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Andrzej Wajda

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kingrat
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Andrzej Wajda

Postby kingrat » May 25th, 2011, 12:52 pm

TCM has shown Andrzej Wajda's A Generation and Kanal the last two Sundays, and will complete the trilogy with Ashes and Diamonds this Sunday, so it seems appropriate to open a thread for this director. First, a couple of questions. 1) OK, how do you pronounce his name? Robert Osborne calls him OND-zhay VY-da, but Mr. O has been known to struggle with foreign names before. 2) If you've seen films other than the trilogy, please post about them. He's had a long career, but not many of them are familiar even to Americans who like foreign films. Man of Iron, his film about Lech Walesa, is the only other one whose title many of us would recognize, and I haven't even seen that one.

When I was in my early 20s I fell in love with both Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds. I liked the sensibility as much as the filmmaking. We automatically respond strongly to some filmmakers and have to learn to appreciate others, if we ever do; Wajda was definitely in the first category.

A Generation is stuck with the Communist propaganda Wajda had to insert, e.g., when the kindly factory worker tells the young doofus of a hero, "There's a wise bearded man named Karl Marx . . . ." Our hero gets involved with the Communist youth movement because he has a crush on the attractive young woman who's speaking and handing out flyers. This is arguably a shrewder, and perhaps more subversive, political analysis than the sayings of the wise bearded man. In any event, Wajda has plenty of talent, as his staircase scene, for instance, shows.

Kanal holds up very well. The gallant but doomed Warsaw uprising of 1944 is all but over. The Red Army waits nearby for the resistance to be destroyed, as Wajda can't say in the film, but his audience would know. Voiceover at the beginning of the film tells us that these are the last hours in the lives of this company of fighters. As the Nazis surround them, the only way of escape is through the sewers ("kanal" in Polish). Although Kanal is certainly a historical film, it owes much to film noir. If you want shadows and doom, Kanal has enough for twenty films. Calling it a horror film isn't much of a stretch, either. Its portrayal of hell is very convincing. Hey, how about a double feature with Ichikawa's Fires on the Plain for a really fun evening? Both films share the experience of a nation's utter defeat.

What impresses me most about Kanal is the ending. The spins and twists of the last reels give us a remarkable range of emotions within this inferno. I love the use of music in this film, music being one of the elements of good that is being destroyed.

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Re: Andrzej Wajda

Postby moira finnie » May 25th, 2011, 4:50 pm

King, I have seen parts of Kanal on TCM and found it intriguing.

I have recently discovered that there is a person on youtube, found here, who is uploading several of Andrzej Wajda's hard-to-find films, including Lotna (1959), which tells the story of the Second World War from the viewpoint of a beautiful mare who is symbolic of Polish traditional culture. I understand that Wajda regarded this beautiful story as a failure. Btw, Man of Iron is streaming online at Netflix but doesn't appear to be on DVD through that venue.

I have no idea how to pronounce Wajda's first name, though I have a friend who speaks fluent Polish and will ask him next time I speak with him.
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Re: Andrzej Wajda

Postby MikeBSG » May 27th, 2011, 10:27 am

I think his name is pronounced "Andre."

I'm so glad someone started this thread, because I think Wajda is a superb director and very underrated. People in America, if they know of him, only know him for the War trilogy. "Kanal" is my favorite film of those three, but he has done marvelous stuff in later years.

"Ashes" is a film from the mid-Sixties based on a massive 19th Century Polish novel set in the Napoleonic Wars. It has some of the best battle scenes I have ever seen in a film. I'd bet money that the makers of "Glory" saw this film before they staged the last battle in that movie.

"Landscape After Battle" (1970) is about concentration camp survivors in the immediate aftermath of WWII. Very powerful and one of Wajda's best.

"Man of Marble" (1976) is great. It demolishes 'socialist realism.' Calling it "the Polish 'Citizen Kane' " sort of makes it sound like a joke, but I think it is comparable to Kane.

"Promised Land" (late Seventies) is a splendid film about the industrialization of Poland in the 19th Century. A terrific historical film that makes the past come alive. Supposedly Bergman was influenced by it for "Fanny and Alexander."

"Revenge" (2002) is based on a classic 18th Century Polish comedy. (I know nothing of Polish literature. what I know is from reading about Wajda's films.) Wajda porves very skilled with comedy, which is stunning considering how grim some of his other films are.

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Re: Andrzej Wajda

Postby kingrat » May 27th, 2011, 11:39 am

Thanks, Mike. All of these films now go to my wish list.

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Re: Andrzej Wajda

Postby kingrat » May 31st, 2011, 7:06 pm

The print for Ashes and Diamonds was outstanding, probably the one from the Criterion Collection. I saw this either in college or soon after college (which was, um, a few years ago), and liked it every bit as much on second viewing over the weekend. Zbigniew Cybulski has been called the Polish James Dean--try looking at anyone else when he's on screen--but I actually like Cybulski better than James Dean. As an American, James Dean plays the misunderstood young man. As a Pole, Cybulski has been through disasters Dean couldn't even imagine--such as the reason he's wearing those supercool shades--so there's not even a plea for understanding, which wouldn't help anyone's situation in any event.

Ashes and Diamonds would fit easily into a noir festival, with its chiaroscuro lighting, trapped hero, and more doom than a six-pack of B movies. For some viewers, the go-for-baroque finale of Ashes and Diamonds may be too much, but I love every bit of it. The story is simple: Poland loses and keeps on losing. To put it another way: on the day Germany surrenders in WWII, Maciek (Cybulski) and two associates, members of an anti-Communist resistance group, try to kill two Communists. The plan goes wrong, but Maciek gets a second chance at a hotel where Szczuka, the main Communist functionary, will be staying for a celebratory banquet. Maciek picks up a fetching blonde barmaid and the two begin to fall for each other.

How on earth did the powers that be approve this film? In A Generation the Communist resistance was mostly made up of cool young guys and hot chicks, whereas the non-Communists were middle-aged and stodgy. In Ashes and Diamonds Cybulski is a million times cooler than anyone else, and the Communist functionary he's trying to kill, a man who's been trained by the Soviets, is the one who's middle-aged and stodgy. The film opens with a shot of the cross on top of a chapel. Near the end, the orchestra's discordant version of Chopin's Revolutionary Etude tells us how well this revolution is going to turn out. The comic subplot offers a mordant view of the way to success in the new Poland.

Does anyone else cherish the squeaky cabinet door that keeps opening unexpectedly when Szczuka (pronounced something like "Shtuka") visits his sister-in-law to find out what's happened to his son? As I said in the original post, I love the sensibility of this film. A technical matter: Wajda uses a great variety of different two-shots in the film. A budding director could watch this film once just to see how Wajda accomplishes this.

Thanks, TCM, and please show us more of Wajda's films. Oh: a character in the film is named "Andrzej," and it sounds like "Andre" except for the "zh" stuck in after the "r."

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Re: Andrzej Wajda

Postby moira finnie » May 31st, 2011, 7:28 pm

I just watched Ashes and Diamonds today. Your evaluation was terrific, king, and yes, that squeaky door on the cabinet that kept opening inconveniently was a nice aural and visual simile for the past, I thought.

My favorite moment: The white horse, symbol of chivalry, fertility and freedom wandering into the courtyard of the hotel looking lost in this grey world.

Maciek was such a lost, hipster soul, formed by war, unable to ever really be at peace. My only quibble was that I wanted more about Szczuka, the Communist whose nemesis was Maciek. He was an intriguing character as he looked for his lost son in between observing the rapidly evolving post-war Poland.
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Re: Andrzej Wajda

Postby MikeBSG » June 1st, 2011, 9:16 am

As for the making of "Ashes and Diamonds," Poland had a lot of anti-Communist unrest in 1956, nearly going to full scale revolution (as happened in Hungary). That was forestalled by putting Wladislaw Gomulka (a Communist who had fallen afoul of Stalin in the late forties and sent to prison) in as General Secretary of the Communist Party of Poland. This opened a brief period of liberalization for Poland, which ended around 1960 or so. "Ashes and Diamonds" was one of the films that took advantage of this brief Polish thaw. "Bad Luck" by Andrzej Munk was another.

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Re: Andrzej Wajda

Postby kingrat » June 1st, 2011, 11:27 am

Mike, thanks for filling us in on the historical background. That explains the big shift from A Generation to Ashes and Diamonds. It looks like a number of Wajda's later films are available on DVD, so I'll have to set aside some bucks and go exploring.

Moira, I hadn't thought of the cabinet door as representing the past coming open at inopportune moments, but that's exactly how it works. I love the white horse, too.

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Re: Andrzej Wajda

Postby moira finnie » June 1st, 2011, 12:19 pm

MikeBSG wrote:As for the making of "Ashes and Diamonds," Poland had a lot of anti-Communist unrest in 1956, nearly going to full scale revolution (as happened in Hungary). That was forestalled by putting Wladislaw Gomulka (a Communist who had fallen afoul of Stalin in the late forties and sent to prison) in as General Secretary of the Communist Party of Poland. This opened a brief period of liberalization for Poland, which ended around 1960 or so. "Ashes and Diamonds" was one of the films that took advantage of this brief Polish thaw. "Bad Luck" by Andrzej Munk was another.

I was very interested in the history too. I suspected that Wajda's ability to get the ambiguous Ashes and Diamonds made might have occurred during the period of Kruschev's "Spring Thaw" in 1956 when he publicly separated himself from the excesses of Stalinism and allowed (for a time) a bit more expression into the arts and letters--though the back story of the film's history, much of which was relayed on the Criterion site, sounds like a plot from John le Carré.

kingrat wrote:Moira, I hadn't thought of the cabinet door as representing the past coming open at inopportune moments, but that's exactly how it works. I love the white horse, too.

I am watching a few scenes of Lotna (1959) each day on youtube, and have since learned that Wajda's father was in the Polish Cavalry and was among those killed during the Blitzkrieg invasion of Poland, so the horse probably meant something even deeper to the director. I was quite taken with the audacious use of cultural and religious allusions in Ashes and Diamonds. Most directors would be leery of symbolism such as Wajda uses, but it makes his movies more engrossing. I found the upside down Christ hanging from the Cross in the ruins of the Church as the young lovers tried to stay connected for a few more moments to be very touching.
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Re: Andrzej Wajda

Postby MikeBSG » June 2nd, 2011, 3:29 pm

A few years ago, Wajda made "Katyn," about the Polish officers who were taken prisoner by the Soviet Union in 1939 (The Soviets invaded Poland on Sept. 17, 1939) and were shot in the spring of 1940. I think it was said that Wajda's father was one of those shot by the Soviets at Katyn.

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Re: Andrzej Wajda

Postby kingrat » February 3rd, 2012, 6:28 pm

"Ashes" is a film from the mid-Sixties based on a massive 19th Century Polish novel set in the Napoleonic Wars. It has some of the best battle scenes I have ever seen in a film. I'd bet money that the makers of "Glory" saw this film before they staged the last battle in that movie.

"Landscape After Battle" (1970) is about concentration camp survivors in the immediate aftermath of WWII. Very powerful and one of Wajda's best.

"Man of Marble" (1976) is great. It demolishes 'socialist realism.' Calling it "the Polish 'Citizen Kane' " sort of makes it sound like a joke, but I think it is comparable to Kane.

"Promised Land" (late Seventies) is a splendid film about the industrialization of Poland in the 19th Century. A terrific historical film that makes the past come alive. Supposedly Bergman was influenced by it for "Fanny and Alexander."

"Revenge" (2002) is based on a classic 18th Century Polish comedy. (I know nothing of Polish literature. what I know is from reading about Wajda's films.) Wajda porves very skilled with comedy, which is stunning considering how grim some of his other films are.[/quote]


These notes are from Mike when I asked for more Wajda recommendations.

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Re: Andrzej Wajda

Postby MikeBSG » March 27th, 2013, 7:59 pm

Today I watched Wajda's "Innocent Sorcerers" (1960).

Before today, I never would have imagined calling a Wajda film sweet and romantic, but "Innocent Sorcerers" took me by surprise.

It is about a young doctor who is something of a lothario. By chance, he meets a woman who isn't swept off her feet by his charms, and over the course of an evening, they open up to each other and talk about serious issues, coming to recognize each other as human beings (as opposed to just conquests.)

I had to think of "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" as I watched this film. As I recall, the main male character there was a doctor who was a lothario. "Innocent Sorcerers" is confined to a 24 hour period (more or less), which is a difference and (rare in Wajda's work) there is a great deal of hope in this film. It is not a socialist realism hope by any stretch of the imagination, but there is a sense that things will work out for the best for the doctor and this woman.

Roman Polanski has a tiny role as a musician in the jazz combo the doctor belongs to.

"Innocent Sorcerers" is definitely worth a look for those who associate Wajda only with heavy historical subject matter.


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