Andrzej Wajda

Andrzej Wajda

Wajda's first feature film, "Pokolenie/A Generation" (1954), traced the fate of several young people living under the Nazi Occupation. It was followed in 1957 by "Kanal/They Love Life" a grim tribute to the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, when Red Army units were unable or unwilling to come to the aid of the city. Wajda completed his trilogy on the effects of WWII with his best-known early film, the controversial "Popiol i Diament/Ashes and Diamonds" (1958), which dealt with the undeclared civil war of 1945-46 between elements of the anti-Communist Home Army and the security forces established by the Communist Party-dominated government. Based on a Jerzy Andrzejewski novel, the film incisively depicted the corruption and idealism coloring both sides of the struggle. In keeping with Wajda's tragic sense of Polish history, the idealistic representative of each faction is killed, and both sides remain controlled by the corrupt--whether greedy politicians or arrogant aristocrats.In addition to adapting literary works to the screen ("The Birch-Wood" 1970, "The Wedding" 1972, "The Young Girls of Wilko" 1979), Wajda has consistently drawn on Polish history for material suited to his tragic sensibility--from the fate of lancers serving under Napoleon in "Popioly/Ashes" (1965) to the harsh industrialization of Lodz in "Ziemia Obiecana/Land of Promise" (1975). It was in the late 1970s, however, that his films became a virtual barometer of social unrest and rebellion. "Czlowiek z Marmuru/Man of Marble" (1977) and "Bez Znieczulenia/Without Anesthesia" (1979) depict the oppression, respectively, of the worker and the intellectual in contemporary Poland. In the later film, a journalist discovers that he has taken the wrong side in a literary prize discussion and subsequently loses his university lectureship, as well as such special privileges as the opportunity to read foreign news magazines. Unable to cope with the simultaneous collapse of his marriage, he is driven to suicide. "Man of Marble," with a plot which echoes "Citizen Kane," traces a student filmmaker's attempt to reconstruct the story of Birkut, a Stakhanovite bricklayer and former propaganda hero who mysteriously fell from favor and went to an unmarked grave after the 1967 unrest.That film's sequel "Czlowiek z Zelaza/Man of Iron" (1981), charted the beginnings of the Solidarity movement, using newsreel footage and featuring Solidarity leader Lech Walesa in both its documentary and directed segments. The events of August 1980 are seen through the eyes of Winkiel, an alcoholic reporter whom the secret police try to use in order to defame the movement. Although essentially a tribute to Solidarity's success, the film ends with a Party official laughingly dismissing the accord between union and government as a mere piece of paper. It also earned a 1981 Oscar nomination as Best Foreign-Language Film.Following the military crackdown of the winter of 1981, Wajda moved to France to make "Danton" (1982), a consideration of the dual nature of revolution. The grim tone of the film is hardly surprising given the fate of Solidarity, and of his own "Unit X" film production unit, which was to be dismantled in 1983. He headed to Germany for "Eine Liebe in Deutschland/A Love in Germany" (1983), dealing with the tragic and forbidden relationship between a German woman and a Polish prisoner-of-war under the Third Reich. In 1989, with the astounding liberalization in Poland, Andrzej Wajda was not only elected as Solidarity candidate to the Sejm (the Polish parliament), but was able to realize a long-cherished project about Jewish-Polish pedagogue Janusz "Korczak" (1989), who died, along with his wards, in a Nazi death camp.Into the 90s, Wajda has continued to create disturbing films, often returning to the familiar setting of WWII-era Poland. "The Ring With the Crowned Eagle" (1993), a look at Polish history with particular attention on the 1944 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. "Nastazja/Natasha" (1994) was a fascinating two-character retelling of the final chapter of "The Idiot," cast with Japanese Kabuki actors. The director returned to the Warsaw uprising with "Wielki Tydzien/Holy Week" (1996), which examined the event through the efforts of a Jewish woman seeking asylum with an intellectual. Most recently, Wajda depicted a metaphysical relationship with lesbian overtones in "Panna Nikt/Miss Nobody" (1997).