Polish film director Andrzej Wajda passed away on Sunday, 9 October 2016. Though he was and will be considered as a master filmmaker from Poland, he was recognised as a major film director in diverse parts of the world as well. He once stated, “The good Lord gave the director two eyes—one to look into the camera and another to be alert to everything going around him.” True to those words, most of his significant works are politically and socially loaded with the director’s point of world view, beyond the obvious storyline of his films.
In 1990, the European Film Awards conferred on him a lifetime achievement award—a rare award that had only been conferred previously to two eminent filmmakers—Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini.
Hollywood’s Academy Awards honoured Wajda with an honorary Oscar in 2000 for his contribution to world cinema. Four of Wajda’s Polish films—The Promised Land (1974) , The Maids of Wilko (1979) , Man of Iron (1981), and Katyn (2007)—were on the final nomination list for the Best Foreign Film Oscar but did not win the statuette. The Polish official entry to the 2017 Oscars for the Best Foreign film is Wajda’s final film Afterimage, a tale of a Polish painter who was persecuted in Poland by post-World-War Stalinist political forces.
In 2006, the Berlin international film festival awarded him an honorary Golden Bear for his lifetime achievement in cinema. While these three awards honour his collective output, some other major accolades he received are more specific. His film Man of Iron (1981) won the Cannes international film festival’s most coveted and highest award–the Golden Palm—for the best film in competition. It also won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the festival.
Perhaps more important than awards was the compliment Wajda received, not from a festival jury or from a film critic but from one of world’s best directors, the Swedish master filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, a Wajda contemporary, who publicly stated that one of Wajda’s films Conductor (also known as The Orchestra Conductor) made in 1980 was one of the 11 best films ever made. (Bergman’s celebrated film The Seventh Seal had shared a special jury prize at the Cannes Film festival with Wajda’s equally celebrated anti-war film Kanal, in the fifties)
Bergman’s choice of the film Conductor as one of the world’s best films is very interesting. While the film Conductor is quite unlike his famous anti-war trilogy made in the Fifties of A Generation, Kanal, and Ashes and Diamonds and equally quite unlike the Solidarity movement films Man of Marble and Man of Iron, Wajda’s Conductor is a delicate work, combining an inward-looking tale with external politics surrounding it, all of which is subtly presented and could escape an inattentive viewer.
Earlier films of Wajda often dealt with symbols and allegories to deal with political frustration—an often repeated symbol was setting glasses of liquor on fire to represent the muffling of young people’s idealism during the Second World War.
An aspect of Wajda that stood out when compared to other directors was his affinity with his actors and crew. Actor Zbigniew Cybulski was the lead actor in Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds. Cybulski made a deep impact on viewers of that film and he evolved into an icon–a James Dean of Polish cinema, only to die prematurely (killed in train accident) much like the Hollywood icon (killed in a car accident). Wajda went on to make a feature film Everything for Sale (1968) –a fictional film on the sudden disappearance of a leading actor—as a testimonial of how much actor Cybulski was missed by Wajda. Decades later, Wajda made another film Sweet Rush (2009) with actress Krystyna Janda, playing a character discussing the death of her husband from cancer based on a short story. Now Ms. Janda was the lead actress in many of Wajda’s celebrated films (Man of Marble, Man of Iron, Rough Treatment, etc) and interestingly, her real life husband Edward Klosinski was also the cinematographer of those films. What Ms. Janda projected in Sweet Rush was a mere externalization of the pain of Ms. Janda at the death of her real life husband and of Wajda’s anguish at the loss of his close collaborator. The drive of Wajda to make the two films–Everything for Sale and Sweet Rush—dedicated to the memory of two close film collaborators is rather extraordinary and reveals the personality of the director.
It is not merely actors such as Cybulski and Janda who were launched by director Wajda. Cinematographer Klosinski went on to work with celebrated directors such as Kieslowski and Lars von Trier. Wajda’s music composer Wojciech Kilar made an impact on viewers worldwide with Wajda’s The Promised Land and Shadow Line, only to become a favourite of other directors like Krzysztof Zanussi, Roman Polanski, and Francis Ford Coppola in later years and more recently, Terrence Malick.
Wajda started as a student of fine arts and died soon after making a film on a painter was suppressed by politics of the day. Wajda’s life had completed a full circle, a life of great accomplishments.
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