(director/writer: Andrzej Wajda; screenwriter: Andrzej Mularczyk; cinematographer: Pawel Edelman; editor: Grazyna Gradon; music: Andrzej Panufnik; cast: Boguslaw Linda (Wladyslaw Strzeminski), Bronislawa Zamachowska (Nika), Aleksandra Justa (Katarzyna Kobro), Zofia Wichlacz (Hania), Krzysztof Pieczynski (Julian Przybos), Maria Semotiuk(Róza Saltzman), Szymon Bobrowski (Wlodzimierz Sokorski), Paulina Galazka (Wasinska); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Michal Kwiecinski; Akson Studio; 2016-Poland-in Polish with English subtitles)

“A brilliant, straightforward and passionate homage biopic from one dissident Polish artist to another.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is the great Polish political filmmaker Andrzej Wajda’s (“Katyn”/”Kanal”) swan song at 90, at his death, in a career lasting over 60 years. It’s a brilliant, straightforward and passionate homage biopic from one dissident Polish artist to another. The subject is someone believing in individualism in both art and life, who founded Poland’s first modern art museum. The film tells of the struggles of the socialist avant-garde painter, Wladyslaw Strzeminski (Boguslaw Linda), (1893–1952), who was born in Russia and lost a leg and arm in combat for the Tsar in World War I. Caring not to live a comfortable life, his urgent need was to create subversive art even in this repressive socialist country, under Stalinism, which banned in the 1950s his abstract art. For his entire life he had to deal with the repressive Communist authorities and also had to overcome his poor health. Wajda co-writes the daunting period film with Andrzej Mularczyk, expressing rage at the socialist regime for their fascist attitudes and in making a martyr of a great artist. In 1948, Wladyslaw is in Lodz, Poland, as a celebrated figure in the art world, who is nobly teaching students who revere him at a top art school he co-founded. But his abstract art bugs the Communist authorities, who only approve of art that supports their upbeat social realism doctrines. He’s ordered by the state to paint only their kind of art, in other words propaganda material. But this violates everything he stands for and he resists, with dire consequences. Wladyslaw has a broken marriage with the renown Russian sculptor Katarzyna Kobro (Aleksandra Justa). Their teen daughter Nika (Bronislawa Zamachowska-the real daughter of Justa) moves back and forth between the homes of both parents. When mom dies, she chooses to be in a children’s home rather than live with her forsaken father, who can’t even take care of himself. The artist, unwilling to capitulate to the state demands, can’t work anymore as an artist. The broken man, suffering countless humiliations, dies from tuberculosis on his last menial job dressing mannequins in a store window. It’s through Linda’s powerful performance as an uncompromising tragic figure, true to himself and his art, that makes it worthwhile sitting through all the grimness. The uncompromising artist might lose his life to the state, but through his life and art he gets to relate to others that only freedom makes life worth living. This message might be a warning to the current right-wing in control of Poland and a reminder to Wajda how stifling it is to be an artist in his country.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”