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Directors in Focus
Poland through the Prism of Andrzej Wajda

The father of modern Polish cinema and one of the great masters of narrative filmmaking, Andrzej Wajda, who turns seventy-five this month, was last year’s recipient of an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement. As the Academy noted in highlighting a career that extends across half a century, "Wajda belongs to Poland, but his films are part of the cultural treasure of all mankind." During the course of this career he has directed more than forty feature films and thirty stage productions and served as a mentor for several generations of Polish filmmakers, including Roman Polanski, Krzysztof Kieslowski, and Agnieszka Holland. While the young Wajda brought the nascent postwar Polish cinema into the international arena almost single-handedly in the mid-1950s—creating, in the process, the so-called "Polish School"—he has managed to continue working at the peak of his talents even into this new century. Never afraid of controversy, Wajda has continually questioned the national myths of his homeland and dared to touch upon old wounds and uncomfortable matters: he remains a romantic to the bone. His films, which not infrequently were suppressed by censorship, have inspired stormy debates in the Polish press that extend far beyond the sphere of art. By no means a darling of the communist authorities, Wajda nonetheless was an artist too important to be ignored or silenced. His films remain a penetrating chronicle of Polish society and its history, a voice of conscience and freedom against oppression for us all.

This series is cosponsored by the National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis University, which will host a complementary series of screenings at the Edie and Lew Wasserman Cinematheque, in the Sachar Center on the Waltham campus.


March 2 (Friday) 7 pm
March 7 (Wednesday) 9:30 pm

Kanal

Directed by Andrzej Wajda
Poland 1957, 35mm, b/w, 95 min.
With Teresa Izewska, Tadeusz Janczar, Emil Karewicz
Polish with English subtitles

The second work in Wajda’s celebrated trilogy of films focusing on the impact of World War II on a generation of young Poles, Kanal takes place during the "Warsaw Rising" in the summer of 1944. The film follows three groups of Home Army fighters who go underground—literally, through the city sewers—in an attempt to link up with their main forces. Commentary in the film’s prologue chillingly foreshadows the decidedly Dantean complications the narrative will assume as it introduces us to each of the characters and then informs us that "these are the last hours of their lives." Critically acclaimed at Cannes, where Wajda earned the Silver Palm, this elaborately staged work proved controversial on the home front by intimating, through the futility of each episode, that the loss of life had been meaningless. Nevertheless, for Wajda, Kanal and its successor, Ashes and Diamonds, "spoke for a country that was just beginning to exist on the map of the film world."

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March 2 (Friday) 9 pm

Siberian Lady Macbeth (Sibirska Ledi Magbet)

Directed by Andrzej Wajda
Yugoslavia 1962, 35mm, b/w, 94 min.
With Olivera Markovic, Ljuba Tadic, Miodrag Lazarevic
Polish and Serbian with English subtitles

This screen adaptation of Nikolay Leskov’s Russian reworking of the Shakespearian tragedy is one of Wajda’s most psychologically astute dramatic works. As the title suggests, the film focuses on a headstrong, Lady Macbeth-like figure: Katerina (Markovic), the unhappily married wife of a prosperous merchant in a backwoods Russian village. Childless and neglected, she seduces a rakish peasant (Tadic), and the affair which ensues has fatal consequences. Produced with an uncharacteristic spareness and focus, Siberian Lady Macbeth marks one of Wajda’s most complex depictions of women and of the destructive force of love.

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March 3 (Saturday) 7 pm

Man of Marble (Czlowiek z marmuru)

Directed by Andrzej Wajda
Poland 1977, 16mm, b/w and color, 160 min.
With Jerzy Radziwilowicz, Krystyna Janda, Tadeusz Lomnicki
Polish with English subtitles

A major departure from the period pieces and highly composed films that Wajda made in the early 1970s, Man of Marble was a self-consciously contemporary work that was condemned by the authorities but hailed abroad as an "Eastern European Citizen Kane." Wajda channeled his aspirations for a renewed Polish cinema here through the fictional figure of a young woman filmmaker (Janda) whose diploma project focuses on Birkut, a forgotten worker-hero from the Stalinist era. A simple bricklayer from Stakhanover, the "man of marble," according to the film’s fiction, had been the propagandistic creation of a Polish director of an earlier era. In documenting Birkut’s fall from grace, the young director exposes the sham state of worker solidarity and political justice.


March 4 (Sunday) 2 pm

Man of Iron (Czlowiek z zelaza)

Directed by Andrzej Wajda
Poland 1981, 35mm, color, 173 min.
With Jerzy Radziwilowicz, Krystyna Janda, Marian Opania
Polish with English subtitles

This sequel to Man of Marble––in a newly restored print that contains previously censored material––was inspired by the real-life political events taking place almost simultaneously at the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk. Birkut, the central figure of the earlier film, has been killed in a strike action, but the young filmmaker is there as both witness and catalyst to the history-making scenes. Wajda interweaves contemporary newsreel footage—including speeches by a young Lech Walesa and images of the heroism of Anna Welentynowycz, the worker whose dismissal sparked the birth of the Solidarity movement—through a narrative that concerns the efforts of a radio reporter to frame Birkut’s son. The resulting film represents a potent blending of fiction and reality, art and life, and earned Wajda the top prize at Cannes.

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March 6 (Tuesday) 9 pm

The Wedding (Wesele)

Directed by Andrzej Wajda
Poland 1973, 35mm, color, 110 min.
With Daniel Olbrychski, Ewa Zietek, Malgorzata Lorentowicz
Polish with English subtitles

The Wedding is a visually stunning rendition of Stanislaw Wyspianski’s celebrated turn-of-the-century play, inspired by a real-life wedding between a fashionable poet (Olbrychski, in one of his finest roles) and a farmer’s daughter. While Wajda’s adaptation dispenses with the language of the original theatrical piece, the film vividly animates the playwright’s allegorical vision, in which an admixture of people from every station calls forth figures drawn from both Polish history and legend to create a bittersweet self-examination of the national character—both its aspirations and its flaws.

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March 9 (Friday) 7 pm

Promised Land (Ziemia obiecana)

Directed by Andrzej Wajda
Poland 1975, 35mm, color, 179 min.
With Daniel Olbrychski, Wojciech Pszoniak, Andrzej Seweryn
Polish with English subtitles

"I have nothing, you have nothing, and he has nothing; that means together we have enough to start a factory," says an impoverished Polish nobleman-turned-industrialist to his Jewish and German partners. Set in Lodz at the end of the nineteenth century, Promised Land captures a unique moment in which ethnic differences took a back seat to the capitalist ambitions of a new class of "Lodzermensch." Working from a novel by Nobel laureate Stanislaw Reymont, Wajda shot the film on location in Lodz, where he had spent four years attending the famed film school—a city still dominated by the look of the past. While his lusciously photographed saga was nominated for an Academy Award, Wajda was subjected to critique from both the censors and the liberal media.

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March 10 (Saturday) 7 pm

A Love in Germany (Eine Liebe in Deutschland)

Directed by Andrzej Wajda
France/Germany/Poland 1983, 35mm, color, 100 min.
With Hanna Schygulla, Marie-Christine Barrault, Piotr Lysak
German with English subtitles

Working from Rolf Hochhuth’s wartime chronicle about the relationship between a Polish prisoner of war (Lysak) and a German shopkeeper (Schygulla), Wajda created a work able to capture not only the collective past but, also, an aspect of contemporary German culture. Told in flashback by the shopkeeper’s son, the story unfolds in a sleepy Bavarian town where the Pole has been assigned to work. Despite explicit prohibitions against fraternizing with the enemy, a passionate affair soon develops. The terrible consequences fuse the predictable reaction of fascist rule with the petty jealousies and unneighborly betrayals that typify small-town life.

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March 10 (Saturday) 9 pm

Pan Tadeusz

Directed by Andrzej Wajda
Poland/France 1999, 35mm, color, 150 min.
With Boguslaw Linda, Daniel Olbrychski, Michal Zebrowski
Polish with English subtitles

Produced during the bicentennial of the birth of the great Polish romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz (1798–1855), Pan Tadeusz is Wajda’s stunning adaptation of Mickiewicz’s national epic poem.

The narrative is set in the early part of the nineteenth century in a Polish-speaking region of Lithuania and revolves around a feud between two aristocratic Polish families. The film abounds with breathtakingly beautiful landscapes, men on horseback, peasants at work, golden wheat fields, and gleaming ears of silvery rye. The lushness of the countryside provides a dynamic backdrop to both a love story (the young couple hails from the two opposing sides of the feud) and the larger historical forces at work at a time when Poles invested their hopes for regaining nationhood in Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. Pan Tadeusz has proven to be one of Wajda’s most successful and beloved films, with Polish attendance besting the box-office records set there by both Titanic and Star Wars.

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Wajda at Brandeis

Directed by Claire Denis
France 1990, video, b/w & color, 125 min.
French with English subtitles

Additional films in the retrospective, listed below, are presented by The National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis University, Waltham, in the Edie and Lew Wasserman Cinematheque in the Sachar Center. All seats $6. For more information and group sales call 781-736-8600 or visit www.jewishfilm.org. On the day of film screening tickets will be available at the door only. Visa and Mastercard accepted byemail at NCJF@brandeis.edu; or check, with a self addressed stamped envelope, may be sent to:

National Center for Jewish Film
Brandeis University, Lown 102, MS 053
Waltham, MA 02454–9110.

March 1 (Thursday) 7 pm

Ashes and Diamonds

(1958) 108 min.

 

March 3 (Saturday) 7:30 pm

Samson

(1961) 117 min.

 

March 4 (Sunday) 3 pm

Landscape After Battle

(1970) 108 min.

 

March 8 (Thursday) 7 pm

The Wedding

(1973) 110 min.

 

March 10 (Saturday) 7:30 pm

Promised Land

(1975) 179 min.

 

March 11 (Sunday) 3 pm

Korczak

(1990) 113 min.

 

March 11 (Sunday) 7 pm

Holy Week

(1995) 94 min.

 

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