Looking Back at Wajda

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10/17/2008 10:30 AM |

Beginning today and continuing through November 13, the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Anthology Film Archives present the most complete U.S. retrospective to date on probably the greatest of all Polish filmmakers, Andrzej Wajda. (The man himself will be present on this the opening weekend at the FSCL. The Anthology series runs around weekend, and spotlights his very rare TV work.) Here is Ernest Barteldes with a preview.

"The subject of many of our films was the war, the atrocities of Nazism and the tragedies brought by communism, said Polish film and theater director Andrzej Wajda (pronounced And-jay Why-da), probably one of the best-known Eastern European film directors of all time but barely recognized by mainstream audiences stateside during his 2000 Honorary Oscar acceptance speech. Throughout more than half a century, the various works by this still-active 82-year-old often reflect the history of his native land and the struggles his people suffered during various occupations, most notably in 1939, when the Nazi invasion precipitated World War II.

Among the films included on the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s retrospective is Ashes and Diamonds (1958; pictured above right), an early feature that deconstructs the struggles of rural Poles after the end of the war, when the Red Army took over the country. Another memorable work that also discusses that time is Kanal (1957), which describes the final days of the failed 1944 Warsaw Uprising, when a ragtag group of Resistance fighters bravely tried to liberate Warsaw from German control, finally being crushed by the Third Reich after two months in the trenches:

Another intriguing film is the little-known Serbian-language Siberian Lady Macbeth (1962), which tells the story of a lonely woman stuck in bad marriage. An affair with a drifter has lethal results, leading to family disgrace and worse — it’s a film that grabs your attention after only a few minutes and does not let go until the very end.

The most interesting part of the program, however, is the features made with the Polish Television Theater, showing at Anthology. Wajda adapted several works of Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky and others. "This is a sensation because this was probably never shown outside Poland, says Monika Fabijanska, director of the Polish Cultural Institute, which is putting the concurrent programs together. "While Wajda is very well known as a master theater director, here they know him for film only." Fabijanka, a passionate supporter of Polish culture, was kind enough to send over an advance copy of his version of Hamlet, which features renown actress Teresa Budzisz Krzyzanowska on the title role. On this version, we see the actors backstage as they prepare to go on, while the lead actress seems to be stricken with stage fear right as the curtain is about to go up. "This is actually remebered in Poland among his most outstanding theatrical pieces," explains Fabijanska.

2 Comment

  • Preview looks good! I’d just add go see “Everything for Sale”. I was planning to see it later in the fest but now that Mr. Wajda will be there tomorrow…

    what else? I just read an interview with Jerzy Skolimowski in Polish edition of Playboy, and he called the ending of “Katyn” the most powerful filmmaking in history of Polish cinema. If you want an endorsement, there it is.

  • I wish I’d had more space to mention more films, but this I was limited to 500 words — so I just included two favorites. I also could not

    refrain from mentioning the Polish TV films, which as the article mentions has never been seen Stateside.