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Related Reading: Double Vision: My Life in Film by Andrzej Wajda.


In Krajobraz po bitwie, 1970
[Landscape After the Battle]

OlbrychskiLandscape After the Battle opens to the narratively silent symphony of a concentration camp liberation, as haggard yet jubilant prisoners run out into the snow-covered open field, break the windows of the internment barracks, impulsively undress and toss their degrading uniforms onto a blazing bonfire, and rejoice at the arrival of the Allied soldiers. A pragmatic and mild-mannered intellectual named Tadeusz (Daniel Olbrychski) distractedly observes the spectacle, and struggles to retrieve his precious, hoarded books that have been trampled during the chaos. But beyond the constant traffic of liberated prisoners relocated from the camp and a broadcast declaration of freedom by a sympathetic, but culturally naive American supervising officer, little seems to have changed in the austere lives of the prisoners. Unable to return to their war ravaged and politically unsettled homeland, the survivors are indefinitely resettled into temporary housing behind the patrolled gates and reinforced security fences of holding camps scattered throughout Germany. Tadeusz reflects off camera, "The war had ended and the year 1945 passed while we were kept behind barbed wire. The victors feared these people and guarded them closely so that they wouldn't misuse their freedom." Deeply scarred by the atrocities of war and facing an uncertain future away from an increasingly elusive and distant homeland, the prisoners are reduced to selfish, destructive, and immoral behavior: indulging in excessive drinking, bartering limited food rations in order to curry personal favors, seducing (and at times, exploiting) the vulnerable women transported to the camps. Among the resettled prisoners is a stoic, disillusioned survivor named Nina (Stanislawa Celinska) who finds kinship with the introspective Tadeusz. But as the protagonists struggle to reconcile with their profound loss and emotional inertia, can love and humanity survive in the restricted freedom and uncertain landscape of postwar Poland?

Based on the stories, Battle of Grunwald and This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, by writer and concentration camp survivor Tadeusz Borowski, Landscape After the Battle is a poignant, caustic, and resigned portrait of despair, cultural estrangement, and alienation of Poland's postwar generation. Using recurrent images of confinement, encircling camerawork, and incongruous and unusual imagery, Andrzej Wajda reflects the pervasive sense of inertia, anguish, and pessimism of a displaced generation compelled to live in extended exile as their nation struggles to rebuild under the turbulent and uncertain era of a Russian controlled, newly communist Poland: the forbidding barbed wire fences, gated walls, and trenches of the German resettlement camp; the lifeless and surreal reenactment of the patriotic Battle of Grunwald; the emotionally conflicted shot of a church memorial wall dedicated to German military casualties; Tadeusz' alternating hesitant and aroused observation of a young German woman in church. Through repeated patterns of inhumanity, degradation, and barbarism, Wajda provides an incisive commentary and a cautionary tale for the suppression of personal freedom and the propagation of a destructive ideology that rationalizes the practice of internment in the distrustful atmosphere of the Cold War - Poland's figurative landscape after the battle - an alien and oppressive environment of demoralization, human cruelty, and moral decay.

© Acquarello 2002. All rights reserved.

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Ziemia obiecana, 1975
[The Promised Land]

Pszoniak/Olbrychski/Seweryn An introductory shot of a solemn, aging German aristocrat named Bucholz (Andrzej Szalawski) gazing abstractedly out the window of his opulently furnished, baroque estate in morning prayer that is intercut with cutaway images of workers emerging from crude shantytowns built alongside the railroad tracks establishes the polarized economic climate of late nineteenth century Lodz, as the disparate social classes coincidentally look out onto the rows of ubiquitous smokestacks interminably billowing industrial pollution against a smog-laden, overcast horizon: to the former, a seemingly bountiful false god of material wealth and privilege, to the latter, a surrogate icon of providence and unrealized hope for a better life. It is within this dynamic landscape of unlimited opportunity, exploitation, and rapidly turning fortunes that three culturally diverse, enterprising young men seek to carve out their own dream of prosperity: Bucholtz's driven, hardworking factory manager, Karol Borowiecki (Daniel Olbrychski), a shrewd negotiator and internationally connected investor, Moryc Welt (Wojciech Pszoniak), and a financially insolvent German nobleman from a well-respected industrialist family (and heir to an obsolete, nearly bankrupt manually operated textile mill), Max Baum (Andrzej Seweryn). Pooling their limited borrowed capital into securing land rights for establishing a modernized textile factory, the enterprising young men soon capitalize on their relationships with extended families, lovers, and former acquaintances in order to feed the progress of the interminable construction, often leading to dubious alliances, acts of deception, callous mandates for increased productivity, emotional manipulation, and even industrial espionage for the sake of economic growth. Weaving an ever-increasingly elaborate (and inextricable) web of social networking, seduction, and sabotage, the story of the ambitious, young entrepreneurs invariably captures the zeitgeist of turn of the century Poland as the country experienced the euphoria and turmoil of rapid industrialization and unbridled capitalism.

Adapted from the 1897 novel by Polish writer and Nobel laureate Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont, Land of Promise is a wry, incisive, and elegantly realized Dickensian tale of greed, human cruelty, exploitation, and betrayal. Andrzej Wajda retains the cynicism and indictment of Reymont's richly textured and detailed observations through exaggerated, often grotesque portraitures of social class and industrialization in order to illustrate the baseness of human behavior in a culturally fostered environment of greed, narcissistic self-preservation, and competition: graphic episodes of mangled bodies that metaphorically present human lives needlessly sacrificed to feed the impersonal machines of industry (an idea that is similarly articulated by Borowiecki to the well-intentioned junior accountant, Horn (Piotr Fronczewski); the caricatured depiction of the privileged class as tyrannical, licentious, corrupt, and immoral through skewed angle framing and chiaroscuro lighting; the inbred, self-destructive cyclicality of personal fortunes as an allegory for a looming national threat of economic instability that is reflected through the perennial construction and razing of factories (a prefiguring image of the nation's postwar economic system conversion); the increasing acts of employee defiance that intrinsically reveal a brewing class struggle (note the workers' strike of the film's epilogue) and seemingly reflects the labor unrest of contemporary Poland during the late 1970s (and also provides a prescient vision for the momentum of the Solidarity movement). Inevitably, it is this volatile fusion of moral recklessness, inhumanity, and spiritual bankruptcy that is captured in the bleak and desolate baroque images of the film - the true human cost of social revolution that lays beneath the veneer of industrial progress, collective effort, and equal opportunity.

© Acquarello 2005. All rights reserved.

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Czlowiek z marmuru, 1977
[Man of Marble]

Radziwilowicz/TarkowskiAgnieszka (Krystyna Janda) is a determined and tenacious film student who believes that she has found the ideal subject for her diploma film: an investigative documentary on Mateusz Birkut (Jerzy Radziwilowicz), a postwar working-class hero who fell into government disfavor and disappeared into obscurity. Her producer (Boguslaw Sobczuk) reluctantly agrees to give her 21 days to complete the assignment, despite great reservation for the possible political implications of her subject matter. She conducts her first interview with Jerzy Burski (Tadeusz Lomnicki), an internationally renowned filmmaker who, as a young director in the 1950s, discovered the accessible and photogenic Birkut in Nowa Huta, and decided to showcase the young man in his Architects of our Happiness propaganda documentary. Using an assembled support team of experienced bricklayers which included Birkut's close friend, Wincenty Witek (Michal Tarkowski), to ensure the success of their building challenge, Burski constructs a flattering, if not manipulative, portrait of the young bricklayer. Birkut is touted as an exemplary worker, a Stakhanovite, honored for his skill and productivity with larger-than-life propaganda posters hanging from government buildings, and impressive museum sculptures formed in his image. Birkut becomes an immediate celebrity, and rises in social prominence. However, Birkut's brush with fame proves fleeting, and Burski conjectures that his fall may have been precipitated by an ill-timed accident, when a staged demonstration of Birkut's efficiency is grievously sabotaged before a rolling camera.

Andrzej Wajda creates a fascinating study of political opportunism, character analysis, and the filmmaking process under communism in Man of Marble. By juxtaposing the idealism of postwar reconstruction and the cultural climate of 1970s Poland, Wajda chronicles the social reality of revisionist history, and the tragic irony that results from constantly shifting government policies. Note the sharp contrast between the images captured by Burski's contrived documentary and the individual eyewitness accounts and recovered deleted footage (presumably rejected on "technical grounds") featured in Agnieszka's school documentary. The fictional narrative progresses through aggressive, cinema-verite styled filmmaking. The effect is an honest, compassionate, and unsystematic film that deconstructs a fabricated political icon, from the illusion of a national hero to the personal struggle of an idealistic, common man.

© Acquarello 2001. All rights reserved.

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Bez znieczulenia, 1979
[Rough Treatment/Without Anesthesia]

ZapasiewiczA successful international journalist, Jerzy Michalowski (Zbigniew Zapasiewicz), makes a guest appearance on a televised variety show to reflect on his life and work. Candid and self-assured, Jerzy's evasive comments on the limited freedom of the Polish press on domestic issues causes concern to a programming official who believes that the serious topics discussed in the interview overstep the intended entertainment format of the program. Meanwhile, Jerzy's family life is in a state of upheaval. After meeting at the airport, Jerzy's wife Ewa (Ewa Dalkowska) leaves him alone on the sidewalk and announces that she has moved out of the house with their younger daughter and is filing for divorce. Jerzy enlists the aid of his dentist and mutual friend, Wanda (Emilia Krakowska), but Eva continually refuses to meet with Jerzy and explain her decision to leave, uncertain over her own feelings and emotionally manipulated by her insecure lover, Jacek (Andrzej Seweryn). Eva's attorney (Jerzy Stuhr) encourages Jerzy to agree to the divorce in order to spare him from the complications of a protracted and divisive trial, but Jerzy insists on disputing the petition. Attempting to escape his personal problems, Jerzy turns to the distraction of work, only to find that his seminar at a local university has been inexplicably canceled and his privileges at the news organization have been curtailed. Without the support of his family and under the pervasive gaze of unnamed authorities, Jerzy's life spirals out of control.

Without Anesthesia is a cleverly incisive, relevant, and intriguing examination on the persecution of an intellectual during communist Poland. Co-written with Agnieszka Holland, Andrzej Wajda creates a surreal, Kafka-esque, and allegorical portrait of the widespread government intervention, euphemistically called "rough treatment", that occurred during the tenure of the First Party secretary, Edward Gierek, which often led to career and personal ruin. Using fragmented scenes and unresolved relationships, Wajda provides a subtle reflection of the destructive and arbitrary nature of political suppression: the enigmatic young student, Agata's (Krystyna Janda) unprovoked attachment to Jerzy; Jacek's open hostility and consuming envy towards the prominent journalist; Ewa's determination to continue with the divorce proceedings despite overwhelming personal uncertainty. In the end, the elusive adversary proves to be omnipotent, and Jerzy is unable to escape its stifling grasp - suffocated by its pervasive stranglehold - and reduces him to a shell of his former self.

© Acquarello 2001. All rights reserved.

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