Andrzej Wajda is not only Poland’s greatest filmmaker but one who, throughout his long career, has demonstrated a remarkable knack for making movies that double as political events. He’s a people’s artist in a way perhaps unanticipated by the Communist regime that trained and ambivalently supported him.
The Walter Reade’s “Truth or Dare: The Films of Andrzej Wajda” is the most complete retrospective an American institution has ever given the 82-year-old director. It opens with characteristic Wajda brio: First day’s screenings include Wajda’s 1954 debut, provocatively titled A Generation; his 1958 triumph Ashes and Diamonds (the greatest of all “youth films,” a game-changer not only for Polish cinema but for national film industries throughout Eastern Europe); and, following the self-consciously Chekhovian change-of-pace pastoral The Young Girls of Wilko (1979), his controversial national epic The Promised Land (1975) in which Germans, Jews, and Poles join forces to industrialize Lódz.
Actually, the national epic may be Wajda’s preferred mode. Having inaugurated his career with five consecutive World War II films, covering both the Warsaw and Warsaw Ghetto uprisings, he has ranged throughout 19th- and 20th-century Polish history. The Wedding (1973), from Stanislaw Wyspianski’s verse drama, is one astonishing evocation of Poland’s past; Man of Marble (1977), which rivals Ashes and Diamonds as Wajda’s most powerful film, was the first Soviet bloc movie to address head-on the failures and hypocrisies of a ruling Communist Party. The director’s most recent film Katyn (2007) is a story he’s waited his entire life to make, concerning as it does the most notorious cover-up in Polish history—the 1940 Red Army massacre of some 15,000 Polish army officers, among them the filmmaker’s father.
As a supplement to the Walter Reade retrospective, Anthology Film Archives will be sampling Wajda’s television work—giving American premieres to six of his TV productions, including his 1969 Macbeth, 1991 Hamlet, and a 1987 adaptation of Crime and Punishment, starring the two leading actors of the period, Jerzy Radzilowicz and Jerzy Stuhr. October 17 through November 13, Walter Reade Theater
Also: More Communist culture: DV documentary Red Art accompanies and also explicates the Asia Society’s current comprehensive survey of Maoist socialist realism, “Art and China’s Revolution.” Independent filmmaker Hu Jie and his associate, feminist theorist Ai Xiaoming, interview a number of once-official artists and garner some horrendous accounts of Cultural Revolution suffering, but this straightforward talking-head doc turns truly fantastic with images of giant propaganda posters as action-packed as Jack Kirby splash panels. Proof of China’s state capitalist present: The posters are now fantastically collectible.
The excerpts from filmed revolutionary operas like The Red Detachment of Women may be familiar; less so is the newsreel footage of various parades and pageants, as well as the amateur factory-courtyard performances that praise Chairman Mao and excoriate various running dogs, poisonous weeds, and capitalist-roaders. Even more remarkable are scenes of kindergarten children acting out agit-prop plays or singing propaganda anthems. October 18, Asia Society
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 15, 2008