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ALEX FARBA


 

Alex Farba Deleon is a filmfestivals.com ambassador

MY FILM FESTIVAL REVIEWS


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WAJDA'S Swansong, POWIDOKI at Sodankylä 32

by Alexei Deleon


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The first film I saw on day one of five at Sodankyla was Wajda's final film, made when he was ninety and released last year just before his death. It paints an incredibly bleak picture of artistic life in Poland under the Stalinist regime just after the war when the Communist ideal of "social realism" reigned supreme. Gracefully aging Polish superstar, Boguslaw Linda, 64, delivers a towering performance as the crippled avant garde master painter Władysław Strzeminski struggling to maintain his artistic ideals and integrity against the Communist steamroller bureaucracy in the four years between Dec. 1948 and Dec. 1952 when the maimed artist -- an arm and a leg lost in World War I -- finally succumbs to poverty, tuberculosis and sneering Communism. Typical Wajda through and through and a fitting end to a magnificent filmmaking career -- almost unbelievable that he made such a powerful film at the venerable age of four score and ten...

             

The title of the film, "afterimages" relates to a theme that is reiterated at several points in the story by professor Strzemiński to the effect that painting has to do with the dynamics of vision; notably that when a person views an onject then turns away a nafterimage remains imprinted on his retina, and it is this afterimage that is the essence of the painters  art.

 Although Strzemiński was a supporter of Communism in the early days later he is persecuted by the postwar Communist Regime in Poland because he refuses to adhere to the official policy of Social Realism. According to SocReality all art must serve the purposes of the new social order and decadent avant-gardism is viewed as subversive and anti-Socialist.

Linda stumbles through the film most realistically on crutches and, because of his missing limbs, has to sit on the floor before his canvasses applying the paint with his one good arm. 

I was amazed at how realistically the one-leggedness was recreated on the screen by both Wajda and Linda. 

 Wajda started out as a student of painting so he is quite at home in the technicalities of the subject but beyond this background the film itself is a scathing indictment of the cretinism of Communism, especially during the Stalinist period. 

The stage is set most dramatically when in the second scene of the movie (dateline, Łodz, December 1948) we see Strzemiński painting on the floor of his flat when suddenly everything goes red -- Communist red!

A giant red banner picturing Stalin has been hung before his window as part of a New Communist rally. The painter opens the window and slashes the banner from behind with one of his crutches. Police on the street below are appalled and come up to drag the crippled artist away to detention. This becomes the first of a long series of confrontations with the establishment wherein Strzemiński, although highly respected as Poland's greatest painter of the century, is slowly worn down, ejected from the artists union, his works confiscated, and himself reduced to abject poverty. Throughout his students doggedly continue to worship him and one falls in love with him. Even the bureaucrats who condemn him tacitly admire him but there is no way out under the new Communism. 

The bleakness of the period is relentlessly captured by Poland's top cinematographer, Pawel Edelman, but in stark contrast, the end titles are presented over a brilliantly colorful background, symbolic of the unvanquished brilliance of the artist himself.  

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Many of Wajda's films were more or less obvious protests against communism, for example his masterpiece "Man of Marble", 1968, but this swan-song opus is perhaps the strongest of all. What a way to go! -- true to his beliefs to the very last frame. Bravo Wajda, and Bravo Boguslaw Linda!  ~ It is to be noted that through much of his career Linda was the go-to "tough guy" of Polish cinema, but this 180 degree reversal of form to portray a sensitive aging intellectual artist is perhaps the crowning achievement of the actor's career -- missing an arm and a leg yet, but with spirit indomitable to the very end as was Andrzej Wajda, i.p.r., himself.

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Wajda exudes joy on the set of his final film

 

Alex, Sodankylä

 

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