Constant Factor also took corruption as a subject, but this movie dealt with it seriously, from the highly intellectual orientation of a philosophical protagonist, a learner, a searcher trying to find underlying sense in life. He tries to find it in the pure form of mathematics by investigating constant factors, to find some method to see if his own life can be rationalized or if life itself can be rationalized. What is determined and what remains variable? Along the way he is employed in a corrupt situation but refuses to be corrupted himself. He is provoked, framed and fired. He finds new work on a high scaffold and is there when a dislodged stone falls toward a running child. We do not learn whether the child is killed or not, but the point is that in either case nothing is predictable, calculable, certain. There is always a variation lurking. Although a scientist and philosopher by training, Zanussi surrenders to the mystery of things. His art and his religion seem to fuse to express that if there is a constant factor other than God, or collateral with God, it is death.
Interpretation of The Constant Factor, which was shown in 1980, was skewed by the political and social climate; the philosophical dimensions were quite lost. The film was read by the Polish audience as the story of an honest man victimized by a corrupt system in which his coworkers are also victims, playing according to the rules as they know them, working within the system as it is. Internationally, it was appreciated for its intellectuality, taking the best director prize at Cannes and receiving the international film critics award, confirming Zanussi’s stature as a world-class auteur.
His reputation was perhaps a little undermined by Man from a Far Country (Z dalekiego kraju; Italian title, Da un Paese Lontano, 1981), made as an Italian-British venture. Reportedly the Pope himself suggested Zanussi as director. Certainly a Polish director seemed the logical choice to film a life of John Paul II. Unfortunately, the docudrama had no dramatic center, little unity or cohesion. Perhaps the subject overwhelmed Zanussi, and he stayed too far from the personality of the Pope. Lacking intimacy and introspection, it hardly seems to be by Zanussi.
In contrast, The Year of the Quiet Sun (Rok spokojnego slońca, 1984) was Zanussi to the core. A Polish-American-German coproduction, it is the story of a love affair between a Polish woman (played by Maja Komorowska, a great actress) and an American soldier (Scott Wilson) that takes place in Poland immediately after World War II. With her aged and infirm mother, the woman ekes out a miserable life. Set against a bleak depiction of time and place, the romantic relationship is enhanced by the way its tenderness stands out against the visual atmosphere. Its depth is signified by the loving way the couple transcends the language barrier. He wishes to smuggle her out of Poland, but her mother’s health will not permit her to go. The mother commits a kind of passive suicide, ostensibly freeing her daughter to go with the soldier. Ironically, she cannot leave because she cannot morally accept her mother’s sacrifice and so does not keep her rendezvous with him in the West. Years later, old and debilitated, she learns of his death and his bequest which would now allow her to come to the United States in a way absolved of any connection with her mother’s sacrifice. Death intervenes, but this time the irony is not bitter because she has been fulfilled by his gesture. Not able to join him in life, she joins him by dying in an ending lifted filmically to a bright, religious hope, suggesting redemption after tragic life.
Zanussi will never be popular with a mass audience. The intellectuality of his work precludes that, but emphasizing that he is an intellectual filmmaker must be balanced by pointing out that he is an artist of the secret heart as well. For him the human condition cannot be captured by reason alone; in fact, it cannot be captured at all. It must be illuminated. In essence his message is that when we are at the limits of thought, we must find intuition.
In 1978, one of Poland’s most important directors, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, made a comeback with an excellent and important film, Death of the President (Śmierć prezydenta, 1978). Known for A Night of Remembrance (Celuloza, 1954), Night Train (Pociąg, 1959), Mother loan of the Angels (Matka Joanna od Aniolów, 1961), and The Pharoah (Faraon, 1966), among others, he fell into a fallow period but returned with his best movie. Turning to politics and accurate history, in Death of the President he succeeded in making the ultimate docudrama, one in which the elements of tension, suspense, and story are not in the least hampered by a precise recreation of history.
The film presents an episode from the first years of the independent Poland, newly brought into being as a republic just after World War I. A political centrist is unexpectedly elected president by the senate with the support of the left and minorities. Ultra-rightists are furious, and one of them kills him just three days after the inauguration. The story is constructed by using the technique of the courtroom drama, with only the assassin visible, explaining his frame of mind, and by going to hour-by-hour, day-by-day dramatization of events in the senate, the streets, meetings, etc. Narrative momentum is remarkable. Elucidation of what might be confusing political issues is brilliant, largely because of a tight, intelligent script by Bolesław Michałek. As a period piece, it is visually a tour-de-force.
The public responded to Death of the President as something more than a historical drama. Young viewers noted the workings of a democratic, multiparty process; the role of the majority in the light of—and even composed of—minorities; freedom of speech; and aggressive opposition. Political toleration and political morality are the central subjects.
After a psychological drama, A Chance Meeting on the Ocean (Spot-kanie na Atlantyku, 1980) which was a failure in every way, Kawale-rowicz made another fine film, Austeria (1981), which received attention at home and abroad. It is a story about life among Polish Jews in eastern Galicia before World War I. Kawalerowicz came from that region, so the project was for him a trip into memory to which he did justice by systematically collecting Jewish cultural facts, objects, songs, music, mores, and even authentic faces. In the film, a group of Jews gathers at the village inn to shelter together against troops from several armies marauding in the area. After a long night, dawn seems to bring hope and a promise of safety, but when the Jews leave to celebrate their survival with a cleansing bath in a pond, the pond turns red with their blood. In his depiction of this story Kawalerowicz succeeds in conveying the texture of a lost world of tradition, culture, and faith.
While Austeria was not exactly a film of the times, the times allowed it to be made. The subject of Jews in the territory of what is now the Soviet Union had been avoided, but in the liberal atmosphere of 1980-81 he was given permission to address it.
The works of Wajda, Zanussi, and Kawalerowicz were central and influential, of course. At the same time, leaders and influential figures are often simply the most prominent members of a movement. Sometimes they are in the current, not guiding it; sometimes they are either or both. Manifestly, young and veteran Polish filmmakers were feeling a moral reawakening, eager to express their concern for individual and social conscience.
In 1975, before Man of Marble had been made or the project approved, Krzysztof Kieślowski, a documentarist who had directed some TV movies, made his first full-length feature, The Scar (Bliźna, 1975), demonstrating a gift for incisive revelation. This film adumbrated things to come. Many new factories were being built in the seventies. This movie tells of one such project and its basically decent director, who is played off against a conniving local official. The good man is naïvely unaware of his situation and ineffective against manipulation. The community is damaged. Although not an especially good film, The Scar will later be cited as a forerunner of a new tendency.
A better film was Marek Piwowski’s Foul Play (Przepraszam, czy tu biją?, 1975). A more accurate title translation is “Pardon me, do they beat you up here?” This is a wry, sardonic piece, a rare occurrence of the gangster genre, one of whose subjects is the legality and legitimacy of police procedures. It is robustly entertaining, full of exaggerated characters, capers, and heists. Its hidden serious edge has to do with the limits of police conduct in carrying out the law.
After Man of Marble and Camouflage, no movie was more effective or more influential than Feliks Falk’s Top Dog (Wodzirej, 1977). A little earlier such a film would not have been permitted, evidence that the authorities were willing to tolerate a greater scope of thematic expression for younger directors and not only for such giants as Wajda and Zanussi. The hero, or anti-hero, is a young master of ceremonies who makes a living presiding over parties, nightclub shows and fancy balls. To further himself he throws away friendship, loyalty, and honesty, indulging in every form of hypocrisy and manipulation. The narrative is tight and intense. The acting of Jerzy Stuhr (now one of Poland’s top actors) is exceptional. Top Dog depicts weak social rules and immoral arrangements, yet the protagonist is not completely a monster. He is shown to be a creation of his corrupt milieu. He must play a kind of daily politics of manipulation. By reading between the lines, the public found an indictment of more than the little world of show business.
Also in 1977, Janusz Majewski—already well known for The Lodger (Sublocator, 1967), The Criminal Who Stole a Crime (Zbrodniarz który ukradł zbrodnię, 1969), and Hotel Pacific (Zaklęte rewiry, 1975)—made a splendid period reconstruction with The Gorgon Affair (Sprawa Gorgo-nowej, 1977), about a famous murder case of the thirties. It deals with systems of justice, the pressures put upon courts, and presumption of innocence. These themes all had topical reverberations. It is a riveting drama with rich visual qualities.
Bohdan Poręba, considered an establishment filmmaker, diffidently joined the mood of social commentary in Where the Water Is Clear and the Grass Green (Gdzie woda czysta i trawa zielona, 1977). In it he describes the disintegration of decent social conventions in a provincial town and provides a simplistic solution; a party secretary, with help from the head office, solves all the problems.
Fundamental individual responsibility is the subject of Janusz Zaorski’s Room with a View of the Ocean (Pokój z widokiem na morze, 1978), in which a man prepares for suicide, intending to jump from a tall building. Society’s servants—policemen, etc.—struggle for his life, seeking to dissuade him, even trick him. By contrast, one man is against forcing him to live. Instead, he wants the would-be suicide to take moral responsibility for whatever he will do—live or die. That approach succeeds. The man lives, but that is less to the point than his assumption of responsibility for himself.
That same year, Marcel Łoziński carried out a fascinating cinema experiment while making How Are We to Live? (Jak żyć, 1978). He brought together a number of young couples in a summer camp, all of them ordinary people, except for two planted by the director. They instigate a competition to determine the best married couple. The results are amazing: hypocrisy, lies, schemes, spying, all within the framework of camp life. To no one’s surprise the film was regarded as a vicious caricature of Polish society. Officials were reluctant to release it and did not do so until the winter of 1980-81, the Solidarity period. It was withdrawn again after martial law was declared in December 1981.
Also in 1978, Edward Żebrowski made Hospital of the Transfiguration (Szpital przemienienia, 1978), based on an early novel by Stanisław Lern. In a mental hospital at the outbreak of the war, a group of people, including patients, from different walks of life, reveal their basic personalities and views. As a subtext, Żebrowski explores an old dilemma of the Polish intelligentsia: resignation or resistance.
About this time it became clear to the film community that they were in a new situation. A relatively open and optimistic mood prevailed. In a printed discussion, Feliks Falk said that what happened was the creation of “a new and unusual phenomenon, an unprecedented intensity and fresh perspective for social themes. . . .” He gave credit to colleagues in the documentary field like Kieslowski, Lozinski, Tomasz Zygadło and others who “without compromise were telling us as much as possible about Polish reality.” Agnieszka Holland added, “We have set our standards high because [Man of Marble, Camouflage, The Scar] have raised them considerably. Those films were the first to discuss certain issues concerning us in a manner which was honest and mature.”4 It is impossible to overestimate how much had happened in two or three years. Adrenalin was flowing through the film community.
The following year, 1979, was even more spirited. Falk’s Top Dog, embargoed since production, opened triumphantly. Wajda’s Without Anesthesia continued to play to large audiences, as did other recent films of the moral concern tendency. Krzysztof Kieślowski made Film Buff (Amator, 1979), another landmark. A young factory worker and amateur filmmaker is encouraged to make a movie about his plant. He faces the basic question as to what constitutes an honest film. If he follows the wishes of his company sponsors, they become in a sense his censors. In any case, is the whole truth desirable, useful? There are traps in this world for truth-tellers. Compromise and conformity seem pragmatically sensible. Film Buff ends with a gesture: the would-be filmmaker throws away his footage and turns the camera on himself. The theme clearly has to do with integrity and social pressure, truth and restraint. Film Buff struck a chord and became an unqualified success.
His spirits raised by the success of Top Dog, Feliks Falk made The Chance (Szansa, 1979) about two teachers who struggle for their students’ minds. One of them is humane and liberal but naïve and ineffectual. The other is autocratic, an advocate of rigor and discipline. Neither man wins this philosophical duel, and the film ends bitterly, ambivalent about the strengths of each orientation.
Janusz Kijowski came to prominence with Index (1978), and Kung-Fu, (1979). Index dealt with attitudes among students during the student unrest of 1968, a subject up until this time taboo. It was not well made and was notable mainly for its theme. Kung-Fu was better and stronger, although still short on deep exploration of psychological and moral motivations because it was so unremittingly journalistic, topical, and “Social,” with a capital “S.” Still, it tells a strong story about a nonconformist who is set up and framed. The hero refuses to surrender. With no faith in the system, he relies on his friends, who win a kind of justice for him using cunning and blackmail. The implications are stark. When the system fails, the only refuge is in friends, relationships based on loyalty and personal solidarity, these being more dependable than society.
The importance of authentic human relationships is, in a different context, also the subject of Krzysztof Wojciechowski’s Stress at the New Address (Róg Brzeskiej i Capri, 1979). A better translation of the title is “The Corner of Brzeska and Capri Streets.” This is a semi-documentary of life in a run-down neighborhood, populated by people who live on the margins of society. As bad as life may be there, is it not perhaps better than it would be in a huge housing project that is anonymous and devoid of character and texture? Wojciechowski treats the subject warmly even though his style is relentlessly realistic.
Great aesthetic distinction belongs to a film which departed from the dominant mode of docudrama and low style. Wojciech Marczewski’s Nightmares (Zmory, 1979) is a debut film outstanding for both intelligence of content and visual elegance. It deftly follows the spiritual, social, and sexual maturation of a young boy, while reminding us that cinema is a visual art. The film is intellectually iconoclastic, and at the same time nostalgic and pleasing to the eye.
Another aesthetic success was Agnieszka Holland’s Provincial Actors (Aktorzy prowincjonalni, 1979), a film of searching realism, moral dissection, good structure, and rich visual properties. It depicts players in a provincial theater who are stifling in an atmosphere of conformity and mediocrity. One of them is given a chance for improvement when offered a role in Stanisław Wyspiański’s Liberation (Wyzwolenie). He egoistically engages in an argument over the production and loses. Wyspiański’s play is full of meditations and reflections on the fate of Poland; Holland’s use of it as an allusion makes her film comparable in intention. This is particularly true when the actor declaims, after Wyspiański, “Let us finally do something which depends on us.” The film is a statement about lost confidence and moral paralysis and a call for boldness and integrity.
The cinema of moral concern was emulated by some directors who were ordinarily defenders of orthodoxy and not at all sympathetic to liberal trends. For example, Ryszard Filipski, who together with Bohdan Porbba took a point of view antipathetic to that reflected in the films mentioned above, made High Flights (Wysokie loty, 1980), in which he lashed out at moral decay among the elite of the “Red Bourgeoisie.” He draws a vicious caricature of excess and corruption, depicting orgiastic party officials throwing caviar at one another and dousing themselves with champagne. To salve his orthodoxy, he also shows an honest, if helpless, party official and his good son who, it is suggested, will eventually prevail.
In 1980, Agnieszka Holland made Fever (Gorączka, 1980), a gloomy portrayal of life among the revolutionaries in the aftermath of the abortive revolt of 1905, a picture of provocation, despair, and determination. These rebels lived febrile, intense lives, so, to bring form to substance, Holland made her narrative fitful and pitched. It is a violent and moving film.
Feverish in its own way was The Moth (Ćma, 1980), by Tomasz Zygadło, about a radio host of a night time call-in show. His callers are neurotic, sometimes desperate night people. As he relieves them, at least for a few moments, of their pains and fears, he accumulates anxiety, remorse and fear himself. The part is played to perfection by the great Roman Wilhelmi. This is a film with strength and turbulent psychology laced with moral anguish.
In that year, 1980, events were occurring in the cities of Gdansk, Szczecin, and Gdynia whose effects were felt throughout Poland and followed keenly all over the Western world. A strike in the shipyards of Gdansk spread throughout the country. Mounting tension led finally to negotiations and an agreement between the workers and the state. It is significant that the last stages of negotiations took place in front of cameras held by documentarists, something rare—if not unprecedented. The cameras were there because of efforts by the Polish Filmmakers Association, chaired by Wajda, and resulted in the famous documentary, Workers 80 (Robotnicy 80, 1980). The film captured not only the words and gestures exchanged but also the facial expressions and the strange atmosphere of happenings unique to Polish history. The agreement promised, among other things, radical reforms with respect to censorship. It was concluded just ten days before the annual Gdansk film festival; that is, the festival was held in the very city which was the focus of unrest and the site of the agreement.
On the opening night of the festival, Workers 80 was seen for the first time in public, shown to an audience that included its protagonists. In connection with the festival there was a forum of the Polish Filmmakers Association at which Wajda read a report from the executive committee, “Some Thoughts on the Duty of Our Profession to Our Country and Our Epoch.” Some of his comments go to the heart of the cinema of moral concern. Wajda read:
The impossibility of having a healthy society without having solid, commonly accepted, moral criteria is a problem that cannot be ignored. Just as pictured in many of our films, contemporary Polish society is imbued with a number of moral styles of which few can deserve to be called moral. . . . What is said at meetings is different from what is said in the family circle or among friends. What is read in the newspaper is not what the man on the street knows or talks about.
He argued the universal, not only intellectual, desire for free expression:
For many years it has been suggested to us that the idea of freedom of thought, conscience and beliefs is an invention of small groups of intellectuals who misunderstood the essential historical process. The opinion has been promoted that workers and indeed society are satisfied with intellectual mush like that on television, in the simplistic press, in popular culture. . . . Yet it was the workers who launched this fight for freedom of discussion, for freedom of expression of differing ideas to serve the good of the country.
Wajda concluded his remarks by focusing on his craft and its practitioners, suggesting that cinema is uniquely the place where an “equality of cultural opportunity is real every day, where discourse about Poland and the world takes place. No other medium can substitute, including television. It is up to us if and how a new consciousness for Poland will be born in the cinema.”5
For a time a thoroughly liberal cultural atmosphere pervaded the country. In 1981 a number of films heretofore blocked were released. Among them was Marcel Łoziński’s How Are We to Live? And finally, after fourteen years, Jerzy Skolimowski’s Hands Up! (Rȩce do góry)—its first version finished in 1968—was released. The director decided to update it first. He shot sequences in London and Lebanon which were supposed to broaden the film’s perspective, and he reedited his earlier work. The added scenes were meant to give a new angle to the themes of narrow-mindedness and philistinism, but they proved extraneous and ineffective. The original portions, depicting the young characters’ psychological and political adventures before they turned smug, remain original and interesting.
There continued to be a fascination with the Stalinist years, partly because that period is intrinsically interesting but also because Stalinism is a good target. It is a way of criticizing the system without being blamed for criticizing the system. It is permissible to denigrate Stalinism, as long as it is Polish Stalinism (any criticism involving the Soviets is the ultimate taboo), since it was officially acknowledged as an erroneous phenomenon. Yet since it is an important part of the history of Communist regimes, criticizing it is almost as good as decrying any manifestations of a police-controlled society that may still exist. Whatever the reasons they had, Marczewski, Falk, and Domaradzki picked Stalinist subjects.
Marczewski made Shivers (Dreszcze, 1981) from his own script. It was the story of a boy coming of age in the early fifties. His father is a political prisoner, but the boy is turning into a loyal activist in a state-run Young Pioneer establishment, and is almost at the point where he is ready to reject his father. Shivers is both strong as a political statement, and subtle in its psychological presentation.
Feliks Falk carried out a project he had had in mind for some time, There Was jazz (Był Jazz, 1981), about a group of musicians who play the jazz music prohibited during Stalinist years. They work, love, hate to study, and face police repression, but jazz remains their most important preoccupation. At that time, jazz was more than a mode of music; it was an articulation in a syncopated code of dissent. That made it an escape from grim reality, and a gesture against the grimness of reality.
Domaradzki made a movie that was to be released five years later, in 1986. The Big Race (Wielki bieg, 1981) tells of a long-distance running event manipulated under cover of sport to be an occasion for hypocrisy and propaganda. The winners were not necessarily to be those who ran fast and finished first. The protagonist, on the other hand, does not run for sport either, but his motivation is noble. He wants to present to the President, who will congratulate the winner, a letter asking for the release of his jailed father. But he is cheated, and in the locker room he hears the President’s voice and the ovation accorded the fake winner.
Toward the end of 1981, economic and political conditions deteriorated and all signs pointed toward a complete social collapse. During the summer and fall, filmmakers hastily finished their projects. Janusz Zaorski made Child’s Play (Dziecinne zabawy, 1981) about a group of architects working against demoralization and bureaucracy. A workers’ strike occurs at a construction site. The architects join the strike. There appears to be an expression here of hope for solidarity and, through that, social harmony under principles of moral decency.
In spite of the conditions, Agnieszka Holland and Krzysztof Kieslowski made perhaps their most mature works in 1981. Holland’s A Woman Alone (Kobieta samotna, 1981) is a stark story of a mail clerk who lives a life of ugliness and desperation. In conspiracy with a man, she decides to embezzle money meant for poor pensioners. The misadventure ends with her murder. This is an exploration of the dark byways of human misery, of destiny, and of a relentless environment within which moral perspective vanishes. Kieślowski’s Blind Chance (Przypadek, 1981) is based on three versions of a banal event—catching a train. First, we see what happens if a man catches a train: second, if he misses it; third, if he never undertakes the trip. In one version he becomes a rebel dissident; in another, an establishment activist; in the third, no one of any consequence.
Even as Poland entered into the depth of the crisis, some ventures were initiated and, surprisingly, even allowed to finish. Ryszard Bugajski, after months of delay, obtained script approval for Interrogation (Przesłu-chanie, 1982), a film with acutely sensitive elements, chief among them a searching and intimate portrayal of a member of the security police. The story, again, is about the early fifties and involves a woman against whom false and distorted accusations are made. The setting is a prison run by the security police and the depiction spares nothing, portraying horrifying conditions and cruel tortures. The main role is played by Krystyna Janda who had already identified herself with daring films, including Man of Marble, Man of Iron, and Without Anesthesia. Her performance in Interrogation is extraordinary: it has to be classed among the greatest acting accomplishments in cinema history. With a strong script, sharp and forceful direction by Bugajski, and Janda’s acting, this is perhaps the best of the films that took the fifties as a subject. The industry officials have refused to distribute Interrogation, but copies of the film and videotapes have circulated in the West.
Janusz Zaorski made a film from a novel by Kazimierz Brandys, Mother of Kings (Matka Królów, 1982). Zaorski’s treatment of his material faithfully captures the spirit of the book about a working-class family, a mother and her sons, and how history affected their lives. The novel was written in 1957 and reflected perfectly the view of the left-oriented intelligentsia of the time, condemning the Stalinist years but hopeful for the future.
Tadeusz Chmielewski, a master of comedy who broke out of that genre with his detective thriller-tragedy, In the Still of the Night (Wsród nocnej ciszy, 1978), made another serious film from Stefan Żeromski’s novel, Faithful River (Wierna rzeka, 1983). The novel was written in 1912 about a Polish uprising in 1863 which was brutally suppressed by the Czar’s troops. Chmielewski’s film was begun in 1981, but because of various delays the last footage was not shot until February 1983, when a snowfall finally made the shooting of certain scenes propitious. A story in which Russian troops mistreat Poles is still highly sensitive, even if the troops were Czarist.
On the night of December 12 going into the morning of December 13, 1981, a “state of war” was proclaimed in Poland. This was, in fact, a declaration of martial law, but since there were no legitimate provisions for declaring martial law, the term “state of war” was invoked. Political and social life froze in that cold repressive December. A curfew was declared. There was mass arrest of Solidarity activists. Phone links were cut, and domestic travel was restricted. Public places, including theaters and cinemas, were closed. Film production stopped.
Within weeks some efforts were made to promote activity, and slowly things began to move again in the film industry. First the movie houses were opened for children’s films, then for other films. However, many movies which had already been widely circulated were now proscribed: Man of Iron, Man of Marble, How Are We to Live? Shivers was removed until 1984, There Was Jazz until 1985, The Big Race until 1986.
There was understandable anxiety that the “state of war” would be fatal to the most interesting aspects of Polish cinema and perhaps might undermine the industry as a whole. It was feared that the best directors would be silenced or muted and that those movies which awakened the strongest emotions among the public would be kept on the shelf. To add to the anxiety some notable young directors elected to emigrate: Agnieszka Holland, Piotr Andrejew, Zbigniew Kamiński, Witold Orzechowski, Ryszard Bugajski. As indicated above there were consequences, but they were not as dire as they might have been. Indeed, moderation seems to have been the policy adopted.
Leading directors continued working, at first outside Poland. While it is indicative of conditions after 1981 that work was undertaken outside the country rather than in it, it is also noteworthy that passports were granted and exit allowed, usually with some minor bureaucratic harassment. Clearly the regime had no intention of imitating the harsher practices of other Communist states. All along, Poland has been able to maintain its continuing relationships with its prominent artists, musicians, writers, actors, directors, by allowing rather free entry and exit. Irrevocable emigration was not necessary. In one way or another work went on.
In Poland, Juliusz Machulski made a striking debut with Va Banque (1981, released 1983). This is an enormously clever story of trickery and revenge, very much like the American movie The Sting. An aging criminal, played by the director’s father, Jan Machulski, is released from jail and sets about retrieving loot from an old caper from a crooked banker who let him take the rap while also cheating him of the money. The story is set in the thirties and the film’s visual evocation of mood and time enhances the production considerably. The acting is subdued, even delicate, allowing ingenious plot detail and aura of time and place to carry off a tour de force. A sequel, Va Banque II (1984) was equally popular. More popular still was Machulski’s Sex Mission (Seksmisja, 1985) a comedy in the science fiction mode, a lesser film designed to appeal to young moviegoers.
Yesterday (same Polish title, 1984) by Radosław Piwowarski also had youth in mind but in quite a different way. This is a story of high-school students in a provincial town dominated, as such places can be, by the school, the church, and the moviehouse. Four boys are caught up in the Beatle phenomenon of the sixties and decide to start a similar band. This sets up a generational conflict the exposition of which proves how politically charged popular music can be even when no standard ideological issues are involved. One aspect of the plot involves the development of an intense triangle of young love that leads to serious consequences and ultimately to an ending that suggests how futile passions, drives, and commitments are in the perspective of the passing of time. Legal problems over music rights have blocked distribution in the West, where Yesterday would probably have been well received.
In 1985 Piwowarski made My Mother’s Lovers (Kochankowie mojej mamy) with Krystyna Janda, whose excellent performance in tandem with the incredibly skillful acting of Rafal Wegrzynek, who plays her eleven-year-old son, cements what might otherwise be a ragged script into a story that is loving, touching, degrading, and disillusioning, all at once. A slightly ambiguous, heartwrenching end seems aesthetically wrong but somehow fitting.
Barbara Sass made The Scream (Krzyk, 1982) about a woman released from prison and given work in a rather better-than-average home for the aged, where she confronts a malicious and contemptuous old man, a patient, whose treatment of her sets up a fatal and distorted conflict. Her life is generally abject and degrading; her only hope is marriage and the possibility of an apartment. The necessary bribe to get the apartment is impossible and hopes collapse. She focuses blame on the old man, whom she takes to be a representative of older forms of social corruption, one of those who had helped to create injustice and social despair. After an argument she kills him and only then discovers that his life story is not what she had thought at all. She has killed a person for no reason; he was no symbol. Overwhelmed by this realization she cries out and the film ends.
Janusz Zaorski followed Mother of Kings with The Baritone (Baryton, 1984), a lesser work. An opera singer returns triumphantly to his home town after twenty-five years abroad. The script is overloaded with betrayals, machinations, manipulations, and deals, all of which result in the capture of control of events by a pro-Nazi German pervert. The time is 1933. The obviously intended political parallel does not work well. Zaorski is much more effective with Bodensee (Jezioro Bodeńskie, 1985), a story of a young prisoner-of-war of French and Polish extraction in a Nazi internment camp used as a depot for prisoner swaps via Switzerland. The Polish-French connection has allegorical overtones with respect to Polish history. The young man’s sense of personal identification, however, is wholly Polish and his hopes and dreams are laden with Polish political and historical motifs.
The film made during the post-martial-law period most heavily laced with political content is Krzysztof Kieslowski’s No End, also known as Without an Ending (Bez końca, 1984). It is said to have been the high point of the 1985 Gdansk Film Festival, though its screening was in doubt until the last moment. It is about the attempt to free an imprisoned activist, who eventually is released. The film interweaves complex themes of death, bereavement, perseverance, heroism, spiritual, personal, and moral dimensions, and even overtones of supernaturalism. One can see in the film the influence of Wajda and Zanussi, but the film stands by itself as an original work, enriched by what came before it without yielding anything of its impressive integrity and artistry.
Wajda returned to filmmaking in Poland, after two films abroad, with Chronicles of Love (Kronika wypadków miłosnych, 1985), referred to as A Chronicle of Amorous Accidents or Chronicle of Love Affairs, both awkward translations. It is from a novel and screenplay by Tadeusz Konwicki, who also plays a role in the movie. In this case the script does not seem to provide the kind of narrative mastery for which Wajda’s films are renowned, but all his other gifts are very much in evidence, especially his gift for cinematic lyricism. Indeed, this film needs to be classified under his lyrical works. There is much in it that can be identified as having personal meaning to the director. The story takes place in 1939 when catastrophe is imminent, even as love is present and formative. There is a young boy whose fate we follow, partly through the appearances of an old man, a kind of chorus figure played by Konwicki, who is at the same time meant to be an aspect of the boy, either an alter ego or some strange secular angel. Time, love, fate, tragedy interweave, unravel and weave again. Although not one of Wajda’s best films, Chronicles of Love is still a fascinating cinematic experiment.
Another lovely lyrical experiment is Andrzej Barański’s Woman from the Provinces (Kobieta z prowincji, 1984). This is a simple story of a woman from a small town, her care for her children, her widowhood, her hard labors, her callous second marriage, her independence and determination. Several things set this simple story apart from many films which deal with such a tale. First of all, it does not follow a simple narrative line. The director has adopted a narrative structure which starts the tale more or less in the middle, and from that point it moves back and forth in time to show temporally disjunctured slices of her life. In the end, images of old age and infancy alternate on the screen. Because juxtapositions are not forced into a straight-time progression nor into the usual flashback device, they assume subtly shifting thematic relationships. Another extraordinary dimension of the film is the acting of Ewa Dałkowska, whose creation of this gentle woman is accomplished with many soft and delicate nuances. The artwork, camera work, settings and lighting are all strongly crafted and carefully integrated
Witold Leszczynski, best known for his earlier film Life of Matthew (Żywot Mateusza, 1967), recently made his most interesting film of the eighties, Axiliad (Siekierezada, 1985), about a poet who leaves his lover in a personal quest for self-discovery. He goes into a forest, where timber is being cleared, to work among the rough woodsmen. As is often conventional in literature, a journey into a wood is an internal one, and this one participates in that convention. It is a story of psychological discovery within a landscape sometimes crude and primitive, sometimes rough but beautiful. The dramatic structure, the landscape, and the camerawork conspire to create an effect that suggests both seeking and foreboding. Eventually another man arrives to share the rented hut and functions in the film as an alter ego—reminiscent of Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Sharer. The film is replete with images of this “doubleness.” Ultimately what the protagonist discovers in the forest (and in himself) leads him to a shocking but, in a way, foretold suicide.
Tomasz Zygadło’s Childhood Scenes of Provincial Life, also titled Scenes of Childhood (Sceny dziecięce z życia prowincji, 1985), received considerable critical attention. A character in the film—an old, retired, ruminative politician—is made to resemble the former head of the Polish Communist Party, Władyslaw Gomułka.
Feliks Falk, one of Poland’s top-ranked directors, made Hero of the Year (Bohater roku, 1986), a sequel to his important film Top Dog. The accomplished actor Jerzy Stuhr is again featured as the character Danielak, the master of ceremonies in Top Dog. In this film, Danielak discovers the potential for a grand public relations scam based on a TV news report of a simple citizen who saves a number of his fellow citizens from a possible gas explosion and publicly criticizes the authorities for their carelessness and neglect. Danielak talks the authorities into allowing him to exploit this open and honest man by presenting him on various public platforms as a hero of the year and using him to promote a carefully guided program of ersatz public criticism, a deceitful democratic openness, a controlled glasnost. But the protagonist is not a simpleton and eventually walks off the stage. Unlike Top Dog, at the end of Hero of the Year, there is a clear change in Danielak’s character, perhaps even a reversal. He has taken a good look into himself and seen something there to turn him around. Perhaps it is something personal; perhaps it is merely the realization that the shopworn schemes for manipulating individuals and the public will no longer work in the eighties. The film has been both a critical and box office success and the winner of several international film festival prizes.
What form Polish cinema will take and what strengths it will reveal in the next decade are uncertain. It is an encouraging sign of continuing vitality, however, that it has weathered the crisis of 1981-82 in rather good health. In Poland, more than in most countries, film is an important, serious and influential part of society, politics, and culture. As an art form it has not only mirrored contemporary Polish history, but has also played an important role in helping to make the very history it mirrors—to shape contemporary events, public moods and attitudes.
1. The material in this chapter is based heavily upon the book which I co-authored with Bolesław Michałek, The Modern Cinema of Poland (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988). While the present chapter is my own, it could never have been written without the benefit of Michałek’s deep and intimate knowledge of Polish cinema. One of Poland’s most influential and prominent film critics, screenwriters, and editors, Michałek was for many years the literary director of Wajda’s Unit “X”.
2. Conversation with Andrzej Wajda, October, 1981. The observations and interpretations in this chapter are based heavily and primarily upon interviews and conversations with leading Polish film writers, critics, directors, and other film artists, and upon years of viewing and studying the films themselves. Among the most important of these expert guides are Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Zanussi, Tadeusz Chmielewski, Feliks Falk, Janusz Majewski, Wojciech Marczewski, Edward Żebrowski, Jerzy Domaradzki, Jerzy Antczak, Witold Orzechowski, Filip Bajon, Krystyna Zachwatowicz, Daniel Olbrychski, Irena Olszewska, Jadwiga Baranska, Michał Misiorny, and Czesław Donziłło.
3. Nonetheless, there was no way to convince Poles that the film intended no double meaning. I saw the film twice shortly after its opening in a Warsaw theater in February, 1983. The remarks of the people waiting in line made it clear that they were expecting political/aesthetic sleight-of-hand. Comments overheard after the film’s showing confirmed that the Polish audience was making political interpretations.
4. Kino, 4, 1978, Warsaw.
5. My translation from the original report. Also translated and reprinted in Polish Perspectives Vol. 24, No. 1 (Warsaw, 1981), pp. 49-54.