"Pleograf. Kwartalnik Akademii Polskiego Filmu", nr 5/2020


Zdzisław Maklakiewicz as a “Slow and Independent” Actor[1] 

Justyna Jaworska


When your life keeps running away, dear lad, don’t run after it

When you’ve spent the last week as if walking in a dream, don’t kid yourself

A small beer, a small spiced beer will grow for you

A small beer, a small spiced beer will sing for you.

A Party for Ten People Plus Three (Przyjęcie na dziesięć osób plus trzy) dir. Jerzy Gruza, 1973


I know your world. I have been abroad, seen Polish ships.

Stinking ports, filthy quays, boredom, and a few pennies in the pocket.

Full Steam Ahead (Cała naprzód), dir. Stanisław Lenartowicz, 1966


Jan Himilsbach, Zdzisław Maklakiewicz and Wanda Stanisławska-Lothe in The Cruise,
photo by Marek Nowicki, source: Fototeka FINA

He was a Polish Bogart who gave his impenetrable face to our native “slow cinema”[2]. It was certainly with no haste that he pronounced his famous lines from The Cruise (dir. Marek Piwowski, 1970) about Polish cinema, in which nothing happens. This monologue of the engineer Mamoń, half-improvised and masterfully punctuated with pauses, has been frequently analyzed, not only as an example of filmic self-reference[3] or a flash of drunken intuition[4], but also as a feat of acting. Wojciech Otto, admittedly with a strongly apologetic view of the artist, even wrote that, in contrast to the mediocre performance of the other actors, this was a great triumph of acting, splendidly improvised and elaborated in a single shot. The numerous repetitions, pauses, inverted sentences and the constant contact with the viewer all create the impression of authenticity[5]. We could add that this impression of authenticity also had a “private anchor” in a sort of autobiographical pact between character and performer: of all the people, Zdzisław Maklakiewicz, expounding in front of the camera on lack of action and emptiness of expression, was the person to know from experience how it’s done.

He was described as a master of episode, a character actor with little luck for film prizes or important roles (even though he played many indeed)[6]. He would come late to theatre rehearsals; he found the repetitiveness of the stage tiresome and preferred film. He was not particular about the choice of role and tried to elaborate upon his characters in minute detail, even as an extra[7], but unfortunately he would lose his easy manner in front of the camera and not always seem natural. He found fulfillment rather in social life, as the king of anecdotes shared at a bar table or the creator of hypothetical screenplays. This is precisely how he was described – as a free spirit and a man of creativity, despite the difficult times in which he lived – by his friends in a documentary about him[8], by his daughter Marta in her memoir[9], and by authors of popular monographs about him[10]. The barroom anecdotes have often been told, the legend has already taken root and if there is anything left to be done here, then it is perhaps to examine the acting style of the man who played the engineer Mamoń. Looking at almost any of his roles would lead us to conclude that Maklakiewicz was a “slow and independent”[11] actor, both in the sense that he remained an outsider, and, quite literally, that he acted at an easy pace.

The pace of acting is not usually treated as an actor’s personal trait, probably because a professional should be capable of adopting any pace – it is presumed to be a matter of technique rather than temper. Though not entirely so. Just as Wojciech Pszoniak could be an example of an almost hysterically “fast” actor, and was for that very reason much appreciated by Andrzej Żuławski[12], similarly Maklakiewicz, by his sheer appearance on the screen, seemed to act as a brakeman: he drawled his lines, fixed his gaze on the interlocutor or on a surface, measured pauses, and sometimes simply was there. He debuted as the phlegmatic, sullen student Bednarczyk in The Common Room (Wspólny pokój, 1959) by Wojciech Jerzy Has[13]. Later, he turned this focused subduing of expression into the basis of very different roles, such as the character of the gentle manager of the Warsaw Cultural Center “Estrada” in No Divorce (Rozwodów nie będzie, 1963) by Jerzy Stefan Stawiński, the shady ruffian Zdzichu in The Woodpecker (Dzięcioł, 1971) by Jerzy Gruza, or the lackadaisical waiter Grela in Hotel Pacific (Zaklęte rewiry, literally “Enchanted Regions”, 1975) by Janusz Majewski. We could cite many more examples from his extensive repertoire – and counterexamples as well. For instance, his roles as the plotter Don Roque Busqueros in The Saragossa Manuscript (Rękopis znaleziony w Saragossie, dir. Wojciech Jerzy Has, 1964), the dancing impresario Drybek in Adventure with a Song (Przygoda z piosenką, dir. Stanisław Bareja, 1968), or the relentlessly intelligent Doctor Plama in Hydro-riddle (Hydrozagadka, dir. Andrzej Kondratiuk, 1970) were acted faster, in a somewhat playfully roguish vein. But even when the character required greater dynamism, Maklakiewicz knew how to endure the look of the camera and insert a pause for himself, like a freeze-frame. We will examine two examples from 1966 (i.e., shot three years before The Cruise) in which this slowness of acting, still on the brink of mannerism, illuminated the essence of the problem or topic and became a medium for boredom, resentment, and melancholy.

Zdzisław Maklakiewicz in Adventure with a Song (1968), source: Fototeka FINA

I Would Like to Shave

Let us start from the first meeting of the actor with Andrzej Kondratiuk, a director who greatly appreciated him and would subsequently cast him regularly. In 1966, Maklakiewcz acted in his film étude I Would Like to Shave. The film was intended as a black comedy, a spine-chilling satire shot in the noir convention (evoked by the Western cars, a sensational view in the times of Gomułka, and the very characters: a psychopathic barber and his client, supposedly a gangster), but it may just as fruitfully be interpreted as a study of boredom and its tragic consequences.

The opening view of the short film presents a country road with a puddle in the foreground and the silhouettes of branchy willows – it is a bleak November or March. A bus passes by slowly, with the camera waiting for it to reach the horizon with a masochistic melancholy. Then, a panorama across mud and a turn to a barbershop. The single-storied building with cracked plaster on the walls contains an apartment at the back, the signboard reading Barber & Hairdresser Izdebski was probably already there before the war; in the shop window, the dust covers pre-war photos of celebrities and a small female head cast in plaster with a painted moustache: an advertisement for the shop’s wide range of services. In the window shines, pale as the moon, the pensive face of Maklakiewicz, a saxophone plays lazily in the background. A quick charge into the miserable, but also disturbing, interior of the house: a potted flower here, stuffed birds over there, old fashion magazines on the bench, a funeral wreath, a sleazy washbasin and retro accessories in front of a mirror, an old-fashioned hair dye advertisement on the wall next to the pictures of cars and kittens…[14]. The camera shows the barber from the back and we see a hole in his sweatshirt – a subtle sign that he is lonely. The man draws the curtain closed, no longer expecting anyone.

The following shots are filmed from behind the windscreen of a speeding car. The jazz music also speeds up and a dull provincial landscape flickers behind the windows. When the driver, played by the young Ignacy Gogolewski, parks his stunning machine in front of the barbershop and enters for a shave, we know that we are watching a “two-speed” Poland. The client is elegant, arrogant, and apparently in a hurry, whereas the barber, when he finally emerges from the back of the shop, speaks slowly with the complacent manner of a store clerk[15] and sets to work with ceremony, but also clearly taking his time. Something stinks in the shop – it’s mice. The barber mentions in a subdued tone the cat, which had a magnificent funeral, and then encourages the man to visit the nearby graveyard, containing the tomb of a married beauty who was murdered. For a long time we merely watch the barber’s routine gestures, but the atmosphere is becoming tense. The prolonged shots of sharpening the razor heighten the tension, then the instrument glides down the client’s cheek and stops on his Adam’s apple, while the mouse who gets trapped during the shaving scene is a clear prefiguration of what is to happen (the nagging sense of foreboding is enhanced by the flash cut of the client’s hands interlaced like those of a dead man). Gogolewski jumps from the armchair, opens the locked door, takes a look at the car and, comforted, sits back down again. Ultimately the razor does not hurt him: it is only after the shaving that the polite barber strangles him with a hot compress, then puts on his overcoat and hat, locks the shop and drives away in the foreign car, which he had earlier been devouring with his eyes like a cat his prey. A mysterious Mercedes starts to follow him. Adam Pawlikowski, sitting in the back of the car, reports to his superiors that the wanted man has just left the barbershop and is being tracked down… Ironically, the poky bus from the first scene pushes in between the two cars.

The punchline was probably added for the sake of symmetry and moral, so that the trap slams shut on (does it indeed?) the psychopathic barber. However, the primary intention was that the barbershop is the actual mousetrap[16], fossilised in the backwater town, its walls covered with cuttings from illustrated magazines. In the quiet seldom does anyone visit me here, spoken to the client in a tone of apology, Maklakiewicz manages to convey the suppressed depression, the sense of inferiority, envy, resentment. He does not play a monster, rather a desperate man who got stuck in a sleepy world from a few decades ago, while he dreams of modernity, of speeding up. The chronic boredom, conveyed subtly by the actor, is like a ticking time-bomb in this secluded place.

The difference in speed between Poland under Gomułka and the West was evident at that time, even though Kondratiuk dressed it up in the form of black comedy. He needed the focused, slow acting of Maklakiewicz in order to demonstrate how the feeling of impasse breeds madness and crime. At the beginning of the 1960s, the characters of The Accused (Oskarżeni), a musical by Agnieszka Osiecka and Andrzej Jareck, sang It was all out of boredom, Your Honor, all out of boredom. For, indeed, in terms of prospects, the era of “small stability” must have seemed dramatically dull to ordinary citizens. And although boredom is not itself a historical phenomenon, on the contrary (Boredom throws us into a sense of time that seems to have no specific characteristics: when we are bored, we cease to distinguish between past, present, and future. […] Boredom is therefore a caricature of repetition[17]), Kondratiuk’s short film may be understood not only as a universal psychological portrait of a frustrated man whose melancholy places him beyond time and morality, but as an indictment of a specific sluggish era – and a sluggish country pervaded with the menace of the mousetrap.

Full Steam Ahead

Zdzisław Maklakiewicz in Full Steam Ahead, photo by Jerzy Szurowski, source: Fototeka FINA

In the same year, 1966, Stanisław Lenartowicz filmed a seafaring comedy that never made it – as was rightly foretold in one of the few negative reviews – into the history of Polish cinema[18]. Today, if the title Full Steam Ahead (Cała naprzód) is referred to, it is mainly in the context of Zygmunt Cybulski’s biography, because this was the last film the actor managed to finish (the premiere was in April 1967, three months after his tragic death). No wonder the reviews spoke mostly of the acting prowess of the dearly-missed “Zbyszek” in the lead role, or even of a one actor film. Cybulski played the sailor Janek, who gets off the deck of a general cargo ship, meets an army comrade, Leon (played by Maklakiewicz and barely noticed by the critics), at the dockside and, stuck with him under a bus shelter due to heavy rain, tells the story of his own extraordinary, probably fictitious, adventures.

The film was not discussed in any in-depth articles, but it was rather well received by the daily newspapers’ reviewers. And so, for instance, an anonymous reviewer from Express Wieczorny was quite pleased that the comedy is energetic, filmed like a comic book[19]. Apparently (as evidenced by some more restrained observations that Full Steam Ahead is a light, pleasant, and unpretentious work, but also a bit flat and long-winded), Lenartowicz took to heart the recommendations of the Resolution of the Secretariat of the Central Committee on Cinematography, and opted for an entertainment-oriented pastiche genre movie, or, rather, a number of genres (the first story was made in the horror convention, the second as a pirate film, the third and fourth as adventure comedies). It is, however, fairly probable that the reviewers had been instructed to speak well of a production that had been expensive, filmed in Finland, on the Canary Isles, and in West-African ports, and involved the active participation of the Polish Steamship Company. In 1966, newspaper reports from the film crew’s faraway journey circulated in the press, fueling hopes for a swashbuckling, exotic picture that proved a disappointment after the first run. It lacks panache, poetry, and the fabulousness they bring, assessed one reviewer from The Workers’ Newspaper (Gazeta Robotnicza)[20].

A journalist from The Szczecin Voice (Głos Szczeciński; the framing scenes were shot in Szczecin and the film’s premiere took place there) was perhaps the only one who dared to write that the emperor had no clothes: he pointed out that Lenartowicz’s work is incoherent and lacks pace, which is, after all, a condition sine qua non of cinematic vitality[21]. Indeed, to contemporary viewers, the overseas adventures of Janek seem both tired and insipid and the director’s playing with convention is simply anachronistic. Neither did Teresa Tuszyńska excel in her task of playing a different female role in each episode. Even Lech Kurpiewski, in the text accompanying the DVD edition of the film, admitted cautiously that nobody today will be particularly awestruck with Lenartowicz’s version of action cinema[22].

Zdzisław Maklakiewicz, Zbigniew Cybulski and Krzysztof Litwin in Full Steam Ahead,
photo by Jerzy Szurowski, source: Fototeka FINA

Paradoxically, what proved to be most puzzling – if we are to turn finally to Maklakiewicz’s acting – was not that series of overseas adventures, but rather their narrative frame, that is, the scenes filmed under the shelter in the heavy rain. If Cybulski plays a male Scheherazade, telling his long-winded tales of one thousand and one nights to kill time, then his partner is an incredulous sultan listening deadpan to this bluffing. Behind the curtain of streaming water, their feet in the mud, they are both stuck there statically, as if in the theatre (incidentally, the actors met for the first time on the stage of Wybrzeże Theater in 1959, in Michael Gazzo’s A Hatful of Rain) and they are condemned to conversation. No bus arrives. Janek would not perhaps be so eager to entertain his comrade with tales, but the heavy, stubborn, skeptical look of Leon compels him to continue. On the other side of the wooden partition wall, a beautiful female stranger shivers in the rain with an eavesdropping man (Krzysztof Litwin). All four of them give faces to the characters from the tales[23].

A reviewer from The Workers’ Newspaper complained that the artificiality of a situation in which four characters are crowded together under a narrow roof leads to discomfort, shallowness, and impasse[24], thus touching, it seems, the core of Lenartowicz’s comedy. For it is precisely the constraint and boredom that make up the fundamental metaphor in the film. The shelter standing in the rain on the empty dockside in Szczecin becomes a trap similar to the provincial barbershop in the short film I Would Like to Shave – and also, let us add, to the ship in Piwowski’s The Cruise, the airports of Rzeszów and Kraków in Andrzej Kondratiuk’s The Ascended (Wniebowzięci, 1973), and the deserted border crossing point in Personal Inspection (Rewizja osobista, 1972) by Witold Leszczyński and Andrzej Kostenko. Let us note that in all those “non-places”, which are also in a way metonymies of the Polish People’s Republic, the character played by Maklakiewicz becomes the master of ceremonies, preventing the action, the animator of the illusory action, the hierophant of boredom.

In Full Steam Ahead, his character is constructed upon a minor grudge. As soon as Janek recognises that Leon was an army comrade, he remembers with laughter another acquaintance from the company, a klutz called Flatfeet. As he listens to the anecdote, Maklakiewicz’s face becomes tense and seems to darken – Leon does not overtly admit it, but we can guess that he is Flatfeet. After this affront, the character never cheers up again, he remains – speaking psychological jargon – passive-aggressive. He presents himself as a successful man, on a business trip from Warsaw, settled both in terms of professional and family life, but otherwise saying little about himself. Nor does he want to speak about the army anymore, merely listening with growing skepticism to Janek’s nautical boasting. Slightly overinterpreting, we could say that insofar as the cheerful, “broadly” acting Cybulski represents here the Deleuzean movement–image cinema (a cinema of adventure, slapstick even, anachronistic despite all its vitality, and, therefore, paradoxically, tedious), the focused, static, and slow-moving Maklakiewicz, this “landlubber” gnawed by resentment, is a medium and emissary of time–image cinema[25]. Or to be more precise: the adventure parts belong to movement–image cinema and the narrative frame belongs to time–image cinema, but Janek is more “at home”, in his element, in the swashbuckling tales, and Leon on land. Though speaking little, Maklakiewicz’s character undermines his comrade’s sincerity through his sheer attitude of doubt and introduces the element of falsification, the powers of the false[26] inherent in time–image cinema (even though it is rather the sailor who seems to be lying). Ironical and distrustful, he throws a wrench into the works of his interlocutor and unmasks his posturing, trying to take control over the narration. And then the film’s punchline is subversive: the rain stops, the comrades part, and when Janek embarks on the ship, he sees in the distance Leon working on a cable, painting the ship’s hull. So it is Flatfeet who turns out to be the bluffer, and his business trip from Warsaw proves to be an innocent self-fiction, a remedy for complexes and the boredom of existence. If anything happened in this film “for real”, it was the meeting in the mud under the shelter.

We could say that both these examples (Lenartowicz’s film did not win recognition, whereas Kondratiuk’s short film was awarded a prize at the Oberhausen festival) speak much, above all, about the Polish 1960s, about their agonizing lethargy. The “elemental deceleration”, so to speak, introduced by Maklakiewicz worked either openly (when boredom is the subject matter, as in I Would Like to Shave), or in a subversive, backstage manner, exploding the convention of adventure. As Kurpiewski observed of Full Steam Ahead: Leon is a typical product of the “small stability” of the second half of the 1960s in Poland. A guy habituated to the fact that at every step – and officially – he is being sold snake oil[27]. This is why Maklakiewicz’s acting reversed, as it were, the intended message of the film: from the romantic, jaunty call to life activity[28] that we hear in the title, it shifted the accent to being stuck in an impasse as the fundamental diagnosis of reality, an idea he subsequently developed and intensified in Piwowski’s The Cruise (Rejs, 1970).


Zdzisław Maklakiewicz in The Law and the Fist, photo by Jan Ossowski, source: Fototeka FINA

Throughout the 1970s, Maklakiewicz acted ever more slowly and improvised more often, which biographers and those who witnessed the times attributed to his deepening problems with alcohol[29]. From the meticulous portraits of villains he often played at the beginning of his career such as Czesiek the looter in The Law and the Fist (Prawo i pięść, 1964) by Jerzy Hoffman and Edward Skórzewski, a Home Army soldier in Jerzy Passendorfer’s Fire Bath (Skąpani w ogniu, 1964) and Battle Colors (Barwy walki, 1964), or, finally, the slick shop clerk Mraczewski in The Doll (Lalka, 1968) by Wojciech Jerzy Has he turned to more nonchalantly sketched characters, in whose skin he was authentic, or at least seemed so it should suffice to cite his cult roles in The Ascended (1974) and How It’s Done (Jak to się robi, 1974) by Andrzej Kondratiuk, but also his role as Zdzisiek in Witold Leszczyński’s Spiritual Exercises (Rekolekcje; 1977) and, for juxtaposition, the ironic butler in Ryszard Ber’s TV series The Doll (1977). But then he was a weird actor. The kind of actor that acted so much that he wouldn’t act at all – we read in one portrait of him. And then: A professional with the soul of an amateur, an impatient natural. He didn’t like to play “by the previous line of dialogue”, that is, by the previous line of his partner, he preferred to improvise. Rehearsals annoyed him, he preferred surprises[30]. Tadeusz Lubelski offered an interesting interpretation of the actor’s liberal attitude toward the letter of the script: The secret of his success was the demonstrated disregard for his profession. As we know, acting consists of speaking through somebody else’s text. Maklakiewicz would suggest in every role he played that it would be better if he just said everything in his own words. This suggestion did not come from the vain conviction that he would rather “be himself than act”. He didn’t like to be himself, because he didn’t like his lot. But he disliked his characters even more. Thus he played them, as if telling the audience: “If I am to play such a character, I would rather be myself”[31].

When giving advice as a colleague to Tomasz Lengren, a self-taught actor whom he met several times on the film set, he recommended to him a radical restraint of expression: An actor has to act, because that’s what he gets paid for, but to avoid shame, he should rather act… with temperance. Paradoxically, he argued, the fewer acting tools one uses, the greater one’s chances of piquing the audience’s curiosity, even for a short while. In a Polish film, time and again you have to shoot at an enemy. You take out, if you know what I mean, the Luger you captured, you take aim and produce a grim expression on your face… Well, that’s not it! Twice not it. What then is the audience looking at? At the muzzle. If you want anybody to notice that you were even on the screen, shoot with a mask of stone on your face, then the audience will shift their gaze from the muzzle to your eyes. […] If you have nothing to act, then just don’t…[32]. Who knows, perhaps what made him an interesting actor was that very thing that would have been a curse for another artist: an excessive number of walk-on parts. Left with merely a moment, Maklakiewicz tried to mesmerise the audience, to grab them by the face, as in the often-related theatre anecdote, and would often slow down his acting; he approached the task in a contemplative manner.

Yet behind the contemplation, there hid also the sister of boredom – melancholy. The actor would saturate even his comedy roles with it. Krzysztof Mętrak put it well: It was as if something nagged at him and he was a bit cruel to himself. He gradually turned his slovenliness into a lifestyle, for he wanted to control his own pessimism and make bitterness a kind of inverse of utmost harmony[33]. Let us recall here the ne’er-do-well Karolak from Jerzy Gruza’s A Party for Ten People and Three (Przyjęcie na dziesięć osób plus trzy; 1973, but which only premiered in 1980). This slovenly hero who leaves prison and blackmails his mother into giving him her pension (the famous: Mom, or I’ll cut myself), only to emerge as champion of the world at the local beer kiosk, should in fact be funny. And so he is, but in a bitterly lyrical manner, as if lingering, just as in the song he whistles yearningly about a small beer that shall be a substitute for tears. This is the anthem of those who are in no hurry because there is nowhere to go.

There is an exquisite scene in Gruza’s production where a group of layabouts is dragged to work shovelling rubble, but when they learn the hourly pay rate, the entire group freezes – no one is eager to work in the parching heat for the absurdly low pay. Here, Karolak acts as the brakeman, holding his friends back with a mere disdainful look. The production was shelved because it revealed the truth about the concealed unemployment and the behind-the-scenes reality of the socialist economy, and, quite significantly, it was released two months after the shipyard strikes. It was already known by then that slowness and refusal to work have real political potential, that they could be an efficient strategy – but at the beginning of Gierek’s decade this type of political message ran strongly contrary to the ideology of “renewal”. A bit like Maklakiewicz’s entire manner of acting in those days.

Zdzisław Maklakiewicz in Personal Inspection, photo by Jerzy Troszczyński, source: Fototeka FINA 

A year previously he had at last played the lead in a cinematic production – the customs officer in Personal Inspection (Rewizja osobista) by Leszczyński and Kostenko. It was, as he confessed to the press, an interesting character, very close to my heart and full of potential in terms of acting… I am very satisfied playing this role. One of the greatest that Polish film has offered me so far[34]. By irony of fate, the film was poorly received[35], and although this is not the place to vindicate the work or the actor, it must be admitted that the character of the sidelined customs officer Roman was indeed rendered multidimensional by Maklakiewicz’s performance. The actor probably drew many elements from his own biography: he said that his character is not a homogeneous character and that this man has had his share of struggles. Life was not kind to him. He was wronged, he lost, even though he was morally in the right[36]. But if one were to choose a single acting device to capture bitterness, resentment, and a sense of moral superiority mingled with humiliation, and, moreover, to play this from an official, though precarious, position of power (these are just several traits of the complex portrait of Roman), then one would have to go with precisely that acting device which Maklakiewicz used so often: enduring, holding back. His motionless face, almost totally lacking expression, became in Personal Inspection a screen that deflected the emotions of the tourists detained at the border crossing-point. The longueurs, which brought the film much criticism, were imbued with tension and filled with his passive presence – in this new-wave example of time–image cinema, it was the character of the customs officer that had power over time, who enthralled, gave depth, and dictated the pace.

Zdzisław Maklakiewicz could obviously not have known Josif Brodsky’s In Praise of Boredom, nor any of his numerous praises of melancholy[37], but he had an actor’s intuition, which he fortuitously coupled with his temper. By means of his slow-paced acting, he could unmask the reality of the Polish People’s Republic, but one may also get the impression that he began to turn slowness and minimalism into a philosophy of life. Among the many film screenplays that he invented and related at the bar table, the one about a wooden stick is most often repeated: the camera would show a man standing on a little bridge and throwing a wooden stick into the stream, then it would run down, take a close-up, and film the stick fighting with the current. And that was it. The story, depending on the source, had various punchlines (because this is a psychological thriller, this is my life, etc.)[38], but in the context of our reflections we could add one more: if Maklakiewicz had ever realized this film about a stick, he would indeed have become the precursor of pure slow cinema in Poland.


Translated by Blanka Domachowska

[1] Translator’s note: The  title of the article published originally in Polish included a play on words that does not translate to English. The word used to describe Zdzisław Maklakiewicz was "wolny", which can mean both "free/independent" and "slow", depending on the context. The pun was that Zdzisław Maklakiewicz was both". [back]
[2] The current of “Polish slow cinema” (ex post) could include, for example, Marek Piwowski’s The Cruise, the cinema of Witold Leszczyński or, in part, the cinema of the Kondratiuk brothers; although I am obviously saying this with some exaggeration, by way of jest, because we had little auteurial contemplative cinema in the 1960s and 1970s. However, what we did have at times were longueurs… [back]
[3] This is discussed by, among others, Marek Hendrykowski (The Cruise, Wydawnictwa Naukowe UAM, Poznań 2005) and Monika Talarczyk (PRL się śmieje. Polska komedia filmowa lat 1945–1989, Wydawnictwo TRIO, Warszawa 2011). [back]
[4] The scene was invented the night before in SPATiF Club by Zdzisław Maklakiewicz, Marek Piwowski, and Janusz Głowacki, when Jan Himilsbach was absent (hence his listening with genuine interest). Maciej Łuczak reveals the inebriated backstage details of filming the scene, relating the story told by the cinematographer of The Cruise, Marek Nowicki: What we see in the film is the only version where it doesn’t show that the actors are groggy. The text of the monologue about Polish cinema was actually written, but Maklakiewicz had trouble repeating it. But he was a professional and improvised on the set – he knew how to speak off the cuff. According to another version, the actors simply had a heavy hangover. M. Łuczak, Rejs, czyli szczególnie nie chodzę na filmy polskie, Prószyński i s-ka, Warszawa 2002, p. 19. [back]
[5] W. Otto, Zdzisław Maklakiewicz, Biblioteka “Więzi”, Warszawa 2008, p. 76. [back]
[6] He played everything that was offered to him, summarised Lech Kurpiewski, by whose count Maklakiewicz had acted in about a hundred films, which accounts for a quarter of all Polish films produced in the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s. However, these were usually minor roles, sometimes not even mentioned in the credits. Cf. L. Kurpiewski, Indywidualista w duecie, “Film”, 13 December 1992, p. 10. [back]
[7] Wojciech Otto writes about gems and little gems, emphasizing the actor’s gift to imbue even the few minutes he often had at his disposal with his personality. W. Otto, op. cit., pp. 165–166. [back]
[8] Zdzisław Maklakiewicz, dir. Łukasz Kos and Jacek Papis, TVP II Channel, 1996. [back]
[9] M. Maklakiewicz, Maklak oczami córki, Prószyński i s-ka, Warszawa 2015. [back]
[10] Cf. M. Łuczak, Wniebowzięci, czyli jak to się robi hydrozagadkę?, Prószyński i s-ka, Warszawa 2004; G. Michalik, Wniebowzięty. Rzecz o Zdzisławie Maklakiewiczu i jego czasach, Vis-à-vis, Kraków 2015; W. Kałużyński, Wniebowzięci, [In:] idem, Niebieskie ptaki PRL-u, PWN, Warszawa 2014. [back]
[11] Translator's note: As per the note to the title, "slow and independent"  is a descriptive translation of the word "wolny" originally used in Polish  – meaning both slow and free/independent. [back]
[12] Pszoniak was a fast actor and I found it terrific that there was finally somebody in Poland who knew how to play fast – said Andrzej Żuławski in an extended interview when discussing The Devil (Diabeł, 1972). And earlier: Poland lived in a slowed-down rhythm. The Polish People’s Republic was, which we tend to forget today, a slow country, because everything proceeded very slowly. They acted slowly, there was time for everything, you stood in the queue, sat in a restaurant for three hours. Theatrical performances also lasted three hours. Communism had totally different rhythms to the rest of the world. And, for me, this rhythm was terribly annoying, because it so happened that I passed my years of study and youth somewhere else, I got used to a different pace. This slowness, this Polish ceremony, ceremony of acting… it irritated me. P. Kletowski, P. Marecki, Żuławski. Przewodnik Krytyki Politycznej, Wydawnictwo Krytyki Politycznej, Warszawa 2008, p. 166. [back]
[13] You could sense that the nonchalant air of this student was a kind of defense against the tension lived by a man who moved on the very thin line between success and disaster. In the ragged voice and arrogant look of Maklakiewicz, there was the hidden desperation of a man condemned to a risky and lonely struggle – wrote Krzysztof Demidowicz about this role in the tribute Maklak (“Film” 2000, No. 6, p. 110). [back]
[14] As a whole, this resembles an expressionistic, sullen junkyard which emanates terror – observes Wojciech Otto, finding even an allusion to Hitchhock’s films. W. Otto, op. cit., pp. 174–175. [back]
[15] Maklakiewicz will play the character of the store clerk Mraczewski (slick and servile) two years later in The Doll by Has. In the same year, he will become the lazy, reticent barber in The Pact of Maturity [Cyrograf dojrzałości] by Jan Łomnicki. He was often cast in the roles of waiters, bar tenders, shop assistants, and officials. [back]
[16] Cf. M. Jazdon, Motyw pułapki, czyli “Chciałbym się ogolić”, [In:] Andrzej Kondratiuk, ed. M. Hendrykowski, Wydawnictwo Apeks, Poznań–Konin 1996. [back]
[17] M. Zaleski, Nuda powtórzeń?, [In:] Nuda w kulturze, ed. P. Czapliński, P. Śliwiński, Rebis, Poznań 1999, p. 64. [back]
[18] (kaj), A w kinach…, “Gazeta Robotnicza”, 27 April 1967, No. 99. [back]
[19] And all that we get to see there: pirates, glimpses of nudity, fantastic adventures, frights, romances, and slugfests – now that’s cinema. There you are. We have already gotten out of the habit of thinking that cinema is above all about motion and business dealings, sensations, gorgeous landscapes, heroic feats, and feminine charms. A wide assortment of all this has been presented on the screen. Seafaring tales of pirates and gales are an inexhaustible ocean of topics for the cinema, and a salty bite for the audience. X, “Cała naprzód” albo: “Mów mi Gloria”, “Express Wieczorny”, 17 April 1967, No. 92. [back]
[20] (kaj), A w kinach…, op. cit. [back]
[21] My chief grievance with this film concerns the boredom filling many meters of the filmstrip. A further grievance is about the poverty of imagination, the lack of inventiveness, and the colorless acting. But thanks to all this, the film is perfectly lackluster: it won’t entertain anyone, it won’t prick anyone, it won’t delight anyone. R. Chaturski, Cała naprzód, “Głos Szczeciński” 1967, No. 15 (89). [back]
[22] L. Kurpiewski, Cała naprzód (in the series Skarby polskiego kina), Wydawnictwo De Agostini, Warszawa 2006. [back]
[23] In the third story, Maklakiewicz played with incredible grace (in Wojciech Otto’s opinion, op. cit., p. 173) an annoying journalist, a “champion of the world” whom the crew teaches a lesson and gives a serious scare. The reviewers focused rather on this other character, an overdrawn cabaret figure, a product of Janek’s imagination that was quite unrealistic. Yet Maklakiewicz played the role of Leon more subtly and with greater naturalism (and, of most importance to these reflections: more slowly). [back]
[24] In fact, the most important are the real scenes: when sailor Janek (Zbigniew Cybulski), partly of his own accord, partly prodded by circumstances, begins to manically weave his made-up tales. So, the filmmakers put themselves in quite an inconvenient position – by putting four characters under a small roof. This situational constraint is reflected in the psychological constraint and also in the actor’s performance, (kaj), A w kinach…, op. cit. [back]
[25] Cf. G. Deleuze, Cinema. 1. The Movement-Image, trans. H. Tomlinson and B. Habberjam, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis 1986; idem, Cinema 2. The Time-Image, trans. H. Tomlinson and R. Galeta, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis 1989. [back]
[26] Cf. Ibid., Chapter 6: The powers of the false, pp. 126–155. The issues of the relationship between film image and truth are very complex, but, to put it in a very simplified way, Deleuze demonstrates that movement-image is more easily verified and in this sense it is either “true” or not, whereas time-image blurs the difference between fiction and reality: narrations [become] falsifying and stories, simulations. The whole cinema becomes a free, indirect discourse (p. 155). [back]
[27] L. Kurpiewski, Cała naprzód, op. cit., p. 12. [back]
[28] As Lenartowicz himself declared. Ibid., p. 10. [back]
[29] He was an actor for whom his own life was poorly written. But his weaknesses seemed (and proved) better than the assets of many others, who were more dignified, more honored, more godly, more anointed by the so-called great art. Even those who reproached him that he was wasting himself, spreading himself too thin, were well aware that he was not stuffed with straw – wrote Krzysztof Mętrak in his valedictory column Zdzisio, [In:] idem, Po seansie, Czytelnik, Warszawa 1988, p. 25. [back]
[30] L. Kurpiewski, Indywidualista…, op. cit., p. 10. [back]
[31] T. Lubelski, column, “Ekrany” 2015, No. 3–4, p. 60. [back]
[32] T. Lengren, Tak zwana psychologia głębi, “Film” 2000, No. 11, p. 162. [back]
[33] K. Mętrak, op. cit., p. 24. [back]
[34] O dwóch takich, co się dają lubić, Zbigniew Maklakiewicz in conversation with Adam Zarzycki, “Magazyn Filmowy” 1971, No. 49 (208), p. 10. [back]
[35] I discuss this at greater length in my text You have beautiful sights here, gentlemen. What can be found during a "Personal Search"? [Piękne widoki, panowie, stąd macie. Co widać w „Rewizji osobistej”?] “Pleograf. Kwartalnik Akademii Polskiego Filmu” 2017, No. 2, as well as in the book You have got beautiful sights here, gentlemen. On Polish socioconsumerism cinema [Piękne widoki, panowie, stąd macie. O kinie polskiego sockonsumpcjonizmu], Universitas, Kraków 2019. [back]
[36] O dwóch takich…, op. cit. [back]
[37] Melancholy allows one to see that this “burdensome” world, into which we have been, whether we like it or not, initiated, is full of internal cracks, weak spots, contradictions, and that it won’t survive if we don’t participate in it. […] In this one moment of melancholic tenderness – for what else to call it – the burden becomes light. A. Bielik-Robson, Melancholia i ekstaza, [In:] Nuda w kulturze…, op. cit., p. 49. [back]
[38] Cf. T. Lengren, op. cit., p. 162; M. Łuczak, Wniebowzięci…, op. cit., p. 155. [back]


Zdzisław Maklakiewicz as a “Slow and Independent” Actor

The text claims that Zdzisław Maklakiewicz was a “slow and independent” actor: he was considered an outsider, a master of the episode, but also usually acted without haste. His restrained expression exposed the boredom and apathy of life in the Polish People's Republic (as in the two films from 1966 discussed here) and gradually changed into a way of acting, a mask of melancholy, in his films from the 1970s. Today, we can look at Maklakiewicz's original acting from a slow cinema perspective, of which he was a somewhat clownish precursor.

Key words: Zdzisław Maklakiewicz, acting, boredom, slowness, melancholy, cinema of the Polish People’s Republic

Justyna Jaworska – works at the Department of Film and Visual Culture at the Institute of Polish Culture of the University of Warsaw; has recently been focusing on the Polish film of early 1970s in the context of socialist consumption and on the queer and “underquality” in the visual culture of Polish People’s Republic. Author of the monograph Cywilizacja „Przekroju”. Misja obyczajowa w magazynie ilustrowanym (WUW, Warszawa 2008) and the book „Piękne widoki, panowie, stąd macie”. O kinie polskiego sockonsumpcjonizmu (Universitas, Kraków 2019). Editor of the monthly “Dialog”.

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