Academic journal article Indiana Slavic Studies

Krystyna Janda: The Contradictions of Polish Stardom *

Academic journal article Indiana Slavic Studies

Krystyna Janda: The Contradictions of Polish Stardom *

Article excerpt

Agnieszka, the protagonist of Andrzej Wajda's Man of Marble (Czlowiek z marmuru, 1977), is the most prominent and simultaneously the most controversial female figure in Polish post-war cinema. Krystyna Janda, who made her screen debut in this role, became identified for many years with the character of this rebellious, nonconformist, and liberated young woman. As she recollects her work on the part,

   No one knew what this girl was supposed to be like. Wajda
   took me to the set where Agnieszka Holland was making her
   film Sunday Children, and told me to watch her. I observed her
   carefully but I still didn't know who I was to play. I remembered
   some crazy girls from the Arts High School and I
   thought I could act something similar, but more broadly, with
   greater emotional tension.

   ... I got some idea about this character while listening to what
   Wajda'said about his relationship with history, politics, and
   power. He helped me a lot with two particular remarks. The
   first was, in fact, a joke. He said Americans made films in
   which they cast only men and asked me if I could play a man.
   Then he added that I had to behave in such a way that the
   audience would either love me or hate me. One way or the
   other, it doesn't matter--but they cannot remain indifferent....
   It was I who suggested that I would make the gesture that in
   the end begins the film. The crew was confused. Wajda agreed.
   The moment I bent my arm and kissed my fist, I knew who I
   was; I had to struggle alone against the whole world. (1) (Quoted
   in Wajda 130).

Indeed, in Man of Marble Janda managed to create an icon of female rebellion that became important for many Polish young women in the 70s struggling for their independence and wishing to break with the traditional roles prescribed them by a patriarchal society. No wonder that Janda's recent public image, dominated by the roles of wife and mother, is regarded as a betrayal of sorts by some of the women who had idolized her for years as a leading figure in women's emancipation within Poland (cf. Limanowska). To examine Janda's trajectory from the margin to the center of traditional notions of femininity it is necessary to consider her persona within the broader context, not only of her own biography, but also of the sociopolitical changes that have occurred in Poland during the last four decades. To delineate that context, my essay reconstructs the discourse of femininity conveyed by the figure of Janda in her cinematic roles as well as in the public texts that ramify her meanings as film star and celebrity.

Agnieszka's rebellious gesture at the beginning of Man of Marble (see fig. 2-1 following page 92) dramatically signals her break with the traditional model of Polish femininity, especially its dominant paradigm of the Polish Mother (see Ostrowska, "Filmic Representations," 1998). Whereas this national icon epitomizes such virtues as strength, dignity, self-sacrifice, and acceptance of suffering, the heroine of Wajda's film appears as her antithesis. Instead of opting for dignified suffering, she provocatively says "no" to the authority of male public power personified by her TV editor (see fig. 2-2 following page 92). Instead of sacrificing herself for others, she single-mindedly pursues her own goal, which is to make a film about one of the forgotten shock workers of the 1950s, Mateusz Birkut (Jerzy Radziwillowicz). She is active, aggressively energetic (most powerfully evidenced in the placement of her body diagonally across the frame early in the film), independent, and self-confident. These features allow her to successfully supervise a male film crew. Moreover, she is provided with the power of the gaze (see fig. 2-3 following page 92), noticed by many critics, among them John Orr, who has pointed out the film's "novel gender inversion of male object and female gaze" (Orr 13; see also Mazierska, "Agnieszka," 20). …

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