Wajda, Andrzej (b. 1926)

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WAJDA, ANDRZEJ (b. 1926)


Polish film director.

A world-renowned Polish director, Andrzej Wajda was born into an army officer's family in the town of Suwalki in 1926. His father was killed by the Soviets in Katyń Forest in 1940. As a teenager, Wajda took part in the resistance movement against the Nazis. After the war, he studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, but in 1949 he enrolled at the Film School in Lodz. Despite the dictates of socialist realism, which had dominated Polish cinema during the early 1950s, Wajda's studies in Lodz exposed him to the works of the French film avant-garde and Italian neorealism. These artistic influences combined with his painter's eye, strong personality, preoccupation with history, and with the sociopolitical processes in his homeland to define Wajda's work in film.

Wajda graduated from the Film School in 1953 and made his feature debut, A Generation, two years later. The story of young resistance fighters from a Warsaw working-class neighborhood constituted the first part of a trilogy on the war experience in Poland. The subsequent Canal (1957) and Ashes and Diamonds (1958), which won international awards in Cannes and Venice, quickly established Wajda as a major European director. Both films captured the tragedy of Home Army soldiers trapped in the Dantean sewers during the Warsaw uprising of 1944 and caught in the web of history after the liberation. During Stalinism, official regime propaganda painted noncommunist resisters as renegades and fascists. As a result, and because both movies questioned the Polish patriotic canon and its glorification of romantic heroism and martyrdom, they were politically controversial. This historical and cultural revisionism, combined with new aesthetic approaches, marked the advent of the Polish School, a generation of filmmakers who raised Polish cinema to international prominence. Other directors of the new school included Andrzej Munk, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Stanislaw Różewicz, and Kazimierz Kutz.

Wajda's war trilogy was complemented by Lotna (1959), the tale of a Polish cavalry unit battling the Germans in 1939. Although artistically less successful and considered a failure by its creator, the film depicted the end of the noble ethos, which is dramatically captured in the climactic scene involving a battle between Polish cavalrymen and German tanks. Lotna also concluded the initial phase of Wajda's career. His subsequent output varied in theme and quality. Innocent Sorcerers (1960), depicting the jazz generation in contemporary Poland, Samson (1961), the story of a young Jew from the ghetto, and the Yugoslavian-made Siberian Lady Macbeth (1962) did not match the intensity and originality of Wajda's early films. But Wajda returned to the center of attention with the critically acclaimed Ashes (1965), an iconoclastic epic about Polish patriots fighting for independence during the Napoleonic Wars, and with Everything for Sale (1968), a tribute to Zbigniew Cybulski, the legendary lead actor of Ashes and Diamonds, who died tragically in 1967.

Wajda solidified his international reputation with several adaptations of Polish literature, including Landscape after the Battle (1970), based on Tadeusz Borowski's short stories; Birch Wood (1970), a superb screen version of Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz's story by that name; and The Wedding (1973), a colorful and convention-breaking adaptation of Stanislaw Wyspiański's play. Promised Land (1975), a brilliant fresco of the industrial revolution in nineteenth-century Lodz, based on a novel by Wladyslaw Reymont, was nominated for an Academy Award. The 1970s, however, also witnessed Wajda's growing criticism of the prevailing political and social climate in Poland, torn between the self-laudatory and corrupt communist regime, political unrest, and widespread public apathy. As the head of the film company Unit X, Wajda actively promoted a young generation of gifted filmmakers, among them Agnieszka Holland, Krzysztof Kieślowski, and Marceli Loziński, whose biting critique of society in crisis was dubbed the "cinema of moral concern." Wajda's own contribution to this trend was Rough Treatment (1978), the chilling account of a journalist's oppression.

Wajda's strong political stance came to the fore in the uncompromising Man of Marble (1977), the story of the rise and fall of a socialist working-class hero, and its sequel, Man of Iron (1981), which linked the plot of the first film to the birth of the Solidarity movement. Released during the Solidarity revolution, Man of Iron was an instant success, capturing audiences worldwide and earning Wajda the Palme d'Or at Cannes. After martial law was imposed in Poland, Wajda worked partly abroad. He directed Danton (1982) in France, with Gérard Depardieu as Danton and Wojciech Pszoniak as Robespierre; and A Love in Germany (1983), a poignant story of the forbidden love affair between a German woman, played by Hanna Schygulla, and a Polish slave worker in Nazi Germany, was filmed in West Germany.


A Generation (1955)

Canal (1957)

Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

Lotna (1959)

Innocent Sorcerers (1960)

Samson (1961)

Siberian Lady Macbeth (1962; Yugoslavia)

Love at Twenty (1962; France)

Ashes (1965)

The Gates to Paradise (1968; Yugoslavia)

Roly Poly (1968)

Everything for Sale (1968)

Hunting Flies (1969)

Birch Wood (1970)

Landscape after the Battle (1970)

Pilat and Others (1972; West Germany)

The Wedding (1973)

Promised Land (1975)

The Shadow Line (1976)

Man of Marble (1977)

Rough Treatment (1978)

The Maids from Wilko (1979)

The Orchestra Conductor (1980)

Man of Iron (1981)

Danton (1982; France)

A Love in Germany (1983; West Germany)

A Chronicle of Amorous Incidents (1986)

The Possessed (1988; France)

Korczak (1990)

The Crowned-Eagle Ring (1992)

Nastassya (1994)

Holy Week (1995)

Miss Nothing (1996)

Pan Tadeusz (1998)

Franciszek Klos' Sentence (2000)

Revenge (2002)

An ardent supporter of Solidarity and a leading moral authority, Wajda undertook a short-lived political career in independent Poland. In 1989 he was elected to parliament as a senator. His subsequent films, however, proved rather disappointing and had little impact on audiences. The notable exceptions include the biographical Korczak (1990), a chronicle of the last days of the legendary Polish Jewish physician Janusz Korczak (1878–1942) and charity worker, and an adaptation of the great Romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz's Pan Tadeusz (1998). Equally successful were two TV films, Franciszek Klos's Sentence (2000), a bleak and violent tale of a Nazi collaborator, and Wajda's contribution to Broken Silence, a series of film interviews with Holocaust survivors produced by Steven Spielberg. Throughout his long career, Wajda also directed a vast number of critically acclaimed stage productions. He received an honorary Academy Award in 2000.

See alsoCinema; Poland.


Primary Sources

Malatyńska, Maria, ed. Andrzej Wajda—o polityce, o sztuce, o sobie. Warsaw, 2000.

Wajda, Andrzej. Double Vision: My Life in Film. New York, 1989.

——. Kino i reszta świata. Kraków, 2000.

Wertenstein, Wanda, ed. Wajda mówi o sobie. Kraków, 1991.

Secondary Sources

Falkowska, Janina. The Political Films of Andrzej Wajda: Dialogism in Man of Marble, Man of Iron, and Danton. Providence, R.I., 1996.

Michalek, Boleslaw. The Cinema of Andrzej Wajda. Translated by Edward Rothert. London, 1973.

Michalek, Boleslaw, and Frank Turaj. The Modern Cinema of Poland. Bloomington, Ind., 1988.

Orr, John, and Elzbieta Ostrowska, eds. The Cinema of Andrzej Wajda: The Art of Irony and Defiance. London, 2003.

Taylor, Richard, et al., eds. The BFI Companion to Eastern European and Russian Cinema. London, 2000.

Mikolaj Kunicki