Afterimage: Andrzej Wajda pays tribute to his favourite painter
by Dorota Hartwich
- At a special screening at the Gdynia Film Festival, the seasoned Polish director has presented his latest opus, a film that really shows off the talent of actor Boguslaw Linda
The audience welcomed Andrzej Wajda on stage with a standing ovation when the director (who turned 90 this year) arrived to present his 40th film, Afterimage [+see also:
film profile], as an out-of-competition premiere, and in a one-off special screening, at the Gdynia Film Festival.
A portrait of one of the Polish director’s favourite visual artists, Afterimage hinges on the character of Wladyslaw Strzeminski, an important figure in avant-garde painting in the first half of the 20th century in Poland, who was an assistant to Kazimir Malevich and the author of the artistic theory of Unism.
Right from the opening frames of the movie, Wajda invites us to interpret this story from two different angles. Strzeminski (Boguslaw Linda) is painting in his flat-cum-workshop as a crew of workmen attaches an enormous portrait of Stalin to the outside wall of his building. Printed on a red fabric, the portrait totally blocks the view from the window of Strzeminski’s workshop and plunges his whole flat into a blood-red light. And he finds it impossible to continue with his work. This occurrence is basically a kind of attack and seems like a prison sentence to the painter: he is cut off from the outside world, as if he had been put in jail. But he protests and reacts violently. Snatching one of his crutches, he strikes the portrait, tearing the fabric.
Wajda’s film is a reflection of the painter’s struggle against the communist powers that gradually, bit by bit, take away all of his rights. Seeing as Strzeminski is not willing to accept the new socialist realism movement being imposed upon artists and art teachers, he is dismissed from the Lodz Graduate School of Visual Arts, where he had been teaching History of Art (before he studied film, Wajda was himself a student of fine arts in the same establishment). Struck off the list of members of the artists’ association, he is totally robbed of his livelihood. Humiliated, penniless and deprived of the food stamps he had been given by the school and the association, Strzeminski slips deeper into poverty. Disabled and seriously ill, he eventually meets a tragic end.
When he originally began this project, which he had been pondering for the last 20 years, Wajda planned to make a film about the life of the couple formed by the painter and Katarzyna Kobro, one of Poland’s most famous female artists of the 20th century. But the filmmaker eventually decided not to focus on the extremely difficult relationship that existed between the two artists. What he offers us instead is a delicate outline of the character of Strzeminski’s granddaughter, the painter’s friendship with renowned poet Julian Przybos, and the struggle of a small group of loyal students who stood up for Strzeminski.
Built on a classical narrative structure, Afterimage really puts the emphasis on its remarkable lead actor, Boguslaw Linda, a legendary performer in Poland, who has, in the past, starred in films by the country’s greatest directors (including Kieslowski, Holland, Falk, Kolski and Bajon). After a few years of being somewhat relegated to the sidelines in favour of other national stars, the actor takes centre stage once again thanks to Afterimage, imbuing the film with his talent and style. We should also note the fine work of DoP Pawel Edelman (The Pianist [+see also:
film profile], Venus in Fur [+see also:
interview: Roman Polanski
film profile], Carnage [+see also:
film profile], Katyn [+see also:
interview: Andrzej Wajda
interview: Michal Kwiecinski
film profile], Aftermath [+see also:
Produced by Akson Studio, Afterimage was co-produced by the National Audiovisual Institute, TVP, EC1 and the Tumult Foundation, and received backing from the Polish Film Institute. The movie will be out in Polish theatres on 13 January 2017, courtesy of Akson Dystrybucja, which is also in charge of its international sales.
(Translated from French)