"Pleograf. Kwartalnik Akademii Polskiego Filmu", no. 5/2019


But Indeed, I Will Be Immoral. 

Stars in Polish Communist Cinema

Sebastian Jagielski


The cinema of the Polish People’s Republic era favored expressing the dominant ideology over fulfilling the audiences’ expectations. It is no wonder then that contemporary state authorities were not focused on manufacturing movie stars[1]. In Poland, unlike in the West and especially in Hollywood, there was no huge promotional machinery that would help create celebrities. What is more, the media were not particularly interested in the private lives of actors and actresses (the primary mode for spreading such information was gossip). Meanwhile, the actors themselves sought the difference between themselves and western movie stars mostly in the economic conditions. Zbigniew Cybulski claimed there were no movie stars in Poland because actors have not been equipped with the attributes associated with celebrity, such as white convertibles or posh residences closed off from the outside world[2]. This became especially troublesome when they appeared on international film festivals: in 1957 Polish media awkwardly reported that Teresa Iżewska, who represented Polish cinematography at the Cannes Festival together with the creators of Canal (Kanał, dir. Andrzej Wajda, 1956), would incessantly talk about her awful financial circumstances[3].

The fact that local actors and actresses were not equipped with celebrity attributes does not mean that in Polish People’s Republic there were no movie stars whatsoever. Some even believe that because the stars were so few and far between, their impact was even stronger then is the case with contemporary celebrities[4]. The power of movie stars at the time, their ability to enchant viewers, to shape their lifestyle, influence how they behave, dress, and who they are, may be best illustrated by a scene from the cult film Girls to Pick Up (Dziewczyny do wzięcia, dir. Janusz Kondratiuk, 1972). At the theatre box office, the titular girls and their gentlemen callers unexpectedly cross paths with Stanisław Mikulski, dressed in a suit and bowtie, nonchalantly smoking a cigarette, and a theatrical, blasé Iga Cembrzyńska in a low-cut black dress and white stole. The heroines are, obviously, starstruck:

Ewa Pielach, Regina Regulska i Ewa Szykulska w filmie Dziewczyny do wzięcia, źródło: Fototeka FN

Ewa Pielach, Regina Regulska and Ewa Szykulska in Girls to Pick Up, source: Fototeka FINA

Regina Regulska (the girl who doesn’t like whipped cream): Oh sweet Jesus, look who’s coming [Mikulski].

Ewa Szykulska (the girl who works in the post office): So gorgeous! Say, isn’t he gorgeous?

Ewa Pielach (Cheeks): Charming! So charming.

Regina Regulska: You guys, she [Cembrzyńska] brushed against my arm.

Ewa Szykulska: I haven’t noticed.

Ewa Pielach: Did you brush against her?

Regina Regulska: Sure, the perfume still lingers.

Ewa Szykulska: I can’t smell anything.

Regina Regulska: That’s because of your cold, you’d better blow your nose.

Ewa Pielach: I can, it smells amazing.

Because of Mikulski’s charm and Cembrzyńska’s perfume the girls experience almost mystical sensations. They are intoxicated by their divine splendor. Here the actors – in a decidedly glamourous setting – seem perfect, extraordinary and inaccessible. They embody the better world of the beautiful, famous and well off (or at least better off than the common citizens of Poland under state socialism) of which the countryside girls can only dream. A notebook filled with photos of movie stars – such as Claudia Cardinale, Daniel Olbrychski, Elizabeth Taylor and Jan Englert – acts as a sort of entry ticket to this phantasmal reality where their dreams could easily come true.

The stars shined especially bright in the 1960s. The iconic faces and images from this era became a part of the Polish popular culture mythos: Zbigniew Cybulski with and without his dark glasses, Daniel Olbrychski in both the stadium and the boxing ring, Kalina Jędrusik and Elżbieta Czyżewska in bathtubs filled with foam, Janek Kos (Janusz Gajos) and Hans Kloss (Stanisław Mikulski), the aristocratic affectation of Beata Tyszkiewicz, the mantis smile (Małgorzata Braunek) from Hunting Flies (Polowanie na muchy, dir. Andrzej Wajda, 1969), Pola Raksa’s face which made its way into popular songs. The stars of Polish People’s Republic cinema did not appear suddenly in the 1960s – the glamour of Danuta Szaflarska and Jerzy Duszyński is proof enough – but it was only then that for the first time in postwar cinematography they were situated at the very center of the prevailing cultural tendencies. If the Polish Film School and the Cinema of Moral Anxiety were movements founded on the figure of the director-auteur, the Polish cinema of the 1960s (and again later in the 1990s) is mostly associated with popular culture and movie stars.

By the end of the 1950s, after the Gomułka’s thaw which was (at least to some degree) accompanied by a social thaw, the critics began demanding a uniquely Polish (female) movie star. A few factors contributed to the short-lived prosperity of the "star system of the Polish People’s Republic". First of all, in 1958 the Film magazine together with the Film Authors Group (Zespół Autorów Filmowych) encouraged by the success of the contest for the main female role in the comedy Eve Wants to Sleep (Ewa chce spać, dir. Tadeusz Chmielewski, 1957) began the "beautiful girls to the screen" campaign which aimed to, as contemporary film critics claimed, fill the lack of beautiful young women on Polish film and TV screens. The campaign was, in fact, a shy attempt at eroticizing reality[5]. Secondly, at that time the media have promoted the figure of the "modern girl" who pondered neither political activism nor the building of socialism, dreaming instead of traveling to Paris and fashionable heavy black eyeliner. She cared not for marriage, children nor family life, what concerned her instead were new fashion trends, dating, and rock’n’roll (I like to listen to (…) the rock music of Elvis Presley and Rommy Steel [sic!], wrote one female reader of the youth magazine Filipinka[6]). Małgorzata Fidelis, who analyzed the opinions of the young female readers of Nowa Wieś and Filipinka youth magazines from the early 1960s, discovered to her surprise that these statements did not fit the conventional image of women under communism – overworked mothers juggling the double burden of work inside and outside the home, but revealed various pleasures associated with being a woman[7]. What is more, the 1960s was a time when the state – due to the June 1960 resolution of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party regarding cinematography[8] (which was concealed from the film community) – was more focused on genre cinema (a vehicle of stardom) with the intent to use its persuasive power for their own purposes. These movies – such as comedies (also musical ones), melodramas and citizen’s militia crime films – were supposed to be paeans to the People’s Poland. And indeed they often were.

The image of the Polish female movie star – for it is her that will be the focus of our interest – was not supposed to be, as in the Hollywood star system, based on its relation to the market (the star system as a vehicle for selling products) but instead to communist ideology, like in the Soviet Union. The socialist star type, as claimed by Oksana Bułgakowa, was defined through its social and national affiliation and its opposition towards the western "bourgeois" model. In USSR the movie star was not supposed to sell perfume or jewelry but instead would function as an energy drive, an incentive to take action. That is why instead of rose bouquets she received engine pistons[9]. Fortunately Polish movie stars were not gifted such questionable souvenirs (although Krystyna Poradzka from Jan Rybkowski’s The Bus Leaves at 6.20 [Autobus odjeżdża 6.20, 1954], who dreamt not of wedding but of… welding, would probably be delighted), which is not to say that their charm and energy were not utilized for propaganda purposes (e.g. Elżbieta Czyżewska’s body was meant to be the ground of a Polish-Soviet alliance, as in Tadeusz Chmielewski’s Where’s the General? [Gdzie jest generał?, 1963] or Leonard Buczkowski’s Interrupted Flight [Przerwany lot, 1964]). The image of a socialist movie star had to be devoid of the very attributes that produced celebrity in the Hollywood system: the desirable glamour and sex appeal. On the one hand, there was a quest for a Polish Brigitte Bardot, that is – or so it seems – a local sex bomb, on the other hand though, such an image was inconsistent with both the puritanical Polish woman (The Polish Mother) as well as the equally puritanical socialist woman (the socrealistic super-woman). Consequently, the female stars on the screen could be self-reliant and competitive (which functioned as emancipatory) but their bodily and sexual expression had to be suppressed. Sexuality and the body were perceived by the state as the bearers of destructive, irrational and uncontrollable elements that hindered the development of socialism. The prudery of the state – less restrictive still in Poland than in the Soviet Union[10] – was accompanied by the prudery of the Catholic Church: the communist morality was equally puritanical as the religious morality.

Kalina Jędrusik w Lekarstwie na miłość, fot. Jerzy Bielak, źródło: Fototeka FN

Kalina Jędrusik in A Cure for Lovefot. Jerzy Bielak, source: Fototeka FINA

No wonder then that the "modern girls" – when they finally found themselves in the West of their dreams (in Paris or New York) – acted out the years of Polish People’s Republic asceticism, affirming corporality and performing their sexuality (Elżbieta Czyżewska’s "obscene" Manhattan shows[11] or Anna Prucnal’s risqué role in Sweet Movie [dir. Dušan Makavejev, 1974] which stripped her of Polish citizenship[12]). Other movie stars, who remained in Poland, headed in a similar direction at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s. As their era slowly draws to a close, Lucyna Winnicka in The Game (Gra, dir. Jerzy Kawalerowicz, 1968), Ewa Krzyżewska in Jealousy and Medicine (Zazdrość i medycyna, dir. Janusz Majewski, 1973) and Kalina Jędrusik in The Promised Land (Ziemia Obiecana, dir. Andrzej Wajda, 1974) demand the things that up until then – for various reasons – had to remain outside the frame: the movie star glamour, the excess of femininity, bodily insubordination, sexual pleasure and eventually their own subjectivity. They carry out Kalina Jędrusik’s cause, who in A Cure for Love (Lekarstwo na miłość, dir. Jan Batory, 1965) had promised: But indeed, I will be immoral.

The Master and Margarita

Lucyna Winnicka created her most outstanding roles in her husband Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s films: Real End of the Great War (Prawdziwy koniec wielkiej wojny, 1957), Night Train (Pociąg, 1959) and Mother Joan of the Angels (Matka Joanna od Aniołów, 1960), her role in the latter earning her the 1962 French Film Academy award, Étoile de cristal, for best foreign actress. It was after the international successes (which included awarding the film with the Jury Prize at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival) that she achieved the status of a West-European type movie star: a local Monica Vitti or Jeanne Moreau. This status is especially emphasized in The Game, where we encounter an image of a relationship in crisis: the characters live in a perpetual hang-up, looking for salvation in the arms of a lover (him) or in casual sex (her). Winnicka plays here the role of the architect Małgorzata, however, it quickly becomes clear that the role’s power comes from the blending of reality and fiction, from blurring the lines between the actress and the character. Even the opening scenes are significant. First the husband (Gustaw Holoubek) shrouded in darkness tells of his loneliness and how Małgorzata is unable to understand him, then we see a close-up of his wife’s face – a typical opening of the star movies, however, in Kawalerowicz’s film, the close-up does not bring the at-homeness typical of the star system[13]. A wince passes through Winnicka’s face, she casts down her eyes and turns her head away – from her husband but also from us, the audience. The woman – despite her closeness – does not invite identification, she pulls away, distances herself. It is obvious that the actress and not the portrayed character will be the focus of attention. Then, through swift montage Kawalerowicz connects close-ups of pedestrian’s eyes and street views – random characters enter the frame, obscure our view, the film world becomes a kaleidoscope of blurry spots, anticipating the relationship between the main characters on the one hand, and on the other the relation between the movie and the viewer, both based on the opposition between showing and hiding (i.e. the extramarital affairs or the autobiographical dimension of the events pictured on screen).

The final scene of the complex and dynamic (due not only to the quick montage and broad color palette but also Czesław Niemen’s hit single Dziwny jest ten świat placed on the soundtrack) initial sequence is dominated by feminine glamour (the beauty, the spectacle, and the surface) and the oppressive gaze. The camera observes Małgorzata from above, vertically, as she walks along the pier. Her red dress is in stark contrast with the dark backdrop, her blonde hair is being blown by the wind, in the background, we hear the sound of waves. The image is both sensual and unsettling since we get the impression that the woman is being watched (the high vantage point). Eventually, she turns around, looks directly into the camera, shakes her head in a declining gesture and smiles mockingly. The husband, who we now see from her point of view, is meant to be the spectacle‘s recipient. He gestures expressly, shouts something but neither the heroine nor us, the viewers, can hear him. But I want to catch a cold, the woman keeps repeating. The camera’s viewpoint implies power and constraint and the drunk heroine’s excess indicates resistance and opposition towards its controlling and oppressive gaze. The affective initial sequence is bookended by an abstract, smeared image of Winnicka’s body trapped in a freeze frame: behold a shattered glamour-object from which an autonomous subject is yet to emerge[14].

In fact, it is a film about freeing oneself from the limiting and chaffing gaze, about gaining freedom which you are not sure what to do with, about loneliness, weariness and the boldness to push limitations. Małgorzata is looking for renewal, she is provocative and seductive, while simultaneously fearing the insecurities of freedom. The gist of the heroine’s situation is conveyed accurately through the hunting scene. The woman sneaks slowly between the trees. She is seducing the hunters who watch her attentively. Being the object of desire gives her pleasure (she smiles gently). When one of them shoots, she panics – she covers her face with her hands, screams, and runs away as if she was the game that the men hunt. Deathly images pass in quick succession before our – and her – eyes: Małgorzata in funeral attire or a wedding dress carried by men at a graveyard. A moment later we see a close-up image of dead hares. It is not so much a warning (if the woman continues to disregard the traditional morality, she will share – in her love life – the fate of the dead animals) as a visualization of the process of abandoning this image of herself which was valid and vivid in her marriage but becomes a painful burden beyond its framework. The freedom from another’s gaze forces the heroine to invent herself anew.

Małgorzata is looking for renewal through the experience of her own body: she reciprocates the gazes of strangers, she goes to bed with a newly met young man (played by a young Sławomir Idziak), she initiates an intimacy lined with lesbian desire with a female friend, she is supposed to take part – together with a sexually experienced bride, who proudly declares that she had already had thirty lovers and she does not intend to stop at that after the wedding – in "group" sex at a wedding reception at a greenhouse owner’s. This excess of the heroine’s sexual experiences must have brought forth reluctance in 1968 Poland. Indeed, The Game marks the limit of what can be seen as normative in Polish cinema of that time, it shows that sexual freedom was seen as excess, hostile in particular to the working class[15]. The censorship took a good look at the film’s "lasciviousness": In this film (…) there are a lot of sensitive and even vulgar sex scenes, among them as much as five sexual intercourses: in the car, in the greenhouse, a scene suggesting lesbian lovemaking, a naked man etc. The film is more infused with eroticism than those from the western cinema which present sex scenes in a more discreet manner[16]. The intercourses were counted scrupulously even though no sex is actually shown in the movie: Idziak was undressed once, a woman’s breasts were shown, even the rape scene is focused exclusively on the characters’ faces shown in extreme close-up. The film was of course associated with western cinema not only because of the representation of sex but also the voyeuristic style which did not correspond with the socialist aesthetic (Kawalerowicz forces us to spy on his characters[17]). The state in the Polish People’s Republic either limited erotic representations in movies (at least till the end of the 1960s) or encouraged them (in the 1980s), such images served either subversive or (more often) reactionary functions. Regarding Kawalerowicz’s film, the censorship had no doubts: Suggestions of such a morality should not be popularized because they are harmful and even dangerous to a large segment of the movie-going audience. (…) The ideological and political message of the film contradicts our assumptions[18]. The Game was indeed dangerous but not because of a woman’s bared bosom or exposed male buttocks – it was the brave praise of liberty, individual freedom and diversity (also of sexual practices) that made it so.

Lucyna Winnicka i Gustaw Holoubek w filmie Gra, źródło: Fototeka FN

Lucyna Winnicka and Gustaw Holoubek in The Game, source: Fototeka FINA

Researchers have often indicated the autobiographical subtext of the film based on Jerzy Kawalerowicz and Andrzej Bianusz’s original screenplay because it’s not only the final film the director and his star made together but also a foreshadowing of the end of their marriage. Paulina Kwiatkowska mentions this in the margins of her analysis of Winnicka’s acting. In her opinion the film tells, among others, the story of the aging of a woman’s body: in a scene taking place in a beauty salon the actresses face is covered in a mud beauty mask which gives the impression as if she was undergoing (…) an unstoppable decay, as if she was rotting before our very eyes. The author views the capturing of this process as one of Kawalerowicz’s greatest achievements while simultaneously adding that the scenes should be considered (…) an intentional effort to discredit his wife’s image[19]. The film keeps repeating scenes and words which are not rooted in the movie’s narrative tissue hinting instead at Kawalerowicz and Winnicka’s private life. Take for instance the scene in which Małgorzata boasts to her husband that her project was acknowledged in an architecture contest, which he outright downplays: So some professor will nod his head over a model where – at the very bottom, at the end – your name is signed, so what?. And where should my name be? Under yours? – the woman responds. After separating from the director and after a gradual[20] withdrawal from acting Winnicka will exclusively use her own name writing articles, books, making demands on behalf of actors deprived of opportunities to act, as in the notorious article Nie spisani na straty published in 1974 in the Polityka weekly, engaging in ecology and traditional medicine, or forming the popular Akademia Życia collective. It did not bring her as much recognition as her remarkable roles in Kawalerowicz’s films, yet it certainly allowed her to express herself in her own way (The first book (…) was perhaps more my own than any one of my roles[21], she said years later). Actress? ...Why would you want to talk about the "dead" me? – she mused in a conversation with Maciej Maniewski – That part of my life is over. And there was not a single moment when I would regret that decision. (…) I prefer to be myself. To play well this most important role – my life[22].

"Vive la putain!"

After the premiere of Jealousy and medicine, Aleksander Ledóchowski wrote: In this movie the director has accomplished a historical turn. For the first time on our screens, a character emerged who is a woman in every inch, who embodies nothing but femininity. (…) She is indeed the first lady of Polish cinema – Rebeka – putain![23]. "Vive la putain", exclaims the critic, adding that language-decency reasons will not allow him to express this punchline in Polish. Ledóchowski recognized the appearance of a new image in the Polish People’s Republic cinema – that of a glamourous woman. The first glamourous woman, in his opinion, was Ewa Krzyżewska.

Rebeka is neither from a Polish nor a communist context. She is derived from American cinema. Janusz Majewski had always preferred American cinema, Hitchcock and Wilder, to experimental and auteur productions. In his own films, he often invoked the glamour aesthetic which seduced the audience with associations of pleasure and sexuality, fame and fortune, beauty and spectacle; an aesthetic especially linked to femininity and consumption – actually, to a safe and inviting femininity which was itself an object of consumption[24]. Although this style took on its most spectacular form within the Hollywood star system, it began in the 1830s when the barmaid was introduced into 19th century London society. On the one hand, separated from the clients by the counter – as noted by Agata Łuksza after Peter Bailey – she becomes an object to regard and desire, on the other, the very same counter makes her unattainable[25]. Ewa Krzyżewska’s debut role is, in fact, the barmaid[26]. Krystyna from Ashes and Diamonds (Popiół i diament, dir. Andrzej Wajda, 1958) quickly becomes someone to look at: Maciek (Zbigniew Cybulski) notices her reflection in the mirror just before leaving the locale and decides to conquer her. He chooses a table that lets him observe the girl freely. He gets irritated when someone obscures the view: what an idiot, for the love of God! Krystyna is the focal point of Maciek’s looks, but in the beginning, she pays no attention to him (or at least seems not to). What is interesting though is that Wajda’s barmaid – the "cultural prototype" of glamourous femininity[27] – has little in common with the splendor aesthetic. Certainly, she is young and beautiful but also modest, lost and a little naive (still, the shadow of her eyelashes in the sex scene is definitely glamourous). The glamour in Ashes and Diamonds turns out to be situated elsewhere: Cybulski as Maciek – Tadeusz Lubelski wrote – was someone far-out, out of this world, and at the same time his silhouette resembled that of a hooligan passed by in the street[28]. The fusion of exceptive elements: the out-of-ordinary (far-out) and the everyday (someone passed by in the street) forms the star personality. Therefore, the glamour of Wajda’s film is not connected to a female character but a male one. Błażej Warkocki wrote that it was Cybulski who in Ashes and Diamonds took on the role of the sex bomb[29].

Krzyżewska’s body was transformed into a spectacular object of desire only in her final film – Jealousy and Medicine. This is well illustrated by a scene taking place in the cinema where a showing of Jan Nowina-Przybylski and Konrad Tom’s Love Manoeuvers (Manewry miłosne, 1935) is about to take place. The movie is less important, however, than Rebeka’s theatrical appearance. She enters the screening room as if it was the catwalk: she is wearing a fur coat, a feathered pillbox hat and red lipstick. She stops, motionless, narrows her eyes and takes a look around the room while striking graceful poses. Finally, she appears against the screen and becomes a projection of men’s – or at least Widmar’s (Mariusz Dmochowski) – phantasies. Due to the use of then-fashionable zooms through which the woman’s face is rapidly brought closer to us the director lets us know that the main character – who is soon to be seduced by Rebeka and married to her – cannot take his eyes off her. Therefore, we are dealing here with feminine beauty, close-ups, and static shots, that is, everything that in the classic era of Hollywood cinema served to create the female star (as opposed to the "masculine" action dynamics)[30].

Ewa Krzyżewska i Andrzej Łapicki w Zazdrości i medycynie, źródło: Fototeka FN

Ewa Krzyżewska and Andrzej Łapicki in Jealousy and Medicinesource: Fototeka FINA

Polish cinema rarely told stories of women whose screen presence was focused on the expression of corporeality. Rebeka cheats on Widmar with the handsome hospital director Tamten (Andrzej Łapicki) and, of course, thinks nothing of it. She is seen as a woman who lay up with half the town, as her rival remarks enviously, what is proved not only by the affair with the doctor but also the unexpected and inconvenient keepsake left by an uhlan. What is more, no punishment befalls her for her indiscretions: in the film finale she is neither disfigured, made look older nor deceased. She is the one who – endowed with sexual power – is behind all of the men’s actions, performing, therefore, an important narrative function. As Ledóchowski wrote: Without Rebeka, there would be no movie. There would neither be a trace of the male characters[31]. Interestingly, the critic noticed in her the embodiment of "true femininity" even though – or maybe because of the fact – she is a markedly artificial woman, exaggerated, hyperbolized. The viewer feels as if he was taking part in a spectacle in which Krzyżewska impersonates a woman. Like a performance. Like a masquerade. Anna Tatarkiewicz noticed it as early as the movie’s premiere: Rebeka is a downright masterpiece of artifice, conventionality, inauthenticity. Only the actress’ beauty is true here, a little exotic, a little cattish: almond-shaped, slightly slanting eyes, broadly spaced cheekbones, prominent lips, a limber silhouette[32]. In her classical essay Womanliness as masquerade, which has become an inspiration for feminist thought, Joan Riviere wrote that a stable, natural, authentic femininity is a pipe dream. The woman imitates authentic femininity which is always already an imitation itself. Gender turns out to be a surface, the domain of masquerade and spectacle through which that which is natural becomes overly theatrical, artificial and excessively present[33].

Rebeka, a masterpiece of artifice, exposes the performative status of femininity and suggests that gender roles are (ostentatiously) performed. But the glamour in Jealousy and Medicine is shown to be not only potentially emancipatory but also potentially objectifying. In the opening scene of Widmar’s dream through slow, contemplative tracking shots the camera shows Krzyżewska’s naked, writhing (in ecstasy?) body bathed in red while Wojciech Kilar’s music makes the image even more extraordinary. In the process, the movie star visual code connoting luxury, artifice, and sensuality connects two exclusive tendencies here: on the one hand it refers to the capitalist West, marks an escape from reality into a world of fantasy and dreams, exposes, through Krzyżewska’s single-sex masquerade, the staging of gender roles, while on the other hand it confirms and stabilizes the patriarchal system through the scenes fetishizing her body.

The shock of cinema

Kalina Jędrusik, with the help of her husband Stanisław Dygat, has elevated herself into the role of a sex icon – a role she took on altogether knowingly. This image – as in the case of Rebeka – was otherworldly. Kazimierz Kutz, who named Jędrusik Polish People’s Republic’s first Madonna, noted that Dygat loved American cinema and that his wife turned out to be an embodiment of this fascination: She was the fulfillment of his Hollywood dream, a dream of the captivating American phenomenon of the cliché[34]. American cinema was also Jędrusik’s love, although Kutz insists that Dygat’s love for Hollywood was more passionate: Staś has often locked himself in the house when a good American movie was playing [on TV] to sob his heart out. Kalina did the same but also during Soviet films[35]. In Dygat’s room, there was a picture of the connotation of the apex of the star system – Marilyn Monroe[36]. Kalina Jędrusik was supposed to become a Polish Marilyn[37]. Yet the American star’s eroticism was soothing and safe while Jędrusik was called – as she herself proudly admitted – the first vamp.

At the center of this spectacle of femininity, according to Iwona Kurz, sexual pleasure was situated: While (…) the entirety of this image and the relation between a man and a woman [in Jędrusik’s films] occurs in the most traditional version of female submission and passivity, the emphasis on sexuality is subversive or in any case clearly violates the norm[38]. In A Cure for Love Jędrusik’s character, Joanna, impersonates a gang liaison which helps her infatuate a prince charming (or in this case: an officer of the Citizens’ Militia). The anecdote is not what is important here. The woman either waits for the phone to ring or lingers around the house in a half-open dressing gown or takes baths or dresses up for a midnight rendezvous with a stranger (naturally, she dresses up in the actress’ characteristic little black dress with a very low cut back – all the way to the edge of possibility, as the star would probably say). It is clear that it is Jędrusik’s body that counts here above all, a body that is superabundant, overly intense and pronounced. This image reduced (…) femininity to sexuality (…) but then blew up sexuality to the limits of kitsch[39], Kurz wrote.

In the 1960s the actress’ image was based on exaggeration but also ease, lightness, and irony. This image will change with the famous role of Lucy Zuckerowa, a rich Jewish woman, in Andrzej Wajda’s The Promised Land. Apparently, the director wanted, or at least so Jędrusik presumed, for Lucy’s body to be the body of a woman who has never been loved[40]. It was to become a lowly body, a material body, the antithesis of the glamourous version of femininity. Agata Łuksza noted: The glamour goddess does not create – the glamour goddess manifests herself as a "body-for", an aesthetic body extracted from the ambivalent context of sweat, blood, bodily fluids. She is not meat – she neither births nor rots; she is a vision[41]. At the beginning of the movie Lucy seems to be an eroticized object of desire: in the first scene she appears in she is lying on a chaise longue wearing only her lingerie while the camera exposes her bare shoulders, strong makeup, and sensuous voice. Likewise in the theatre scene, where she is equipped with all the attributes of the glamourous woman: an evening gown with a low-cut neckline, a fur coat, a fan, and diamonds. She lures Karol Borowiecki (Daniel Olbrychski) with her swooning gazes, feigned submissiveness, but above all with secret information, attainable only to the moguls of the Łódź textile industry. It is very different in the orgy scene in the parlour-car of a train: Lucy’s body appears here as a body marked with secretions, a mating and craving body. The impassioned character bites into Olbrychski’s flushed, liberated body with a fervor similar to her earlier greedily eating (or rather: devouring) food with her fingers. The director puts together sex and food, lust and hunger, so Zuckerowa – but not Borowiecki – becomes marked with a primal, predatory, unrestrained and dangerous eroticism. This meaning is emphasized by the parallel montage of the aforementioned orgy scene with shots of a chaste Polish woman, Anka, making vehement efforts to separate mating dogs. This image becomes particularly problematic when seen through the lens of the ethnic and national identities of the characters. Wajda juxtaposes the image of a promiscuous Jewish woman skilled in the art of manipulation (sexual expansiveness) with the figure of an innocent and "pure" Polish woman (the reduction of sexuality)[42].

Kalina Jędrusik i Daniel Olbrychski w Ziemi obiecanej, fot. Renata Pajchel, źródło: Fototeka FN

Kalina Jędrusik and Daniel Olbrychski in The Promised Land, fot. Renata Pajchel, source: Fototeka FINA

Lucy is, however, a contradictory character: on the one hand she stabilizes the negative stereotypes of gender, nationality, and ethnicity (it is because of her character, among others, Wajda was accused of antisemitism and misogyny), on the other though inherent to this character is a – less often analyzed – subversive power, best proven by the audience’s reception of her. Lucy Zucker in the parlour-car is a shock, it is the "primal scene"[43] of Polish cinema. The viewers reacted as if Kalina Jędrusik was the first to reveal the sensual body to Poles. As if the actress – even though neither of the two sex scenes shows her naked – exposed her fellow-countrymen to sex for the first time[44]. The sex had been noticed, among others, because firstly Wajda’s film reached a broad audience and secondly – because movie stars took part in the scene. The actress told the story herself – vibrantly, with an exaggeration natural to her: After "The Promised Land" some older man who noticed me in the supermarket exclaimed that I should not be allowed to show my face among decent people, he even spat at my feet. This is upsetting but also intriguing, how such people don’t believe in the power of the actor’s talent but instead ascribe to him qualities he does not possess[45]. The viewers saw Jędrusik within Lucy, they presumed that the actress was not acting but was being herself onscreen. Jerzy Gruza commented on this interestingly: Poland was like that back then, that was how they reacted. It is a sort of psychological defect in the Polish people, that pretense, make-believe, the actor’s craft can lead to such hatred. Why, Kalina was performing, she was not being herself. And yet she was – for those people of course[46]. This bodily expression, which Zbigniew Zapasiewicz will call insanely audacious[47], breeds hatred (but also fascination).

What does it mean though that that was how [Poland] reacted? Even if the socialist morality which banned or limited erotic representations caused the "lewd" images to be more stirring than expected, this does not explain everything. Why was it this role and this scene that caused such a shock? Why did it stir the audience so much? The sex in The Promised Land is based on excess (both visual and audial). Lucy is not a traditional, passive object of desire but an active woman hungry for sex (in various forms, e.g. fellatio in the carriage), who engages in it with whomever she chooses and derives pleasure from it, which might have produced dread and insecurity. She also bankrupts Borowiecki – both morally and financially. What is more, the asymmetry marking the lovers – the mature, rich Foreigner and the young Polish man dependent of her, or rather the information she possesses – is associated with the cultural taboo of miscegenation (sex between representatives of different nations, races or ethnic groups). What is of particular interest, however, is that in the scene in the parlour-car Lucy laughs loudly – wherein lies, I reckon, a wild, sadistic and rebellious force. The codes of femininity are subject here not just to hyperbole but also to a grotesque distortion. And the grotesque body, just like the camp body, according to Caryl Flinn, precludes closure, firmness, and security and also violates social and textual boundaries in a variety of ways[48]. That is why Lucy Zucker’s unruly, exuberant laughter still proves dangerous, as evidenced by the fact that even in 2000 Wajda himself got scared of it and removed the legendary scene from the re-edited version of the film.


Through conveying certain social meanings and values – Richard Dyer wrote of the Hollywood star system – the movie star image reveals ideological contradictions inherent in culture and society. The magical synthesis of opposing values, on the one hand, reinforces and consolidates the system, while on the other, undermines and destabilizes it[49]. Michel Foucault’s advice that discourses can be both agents of authority and points of resistance is valuable as well: There is not, on the one side, a discourse of power, and opposite it, another discourse that runs counter to it. Discourses are tactical elements or blocks operating in the field of force relations; there can exist different and even contradictory discourses within the same strategy; they can, on the contrary, circulate without changing their form from one strategy to another, opposing strategy[50]. On the one hand, the carnal excesses of Winnicka, Krzyżewska, and Jędrusik – risqué for the times – challenged the conventional body policy; The Game especially proved to be an affirmation of freedom and a subjectivity free of the repressive gaze. On the other though, the women’s defiance stabilized and supported the prevailing system as well – or so it seems; for instance, Lucy’s unbound, rebellious eroticism reinforced the gender and national (the Poles’ superiority, inferiority of the Other) stereotypes, while the movie star glamour in Jealousy and Medicine was unsettling because it was linked to a vulgar Americanism but at the same time due to the fetishizing of female nudity, as in the initial scene, it consolidated the patriarchal system.

Małgorzata, Rebeka and Lucy are the last significant (or the last in general, as is the case with Ewa Krzyżewska) roles in our heroines’ careers. The 1970s were not a time of movie star glamour (it surfaced perhaps only in heritage films). Actresses were no longer finding their way to the movie screen from magazine covers, they no longer fixed their eyes on Marilyn Monroe. In the new cinema, the body is no longer supposed to be – as in the glamour aesthetic – stylized, sophisticated and perfectly controlled but natural and casual instead. Filmmakers point their cameras at the everyday, laidback, unfettered body while glamour is the realm of artifice, excess and masquerade. In lieu of a theatrical gesture – a common motion, often improvised (e.g. Maja Komorowska in Krzysztof Zanussi’s Behind the Wall [Za ścianą, 1971]), instead of a bright red dress and pearls – slacks and a comfortable shirt (e.g. Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieślak in Janusz Morgenstern’s To kill this love [Trzeba zabić tę miłość, 1972]), movement and rush rather than elaborate poses (e.g. Krystyna Janda in Andrzej Wajda’s Man of Marble [Człowiek z marmuru, 1976]). In the second half of the 1970s the actresses of the bygone decade – not just Lucyna Winnicka and Kalina Jędrusik but Pola Raksa and Beata Tyszkiewicz as well – seem to come from a different cinematic reality. The movie stars will return to Polish cinema in the 1980s but they will be different stars, they will serve a different function and raise different hopes.



Translated by Klaudia Rachubińska

[1] See: A. Skwara, Film Stars do Not Shine in the Sky Over Poland: The Absence of Popular Cinema in Poland, [in:] Popular European Cinema, R. Dyer, G. Vincendeau (eds), Routledge, London 1992, pp. 220–231; I. Kurz, Twarze w tłumie. Wizerunki bohaterów wyobraźni zbiorowej w kulturze polskiej lat 1955–1969, Świat Literacki, Warszawa 2005. [back]

[2] Z. Cybulski in conversation with S. Janicki, W stronę gwiazd, „Kino” 1966, no 1, p. 47. [back]

[3] B. Giza, Ku transnarodowości. Sukcesy polskiego kina na Festiwalu w Cannes w latach 1946–1966 w korespondencjach publikowanych przez magazyn „Film”, [in:] Kino polskie jako kino transnarodowe, S. Jagielski, M. Podsiadło (Eds), Universitas, Kraków 2017. No wonder then that during future editions of the festival local press would focus on the glamourous ‘world-class’ adornment of our actresses (eg. of Aleksandra Śląska during the showings of Andrej Munks The Passenger [Pasażerka, 1963] in Cannes). [back]

[4] A. Szarłat, Celebryci z tamtych lat. Prywatne życie wielkich gwiazd PRL-u, Znak, Kraków 2014. [back]

[5] I. Kurz, Twarze…, p. 119. [back]

[6] Dziewczyna 1960. Kolorowe dziewczęta, „Filipinka” 1960, No 6–7. As cited in: M. Fidelis, Are you a modern girl? Consumer Culture and Young Women in 1960s Poland. In: Penn S., Massino J. (eds) Gender Politics and Everyday Life in State Socialist Eastern and Central Europe, Palgrave Macmillan, New York 2009, p. 177. [back]

[7] M. Fidelis, op. cit., p. 172. [back]

[8] Uchwała Sekretariatu KC w sprawie kinematografii, [in:] Syndrom konformizmu? Kino polskie lat sześćdziesiątych, T. Miczka, A. Madej (eds), Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Śląskiego, Katowice 1994, pp. 27–34. [back]

[9] O. Bułgakowa, Gwiazdy i władza, transl. T. Szczepański, „Kwartalnik Filmowy” 2005, No 49–50, pp. 49, 56. [back]

[10] I. Kalinowska, Seks, polityka i koniec PRL-u: o cielesności w polskim kinie lat osiemdziesiątych, [in:] Ciało i seksualność w kinie polskim, S. Jagielski, A. Morstin-Popławska (eds), Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego, Kraków 2009, pp. 68–69. [back]

[11] I elaborate on this in another article: S. Jagielski, „Niech mnie wszyscy kochają”. Transnarodowe ciało Elżbiety Czyżewskiej, [w:] Kino polskie jako kino transnarodowe, red. S. Jagielski, M. Podsiadło, Universitas, Kraków 2017. [back]

[12] See: A. Prucnal, J. Mailland, Ja urodzona w Warszawie, Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 2005. [back]

[13] In Hollywood’s classic era, opening movies with close-ups of film stars created a spectatorial at-homeness in the story-world prior to entry, as if responding to a felt need to humanize an experience of film as inherently alienating, grey and disenchanted (P. Coates, Faces and „Faciality”, [in:], idem, Screening the face, Palgrave Macmillan, New York 2012, pp. 24–25). [back]

[14] Paulina Kwiatkowska analyses Małgorzata’s character in the same vein, seeing her as a broken woman attempting to regain herself once more not because of a man nor love but purely for her own sake (Rytmy somatograficzne – Lucyna Winnicka w filmach Jerzego Kawalerowicza, „Kwartalnik Filmowy” 2013, no 83–84, p. 95). It is important to note here that during the film’s premiere the heroine was not at all regarded as a feminist figure, on the contrary: Kawalerowicz, this Polish Renoir, who loves and understands women – Alicja Helman wrote – made a misogynous movie this time. (…) In our film, indeed not replete with portraits of women, there was no character equally annoying and stupid  (Gra zwana małżeństwem, „Kultura” 1969, no 22). Those two perspectives are an excellent example of how much the reception of both The Game and Winnicka’s character has changed over the last 40 years. [back]

[15] The censorship noted that The Game may contribute to an increase in anti-intelligentsia attitudes since it exposes the characters’ high material status which, as was believed, was conductive to promiscuity. (M. Fik, Z archiwum Głównego Urzędu Kontroli Prasy, Publikacji i Widowisk (6). Październik – grudzień 1968, „Kwartalnik Filmowy” 1995, no 11, p. 129). [back]

[16] Ibidem. [back]

[17] Ibidem. [back]

[18] Ibidem. [back]

[19] P. Kwiatkowska, op. cit., p. 93–94. [back]

[20] After the – both professional and private – separation with Kawalerowicz, the actress will play her most significant roles abroad (e.g.  322, dir. Dušan Hanák, 1969; 25 Fireman's Street [Tüzoltó utca 25], dir. István Szabó, 1973) while in Poland she will show up – less and less – mostly in guest appearances and supporting roles (e.g. Through and Through [Na wylot], 1972 and Permanent Objections [Wieczne pretensje], 1974, both directed by Grzegorz Królikiewicz; Index [Indeks], dir. Janusz Kijowski, 1977, prem. 1981). Ewa Mazierska writes more on Winnicka’s foreign film roles: E. Mazierska, Train to Hollywood: Polish Actresses in Foreign Films, [in:] Polish Cinema in a Transnational Context, E. Mazierska, M. Goddard (eds), University of Rochester Press, Rochester–New York 2014, pp. 153–173. [back]

[21] M. Maniewski, Pociąg do życia, „Film” 1997, no 4, p. 102. [back]

[22] Ibidem. [back]

[23] A. Ledóchowski, Latarnia w salonie, „Kino” 1973, no 12, p. 24. [back]

[24] S. Gundle, C.T. Castelli, The Glamour System, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke–New York 2006. [back]

[25] A. Łuksza, Glamour, kobiecość, widowisko. Aktorka jako obiekt pożądania, Instytut Teatralny im. Zbigniewa Raszewskiego, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, Warszawa 2016, pp. 59–60. [back]

[26] Janusz Morgenstern claimed that he was the one to notice Krzyżewska, then a freshman student of the Kraków Academy for the Dramatic Arts, on the set of Antoni Bohdziewicz’s Lucky Boots(Kalosze szczęścia, 1958). The actress herself said that Wajda noticed her photograph in the “Przekrój” magazine and immediately saw her as Krystyna. The photo however did not provide her name. K. Tomasik, Ewa Krzyżewska. Naga tajemnica, [in:] idem, Demony seksu, Wydawnictwo Marginesy, Warszawa 2015, p. 20. [back]

[27] A. Łuksza, op. cit., p. 60. [back]

[28] T. Lubelski, Wajda, Wyd. Dolnośląskie, Wrocław 2006, p. 75. [back]

[29] B. Warkocki, Nie na sprzedaż, [in:] Wajda. Przewodnik Krytyki Politycznej, ed. J. Majmurek, Wydawnictwo Krytyki Politycznej, Warszawa 2013, pp. 128–139. [back]

[30] L. Mulvey, Close-ups and Commodities [in:] idem, Fetishism and Curiosity, Indiana University Press – British Film Institute, Bloomington – London, 1996, p. 45. [back]

[31] A. Ledóchowski, op. cit., p. 22. [back]

[32] A. Tatarkiewicz, Ewa Krzyżewska: Rebeka, „Film” 1973, no 38, p. 6. [back]

[33] See: J. Riviere, Womanliness as a Masquerade, [in:] Formations of Fantasy, V. Burgin, J. Donald, C. Kaplan (eds), Methuen, London 1986, pp. 35–44; M.A. Doane, Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator, [in:] Film and Theory. An Anthology, R. Stam, T. Miller (eds), Blackwell Publishers Ltd., Massachusetts-Oxford 2000, pp. 495–509; J. Butler, Lacan, Riviere, and the Strategies of Masquerade, [in:] idem, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Routledge, New York and London 1990, pp. 43–57. [back]

[34] K. Kutz, Kalina, ta, której już nie ma, [in:] idem, Portrety godziwe, ed. J.F. Lewandowski, Znak, Kraków 2004, p. 70. [back]

[35] Ibidem. [back]

[36] L. Mulvey, op.cit., p. 48. [back]

[37] Dariusz Michalski seeks the analogy between the Polish star and Marylin Monroe in both actresses’ private lives, e.g. comparing Dygats’ marriage to Monroe’s relationship with Arthur Miller (D. Michalski, Kalina Jędrusik, Iskry, Warszawa 2010, pp. 361–376). In her analysis of the theatre play Kalina (Teatr Polonia, dir. Małgorzata Głuchowska, Warsaw, prem. 2013) featuring Katarzyna Figura as Jędrusik, Agata Łuksza points out the similar source of both stars’ hyperbolic femininity: Norma Jeane went through (…) abortions and miscarriages, she was not meant to experience motherhood – she became Marilyn Monroe. Kalina loses a child, loses her uterus – she will be a sex icon (A. Łuksza, op. cit., p. 174). [back]

[38] I. Kurz, op. cit., p. 183. [back]

[39] Ibidem, p. 184. [back]

[40] As cited in: D. Michalski, op. cit., p. 316. [back]

[41] A. Łuksza, op. cit., p. 29. [back]

[42] E. Ostrowska, Obcość podwojona: obrazy kobiet żydowskich w polskim kinie powojennym, [in:] Gender-film-media, E.H. Oleksy, E. Ostrowska (eds), Rabid, Kraków 2001, pp. 133–145. [back]

[43] Linda Williams uses this Freudian term to describe those films on the American cinema screens which became landmarks in the history of representing traumatic sexual acts. See: L. Williams, Screening Sex, Duke University Press, Durham 2008, especially the chapter: Primal Scenes on American Screens (1986–2005)[back]

[44] From the beginning of the 1970s the female body held no secrets from the Polish film viewers  (e.g. The Cardiogram [Kardiogram], 1971, and Anatomy of Love [Anatomia miłości], 1972, both directed by Roman Załuski; Run Away Nearly [Uciec jak najbliżej], dir. Janusz Zaorski, 1972; Pearl in the Crown [Perła w koronie], dir. Kazimierz Kutz, 1972) no other sex scene, however, had made sucha an impression on the viewers as the one from The Promised Land[back]

[45] As cited in: J. Szczerba, Co ja, Jezus Chrystus jestem?, „Wysokie Obcasy” 2009, no 32, p. 12, a suplement of „Gazeta Wyborcza”, 8.08.2009. Jędrusik’s words are confirmed by Elżbieta Starostecka’s opinion: from now on people judged Lucy Zuckerowa as Kalina Jędrusik and Kalina as that woman with her behavior. And they just removed her from the list of decent, even honest actresses (D. Michalski, op. cit., p. 318). [back]

[46] As cited in: D. Michalski, op. cit., p. 319. [back]

[47] As cited in: ibidem, p. 322. [back]

[48] C. Flinn, The Deaths of Camp, [in:] Camp: Queer Aesthetics And The Performing Subject, F. Cleto (ed.), Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh 1999, p. 447–448. [back]

[49] R. Dyer, Stars, 2nd ed., Palgrave Macmillan, New York 1998, pp. 20–32. [back]

[50] M. Foucault, The History of Sexuality. Volume I: An Introduction, transl. R. Hurley, Pantheon Books, New York 1978, pp. 101102. [back]



But indeed, I will be immoral. Stars in Polish Communist Cinema

The authorities in power during the period of the Polish People’s Republic did not focus on producing stars, yet it does not mean that there were no stars in Polish cinema then. In the early 60s, there appears a substitute of a “communist star system”. Its shape was affected by the Thaw and subsequently by the turn towards genre cinema (the vehicle of stars). The image of the socialist female star was supposed to be void of those attributes that made a star in the Hollywood system: glamour and sex appeal. The article concentrates on three female stars of the 60s: Lucyna Winnicka (The Game), Ewa Krzyżewska (Jealousy and Medicine) and Kalina Jędrusik (The Promised Land). At the end of that decade and in the early 70s, when their epoch was becoming a thing of the past, they all assert features that previously had to be left outside the frame: glamour, an excess of femininity, corporeal insubordination, sexual pleasure and own subjectivity. Their bold bodily excesses, on the one hand, contested the prevailing policy of the body, and, on the other hand, they stabilised – to some extent – the dominating system.

Key words: Polish cinema, stars, communism, femininity, body, sexuality, glamour, ideology, Lucyna Winnicka, Ewa Krzyżewska, Kalina Jędrusik

Sebastian Jagielski – film history scholar, adjunct at the Film History Department of the Polish Institute of Audiovisual Arts of the Jagiellonian University. Received honourable mention in the Inka Brodzka-Wald Competition for the best doctoral dissertation on contemporary humanities (2013). Author of the book Masquerade of Masculinity. Homosocial desire in Polish feature films (2013), co-editor of volumes: Body and sexuality in Polish cinema (2009) and Polish cinema as transnational cinema (2017). He was published, among others, in "Film Quarterly", "Studies in European Cinema" and "Studies in Eastern European Cinema". He is interested in the history of Polish cinema and the issues of body, sex and affect.

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