The great Polish director Andrzej Wajda returns with this passionate biopic about avant-garde artist Wladyslaw Strzeminski (brilliantly played by Polish superstar Boguslaw Linda), who battled Stalinist orthodoxy and his own physical impairments to advance his progressive ideas about art.
The paintings featured as the works by Wladyslaw Strzeminski's students of the Academy of Fine Arts in Lodz, created by Jakub Stepien, follow i.a. the art of Artur Nacht-Samborski ("Leaves in a White Vase on a Table", c. 1970, National Museum in Warsaw) and Jan Cybis ("Still Life", 1971, National Museum in Warsaw). See more »
Amazing feat: at the age of 90 Andrzej Wajda is as convincing as he was at the age of 50! Exceptional cinematography: Marek Edelman as excellent as ever. Outstanding acting: Bogoslaw Linda a good bet for best acting. A very good script: keeping balance between the inevitably highbrow dialogues on art and unexpected turns of action. And example for this can be the end of a potential "love affair", which does not end on a romantic note but strikes hard with the brutal abducting of a beautiful girl. Who, by the way, is not the central romantic character. On the contrary, the "great love" remains invisible and is only made romantically visible by white flowers that turn blue. What could more lyrically stress the importance of color in life? By the way, that end of the "love story" is not a harsh rejection, as it may seem, but rather proves that the artist was really fond of the young girl and, nobly, would not allow her to wretch her life at his side.
The film is about the cruelty of the Stalinist period and how it intervened and interfered in the private lives of the common citizen and all the more so in the sphere of art, which "had to serve the people and the final victory of socialism". There are no throats being cut, people being shot or hanged. No spanking. Everything takes place in and "orderly way", for strict rules must be followed. Or perhaps only almost always! This reminds us of Kieslowski's film about killing or the thick atmosphere of Arthur Koestler's "Darkness at noon". Little by little art, i.e. the protagonist, is being suffocated. It is like cutting his veins, but not at once, slowly, in slow motion. Let him bleed to death, but "naturally". That was really a very hard time and Andrzej Wajda knows what he is talking about, for he experienced it "on his own skin", as you say in Polish. A symbolic image summarizes the pic: the window in the artist's dwelling is suddenly veiled by a red banner. A painter can somehow bear poverty, but can he survive without light? Brushes, paint? Wajda's choice of the actor (Boguslaw Linda) to embody Wladyslaw Strzeminski, one of the great Polish artists and art professors of that period, was fundamental to the artistic value of the picture. Bearing also in mind the fact that he had to play a cripple, who had lost two limbs, certainly made his acting even more daunting. And the outcome is certainly impressive.
Another factor that helps sooth the dreariness of the artist's predicaments is the strong presence of the teenager actress (Bronislawa Zamachowska) who plays his daughter. Her seemingly matter of fact reactions to reality and only rare expressions of deeper feelings function as a balance between the drama we witness and the everyday chores or the mere sipping of tea. "There are holes in my shoes" or "You smoke too much". His adoring students, on the other hand, may represent what was left of hope in those days. Their solidarity with the aging, crippled professor was an omen of better times to come, for who can defeat youth? And who can defeat art? The material shabbiness of those times, when "all were equal, but some were more equal than others", with food rationing, very poor dwellings etc. is shown in detail. Some viewers used to cinematic tangibility may not appreciate some of Wajda's discreet, very subtle hints and symbolic images, but, no doubt, in artistic terms this pic is a comeback to his heydays.
Rio Film Festival 8th October, 2016 Tomasz Lychowski
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