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Jerzy Kawalerowicz. Malarz X Muzy /Jerzy Kawalerowicz. Painter of the Tenth Muse, Editor: Mieczysław Kuźmicki, Krystyna Zamysłowska, Stanisław Zawiśliński, Publisher: Muzeum Kinematografii w Łodzi, 2012


A loss for painting, a gain for cinema

Marek Hendrykowski

Along with Wajda, Munk, Różewicz and Has, Jerzy Kawalerowicz is one of the most prominent Polish film directors of his generation. With his Night Train, Mother Joan of the Angels, Pharaoh or Austeria he has earned a place in all the renowned film encyclopedias and lexicons of film-makers, usually to be found between Helmut Kautner and Elia Kazan (...) He started in the film industry at the age of 24 (...) having completed a film training course at Kraków. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts there with a view to becoming a painter, as did several other prominent Polish film-makers. He ultimately opted for film, to the profit of cinema and the loss of the world of painting.

As a director, he was to specialize in dramas combining rational analysis of human actions and choices with an emotional treatment capable of producing a strong effect on viewers. Therefore, he was perceived in the film world as an actor’s director – in fact many memorable and important roles were created under his direction. It is this multifaceted, complex image of a man masterfully fitted to the composition of a given film character that assured high artistic quality, as well as renown and wide popularity. Jerzy Kawalerowicz has class. He is an unrivalled expert in cinema, not only in its various trends, genres and styles but also in specific conditions and favourable microclimates that make this art possible in the first place. In his Cellulose, he was the first to successfully transplant Italian neo-realism onto Polish soil. At founding the Kadr Film Production Unit in 1955 - an unique enterprise. He was also co-founder in 1966 of the Polish Filmmakers Association.

We respect Kawalerowicz not only for his outstanding works. He was also a valued artistic director and producer. A fervent defender of and spokesman for Polish cinema, he was always lucky both with people and approved artistic projects. No doubt, without Kadr and Kawalerowicz the Polish film
school would not have existed. The artistic motto of his team was ‘to use detailed observation of life to build, out of its bits and pieces, a full synthesis and complete metaphor of our reality.’ The credit for its realization goes in great measure to Kawalerowicz (...) There is no doubt: Kadr was, and will always, be him. The artistic and commercial output of the group is impressive and enviable indeed. Over its history of over 40 years about 120 feature films have been created. Kawalerowicz was an outstanding leader in gathering the ablest artists and the best professionals. He would spot young talents and promote them with unparalleled intuition. He helped them with their debuts and monitored their careers. The list of artists who had a helping hand from Kadr includes such prominent names as Tadeusz Konwicki, Kazimierz Kutz, Janusz Morgenstern, Andrzej Trzos-Rastawiecki, Juliusz Machulski,  also Walerian Borowczyk and Jan Lenica. What is Kawalerowicz’s contribution?

To begin with, his works (...) The list of his authored films is not very long (...) However, it is not quantity here that matters but quality, and the highest quality, too. His main titles: Night Train (1959), Mother Joan of the Angels (1961), Pharaoh (1965), Death of a President (1977), The Inn (1982) (...) Kawalerowicz’s esteem is also largely due to his talent as an adaptor of Polish literature and there are few names to match him here. He would not, however, be a slave to the original text. He owed many valuable inspirations to the authors and he knew how to return the debt with his imagination. It was he who discovered the writing of Jerzy Zawiejski for cinema. He was the first to successfully adapt the prose of Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz by bringing out the deeper parabolic sense of the story of Mother Joan and Father Suryn. Lastly, it was he who managed the impossible adaptation for the screen of the multilayered and so devilishly difficult Pharaoh by Prus. Kawalerowicz is a master at analyzing reality with moving pictures. As a historiographer, he has a gift for creative reconstruction of past worlds. It is in this role that he is best known and internationally renowned, an expression of which was an Oscar nomination for Pharaoh. (...) Myself, what I most value in his films is his unique sense of form. In his time, Kawalerowicz operated skillfully within the aestehics of black and white cinema, as well evidenced by Night Train and Mother Joan of the Angels. From Pharaoh on, he creatively enriched the means of artistic expression typical of colour film. The expressive and subtle images which he creates skillfully evade literalness. They are usually conventional, ambiguous, suspended between the real and the symbolic dimensions of their meaning. The themes, interests, creative fascinations of the author may change but what remains constant is his particular care for form, for minute detail and for the overall harmony between the elements of form: light, rhythm, colour, frame composition, construction of a take, scene, editing phrase or sequence. Whether it is a lowbudget psychological drama or a monumental historical epic, Kawalerowicz’s form is perfect. This is why all his films – both those shot in difficult times and more recent masterpieces – always arouse admiration for the author’s technical mastery and reverent care for the final effect.

The long series of Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s artistic achievements, highly valued worldwide, is a glorious contribution to the history of Polish cinema and bears testimony to his outstanding skills as a film director, adaptor, literary critic, stylist, team leader and creative producer – put simply: a master of film art.

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