Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

A Note on Konwicki's Filmmaking

Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

A Note on Konwicki's Filmmaking

Article excerpt

TADEUSZ KONWICKI'S FILMMAKING ADVENTURE, now well into its fourth decade, is not a common scenario. While film directors frequently cross over into literature, if only to coauthor a screenplay, few novelists are ever offered a chance to stand behind a camera. In neither craft is Konwicki a journeyman; in fact, his accomplishments as a writer place him firmly in the august circle of those European men of letters whose voices ring with unchallenged spiritual and artistic authority. Yet, time after time, he would continue to reach beyond his traditional, verbal universe and seek to express himself within the world of the visual.

Konwicki's arrival into the international film community could not pass unnoticed; while he had previously written two screenplays of no special merit, his directorial debut, Ostatni dzien lata (The Last Day of Summer), unexpectedly took top honors at the 1958 International Short Film Festival in Venice. A Polish film critic remembered a decade later, "They sent the worst print available, and the credits didn't even get translated. There was no advertising of any kind and nobody had any information about this film."(1)

The tersely scripted drama synthesized the elements of Europe's existentialist torment of the late fifties: the scars of a not-so-distant war and the fear of a nuclear future. Shot in stark black and white, it featured only two characters, both unnamed. Curiously, of all the films he was to later direct, Ostatni dzien lata remains Konwicki's only truly universal work, unburdened by cultural symbols and historical references only Poles are able to decipher.

Throughout the sixties and early seventies, Konwicki's literary and film endeavors were generally homogeneous: to a large extent, his films from that period are a visual exposition of his literary projects. Like the novels, the movies reflect the author's own biography and Poland's tortured history. In fact, the leitmotivs within three of Konwicki's films from that period are clearly traceable to the subplots within his seminal 1963 novel A Dreambook for Our Time.

Both as a novelist and as a filmmaker, Konwicki believes in being defined by one's past and origins. Thus, he repeatedly and obsessively recalls Poland's Eastern Borderlands, where he spent childhood and adolescence, Word War II, in which he fought with the underground resistance movement, against first the Germans, then the Russians, and, equally important, the complex years of postwar Stalinist Poland.

The three films Konwicki directed during that period, Zaduszki (All Souls' Day, 1961), Salto (Somersault, 1965), and Jak daleko stad, jak blisko (So Far and Yet So Near, 1971), are a commentary on the complex fate of his generation. Critics agree that events from his own biography play a major and recurring role in all three pictures. The same visitors and episodes from the time long gone repeatedly intrude into the present; the past, a shadow one cannot outrun, continues to explode in memories of life's crucial events. As Konwicki commented in a 1985 interview, "There are perhaps no more than five or six important moments in anyone's life."(2)

With each subsequent picture, Konwicki's plots appear less and less linear, the structures more meandering, the protagonists harder to name and define. Because all of his heroes are evocative of the director himself, they too continue living in constant awareness of the past, sharing the nightmares and demons Konwicki is unable to leave behind.

In Zaduszki the two principal characters, a man and a woman, find their ability to love each other crippled by recollections of tragic, youthful love affairs they each experienced during the war. In Salto the memories of a wartime execution are no longer flashbacks but appear as a series of nightmarish dreams, edging closer and closer to reality. In Jak daleko stad, jak blisko, his last film of the series, Konwicki freely transcends the limits of time and space. …

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