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Afterimage (Powidoki)
Afterimage (Powidoki)

The Film Society of Lincoln Center will honor late Polish master Andrzej Wajda, with an eleven-film tribute to take place from February 9 to 16, 2017.

“Poland’s greatest filmmaker… Mr. Wajda made movies that had to be seen. His subject may have been 20th-century Poland—but that is to say, the 20th century itself.” – J. Hoberman, The New York Times

Andrzej Wajda
Andrzej Wajda

Andrzej Wajda passed away on October 9, 2016 in Warsaw at the age of 90, nearly a month after the world premiere of his last film, Afterimage. For more than half a century, Wajda crafted a filmography that encapsulated the essence of postwar Poland and constitutes, quite simply, one of the great legacies of world cinema.

No single visual style or strategy characterizes his films. His work often employed intricately illuminated deep spaces as well as looser, more vérité methods; many served as counter-narratives to the officially sanctioned records kept by Stalinized Poland; others were more oblique and meditative as they reckoned with concepts including individualism, one’s duty toward others, and the meaning of freedom.

The Film Society presents a selection of the influential Polish director’s films in celebration of his monumental life’s work, including his acclaimed “war trilogy,” comprised of his first feature A Generation, Kanał, and Ashes and Diamonds; Man of Marble, his political treatise on the Solidarity movement, and its Palme d’Or-winning sequel Man of Iron; The Conductor, his first U.S.-shot film; Rough Treatment, co-written by Agnieszka Holland; and more. Highlighting the series is the New York premiere of Afterimage, an impassioned memorial to the great avant-garde artist Władysław Strzemiński.

FILMS AND DESCRIPTIONS

Afterimage / Powidoki
Poland, 2016, 98m
Polish with English subtitles
Based on the life of avant-garde painter and theorist Władysław Strzemiński, Afterimage dovetails the final years of the artist’s life with the rise of Socialist Realism in Poland. As a teacher at Łódź’s State Higher School of the Visual Arts, Strzemiński refuses to respect the Stalinist doctrine of university authorities and the Ministry of Culture and Art, who exert vicious bureaucratic methods to silence his voice and ability to work. An impassioned memorial to a great painter, Wajda’s last film is also a stark observation of a political mechanism that nearly erased one of Poland’s most important artists from public memory. A Film Movement release. New York Premiere

Ashes and Diamonds / Popiól i diament
Poland, 1958, 35mm, 103m
Polish with English subtitles
Ashes and Diamonds is the extraordinary final installment in Wajda’s war trilogy and an unquestionable masterpiece, a true landmark of postwar European cinema. With a screenplay by Jerzy Andrzejewski, based on his novel, the film is set on the last day of the war and the first day of peace, when a young Home Army soldier (Zbigniew Cybulski, in his most famous role) is assigned to assassinate a Communist official. More important than the carefully etched political nuances in this vision of a Poland poised between the past and a future are the moral dilemmas faced by individuals in a time of transition, always treated with great humanity by Wajda.

The Conductor / Dyrygent
Poland, 1980, 35mm, 101m
Polish with English subtitles
Shooting in the U.S. for the first time, Wajda meditates on the grey area between art and life through the story of John/Jan Lasocki (John Gielgud), an internationally famous orchestra conductor who emigrated from his native Poland 50 years earlier. Marta (Krystyna Janda), the daughter of his first love, seeks him out, arousing an interest Lasocki has not known in years. He even agrees to return to Poland and conduct the provincial orchestra in which Marta is a featured soloist—hardly welcome news to Adam (Andrzej Seweryn), her husband and the orchestra’s regular conductor, who is rumored to have won his position through party connections.

A Generation / Pokolenie
Poland, 1955, 35mm, 87m
Polish with English subtitles
Wajda’s first feature launched one of the most durable careers in world cinema. Barely out of film school, he demonstrated a remarkable mastery of the medium; vividly captured the 1942 Warsaw milieu in which he’d fought as a teenager against the Nazis; introduced the legendary Zbigniew Cybulski and another young film student, Roman Polanski; made a startling break with the traditional theatricality of Polish screen acting; and created what would become the first part of his classic war trilogy (followed by Kanał and Ashes and Diamonds). Inevitably colored by the obligatory exaggeration of a Communist resistance, the film contrasts official reports of wartime heroics with cruel reality.

Innocent Sorcerers / Niewinni czarodzieje
Poland, 1960, 35mm, 87m
Polish with English subtitles
Working with a screenplay by Jerzy Andrzejewski (Ashes and Diamonds) and a very young Jerzy Skolimowski, Wajda chronicles a soft bohemia made up of motor scooters, easy flirtations, and jazz enjoyed by a group of Warsaw twenty-somethings. Bazyli (Tadeusz Łomnicki), a recent graduate from medical school, is more dedicated to playing drums than to pursuing his profession. Fellow hipster Edmund (Zbigniew Cybulski) asks Bazyli’s help in attracting the attention of a beautiful young woman, but it’s Bazyli who winds up walking her to the train station, after the last train has already departed. Innocent Sorcerers brilliantly captures the post-Stalin thaw that had begun to sweep through the Eastern bloc countries by the late 1950s while mediating on the pleasures and terror that freedom can bring.

Kanał
Poland, 1957, 35mm, 96m
Polish and German with English subtitles
An unforgettably vivid depiction of the last days of the 1944 Warsaw uprising against the German Nazis, Kanał was co-awarded (with The Seventh Seal) a special jury prize at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival, establishing Wajda as a major new international film talent. His second film—and the second part of his war trilogy—features a rich mosaic of meticulously combined narratives, following a band of surviving Polish Home Army soldiers that takes to the sewers to avoid capture. Unable to allude to the fact that the Soviet Army was waiting just across the river while the Germans wiped out the non-Communist resistance, Wajda portrayed the insurgents with unaccustomed sympathy.

The Maids of Wilko / Panny z Wilka
Poland/France, 1979, 35mm, 118m
Polish with English subtitles
After a string of hard-hitting political works that roused the censors’ ire and brought him into the international spotlight, Wajda deliberately changed pace with this wistful, elegiac, almost Chekhovian recreation of a long-vanished Poland, based on a story by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz. Following the death of a close friend, 40-year-old farm manager Wiktor (Daniel Olbrychski) returns to the village where he spent his youth. Next door, five sisters Wiktor knew have gathered for the summer. The inviting tranquility of the women’s lazy summer days hardly conceals the sense of sadness that runs through their lives; and the return of Wiktor, who had loved a sister who has since died, upsets their delicate emotional balance.

Man of Iron / Człowiek z żelaza
Poland, 1981, 35mm, 156m
Polish with English subtitles
Winkel (Marian Opania), a down-on-his-luck radio reporter, is sent to Gdańsk to dig up dirt on Tomczyk (Jerzy Radziwiłowicz), one of the leaders of a burgeoning workers’ movement. Trying to get into the shipyard that’s become the epicenter of the movement, Winkel bumps into Tomzyk’s old friend (Bogusław Linda), who shows him never-released footage of the August 1970 riots. Gradually the story of Tomczyk and his father, former model worker Mateusz Birkut (also Radziwiłowicz), emerges with a portrait of the rising Solidarity movement. Awarded the Palme d’Or at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival, this (loosely defined) sequel to Man of Marble is, in retrospect, as much about the end of an era as the dawn of a new one. Within months of its release, martial law would be declared and Solidarity repressed.

Man of Marble / Człowiek z marmuru
Poland, 1977, 35mm, 160m
Polish with English subtitles
Rarely have a film and social movement so perfectly meshed, as the release of Man of Marble came to be seen as the international herald of the then-rising workers’ union Solidarity. Young filmmaker Agnieszka (Krystyna Janda) explores the life of Mateusz Birkut (Jerzy Radziwilowicz), a now-discredited labor hero of the 1950s who is remembered only through the statues made of him residing in cellars and storage lockers. Using cleverly created newsreels, interviews, and scenes of Agnieszka’s battles with the authorities, Wajda creates a powerful meditation on art and politics as well as a scathing dissection of a “man of marble” and the state that makes and breaks him.

The Promised Land / Ziemia obiecana
Poland, 1975, 35mm, 180m
Polish with English subtitles
Polish Nobel Prize–winner Władysław Reymont’s novel is given a startling immediacy in Wajda’s vibrant adaptation, a film regularly counted among the greatest Polish films ever made. The Promised Land is set in 19th-century Łódź, just then becoming a major manufacturing center, where three friends decide to ride the industrial wave by pooling their resources and establishing a modern textile factory. Their gambit is successful beyond their dreams, but it extracts a high price from each of them. An analysis of masculine friendship and a nation fitfully heading towards modernity, The Promised Land is also a lament for a multicultural Poland.

Rough Treatment, aka Without Anesthesia / Bez znieczulenia
Poland/France, 1978, 35mm, 131m
Polish with English subtitles
Journalist Jerzy Michałowski (Zbigniew Zapasiewicz) is top dog in his rough and tumble profession, but his post and privileges are taken away after he raises the issue of freedom of the press on a major television talk show. When his wife announces she’s leaving him for a younger, more radical colleague, Jerzy starts to reflect on the constant compromises that have defined his life and career. With a script by Agnieszka Holland and Wajda, Rough Treatment does for contemporary Poland what Man of Marble did for the recent past: reveal the everyday dishonesty and hypocrisy that holds the system together.

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