Wednesday, August 9, 2017


Wladyslaw Strzeminski, an artist of great cultural stature in his adopted post war Poland, is staring down the afterimage of the radicalism he had fought for in his youth. He talks about afterimage, in the very first scene where he shows how able he can be despite the loss of an arm and a leg (during WWI so I can't make the joke I want to). The afterimage, the ghost of the thing seen remains on the surface of the eye, in reversed colour and upside down but persistent. So, who wins, the Stalinist thugs who want to erase him from history or the artist who should only need to be?

Well first, this doesn't play like a biopic despite its subject being a historical figure and including events that took place in his lifetime. The point is afterimage, Strzeminski's and the regime that oppressed him. Also, that of writer director Andrzej Wajda himself who presented this as his swansong work. Tellingly, this film about an artist whose stunning colour compositions meant to break their viewers from the constraints of their days is delivered in the drab brownish blue palette of the severest rooms of the Warsaw Pakt. We see his youthful works incidentally, as exhibits and witness his mature painting but all of it lives in draughty wooden apartments and icy streets. If there are the kind of Eureka moments that plague even the best intended biopics they are given with so slight a signal that they feel like part of a fiction.

Boguslaw Linda playing craftily disabled (Strzeminski lost both a leg and an arm but not once do we question how the actor is concealing this) a character who has become craftily able. The regime's officers might well admire him for his art, his work and even his politics but totalitarianism (even very localised in arts administration) can never tolerate unbridled expression. His Marxist fervour even seems to stand against him as in his maturity and the experience of two cataclysmic wars he has broadened his knowledge of the world. But that stops short of feeding the trolls who are successfully seeking to starve him. With decreasing control and importance he is finally rendered beyond life, on display as the young citizens of the New Poland rush by without looking.

This sober and sobering piece is played with astute skill by Wajda, never collapsing into maudlin indulgence nor so severe as to alienate. His last statement, though bound by period, is a timeless and timely. The irony and symbolism are big but the tale is linear. On the one hand this plugs it back into the very regime that oppressed Strzeminski with its oafish demand of socialist realism but then the triumph of his memory contrasts so violently with the long nameless suits and rubber stamps that crushed him. What a way to go.

No comments:

Post a Comment