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Faces of Agnieszka Holland.  Editor: Krystyna Zamysłowska, Mieczysław Kuźmicki, Publisher: Muzeum Kinematografii w Łodzi, 2013


Laudation for Agnieszka Holland

on the occasion of the granting by ‘Tygodnik
Powszechny‘ of the honorary award – Medal of St George

Grzegorz Jankowicz

In one of the interviews Agnieszka Holland talks about problems which appeared when working on the film Fever (Gorączka). She had the impression that she was not capable of gaining control over her work with the film, that the story was slipping away from her, the concepts and film solutions ‘did not stick together’, that she as a director could not find the key to the story that she was trying to convey. Full of anxiety, she went for the weekend to visit Andrzej Wajda with whom she wished to share her problems. She decided to give up directing the film and to pass on the work to Wajda. Over the stairs leading to the top rooms, there was an enormous chandelier bolted to the ceiling. Suddenly the place resounded with a very loud crash. She was convinced that it was her daughter who had been playing upstairs and that she had fallen off the stairs. It turned out, however, that the chandelier had crashed onto the floor. ‘In my opinion,’ said Agnieszka, ‘it had no right to crash […] I am convinced that it was the force of my negative energy that threw it to the ground. And that chandelier unblocked my energy. The next day I appeared on the set and I knew what to do.’ I am quoting this anecdote […] because it is a story about a struggle with art matter, a fight with the theme which needs to be given a form, about wrestling with history which demands being represented. (in this case with the consequences of the 1905 revolution). Each of Agnieszka Holland’s films begins with a struggle with negative energy; each film is a fight with forces whose sources pound in the complicated, discontinuous and chaotic reality. To present it so that one can understand the motivation of people whose fate make up this reality and not to make it too shallow, not too generalize any of those fates, to grasp the emotional, existential and political tensions of the individuals and groups, especially those with which we wish not to confront, about which we would like to forget or which we would like to avoid because they do not fit into the image of the world utilized in present day political and ideological arguments – that is the aim of Agnieszka Holland’s film art.

[…] Each of these existential, historical and political experiences have been examined by Agnieszka Holland with penetrating thoroughness, with an almost analytical alertness, which is visible in her films. She approaches historical processes and individual dramas, significant political issues and private events always with a fundamental assumption: the answers can be found in a different place than we assume. They need to be found not in leading ideas proclaimed by revolutionists or selfappointed depostaries of truth, but amongst phenomena which create a façade of our experience, in an intermediate sphere, in hard to reach crevices which emerge as a result of friction between ideological mechanisms and emotional impulses. Those permanently avoided elements are most relevant, but it so happens that those are the ones we dispose of most easily – we unstich them, as buttons, from the fabric which is our form of life.

I must immediately correct myself because we cannot talk about one form, but many forms of life which we create in a more or less successful way. Critics, very rightly, stress that Agnieszka Holland’s main themes of work include: loneliness, love and memory (re-remembering), religion, revolution, politics and history. On these subject grounds the film director conducts her battles with a dragon. But it seems to me that there is one more theme, one more problem that hurts Agnieszka the most and against which she has been trying for years to measure. And this concerns her search of smaller forms of life … life, which, as she constantly reminds us, does not possess a fixed definition, nor does it have a single, supposedly natural attitude, and therefore cannot be encompassed in one general formula ( sucha state of things torments believers of coherent philosophical, religious or political systems, whereas for Agnieszka Holland it is a challenge which she needs to face up to and which she needs to examine with the lense of a camera). Irena and Jacek from A Woman Alone, Priest Frank from Third Miracle, Rimbaud from Total Eclipse, Michas form Evening at Abdon’s and others – search for (with determination and difficulties) a form of life which would be right for them, for they do not fit into the political and social norms, nor can they conform to the roles they had been assigned. Agnieszka Holland reveals to us not the solutions to the problems, but the dramatic consequences that they evoke. She places a diagnosis, directs our attention to this uneasy place, at the same time helping us understand, and only such a gesture is honest, that everyone must struggle with his chandelier on his own.

In Fever there is a brilliant scene that for years has been following me. The anarchist Gryziak (Bogusław Linda) who is led by soldiers meets on a forest track Leon ( Olgierd Łukaszewicz), who is the head of fighters attempting to organize an attack. At the sight of the soldiers Leon panics, he is afraid of being deconspired and arrested. Gryziak walks up to his wagon, asks for a cigarette, lights it up, calms down the revolutionary, and turns to the soldiers with a curt: ‘Let’s go’. Leon comments this
with the words, ‘Here is a truly free man’. It would be very difficult to convince anyone that Gryziak is St George and I will not attempt to do that. Wheteher a saint or not, George or Gryziak, one thing is crucial: in this short scene, the dragon – of politics, history, enslavement, but also of ideological poisoning - is led on a chain, though he himself is not aware of it. And although later the characters suffer defeat that scene opens a crack in the wall, and – as we know from a certain classic – freedom begins with a narrow pass.

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