Nationality: Polish. Born: Warsaw, Poland, 28 November 1948. Education: Graduated from the Filmova Akademie Muzickych Umeni (FAMU) film school in Prague, where she studied directing. Career: Maintained her studies in Prague even after the Soviet invasion; was jailed by the authorities after months of harassment by
police, 1970; returned to Poland and became member of film collective "X," headed by Andrzej Wajda, 1972; began career as a production assistant to director Krzysztof Zanussi on Illumination, 1973; worked in Polish theatre and television, 1970s; began authoring scripts of films directed by Wajda, 1979; directed first feature, Provincial Actors, 1979; moved to Paris after the declaration of martial law in Poland, and began making documentaries for French television, 1981; earned first major international acclaim for Angry Harvest, 1985; member of board of directors of Zespoly Filmowne; member of board of directors of Polish Filmmakers Association. Awards: Award at TV Films and Plays Festival, Olsztyn, 1976; Prize at San Remo Festival, and MIFED, Milan, 1976, for Sunday Children; Grand Prix, Koszalin Festival, 1979, for Provincial Actors; Cowinner, International Critics Prize, Cannes Festival, 1980, for Provincial Actors; Grand Prize, Gdansk Festival, 1981, for The Fever; New Cinema Grand Prize, Montreal Festival, 1981, for A Woman Alone; Oscar nomination, Best Foreign Language Film, 1985, for Angry Harvest; Golden Globe Award, Best Foreign Language Film, National Board of Review, Best Foreign Language Film, and Oscar nomination, Best Screenplay, 1990, for Europa, Europa.Agnt: William Morris, 151 E. Camino Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
Films as Director/Screenwriter:
Le Complot (co-d only)
Evening at Abdon's (An Evening at Abdon) (for TV)
Niedzielne Dzieci (Sunday Children) (for TV)
Something for Something (for TV); Screen Tests (episode in sketch film)
Aktorzy prowincjonalni (Provincial Actors)
Fever (The Fever: The Story of the Bomb)
A Woman Alone (A Lonely Woman) (co-dir)
Bittere ernte (Angry Harvest)
To Kill a Priest (Le complot) (co-sc)
The Secret Garden (d only)
Total Eclipse (d only)
The Third Miracle
Golden Dreams; Julia Walking Home (+ co-sc)
Blizna (The Scar) (Kieslowski) (ro as Secretary)
Dead Case (sc); Bez znieczulenia (Without Anesthesia; RoughTreatment) (Wajda) (sc)
Cziowiek z zelaza (Man of Iron) (Wajda) (sc)
Przesluchanie (role as Witowska)
Danton (Wajda) (sc)
Ein Liebe en Deutschland (A Love in Germany) (Wajda) (sc)
Anna (Bogayevicz) (sc); Les Possedes (sc)
La Amiga (sc)
Korczak (Wajda) (sc)
Trois Couleurs: Bleu (Kieslowski) (additional dialogue)
Trois Couleurs: Rouge (Kieslowski) (script consultant)
By HOLLAND: book—
Olivier, Olivier (Script and Director Series), with Regis Debray, Yves Lapointe, Gaile Sarma, Leon Steinmetz, Anga Karetnikova and Inga Karetnikova, Westport, Connecticut, 1996.
By HOLLAND: articles—
"Agnieszka Holland: le cinema polonais cintinue d'exister mais un lui a coupe le souffle," interview by P. Li in Avant-Scene Cinéma (Paris), December 1983.
"Lessons from the Past," interview by Peter Brunette in Cineaste (New York), no. 1, 1986.
"Off-screen: A Pole Apart," interview by J. Hoberman in VillageVoice (New York), 18 March 1986.
"Dialogue on Film: Agnieszka Holland," in American Film (New York), September 1986.
"Lekja historii," interview by J. Wroblewski in Kino (Warsaw), August 1989.
Holland, Agnieszka, "Felix dia Wajdy," in Kino (Warsaw), April 1991.
"Spotkanie z Agnieszka Holland," interview by T. Lubelshi in Kino (Warsaw), April 1991.
"Nowa gra," interview by Z. Benedyktow in Kino (Warsaw), 16 February 1992.
"Feint Praise," an interview with Jonathan Romney, in Time Out (London) 13 May 1992.
"Holland," interview by E. Krolikowska-Avis in Kino (Warsaw), October 1992.
"Out of the Ruins: Lonely People," an interview with Amy Taubin and M. Burman, in Sight and Sound (London), October 1993.
Interview, in Kino (Warsaw), November 1993.
"Raising Hell," an interview with Nick Bradshaw, in Time Out (London), 9 April 1997.
"The Escape of Bresson," in DGA Magazine (Los Angeles), May-June 1997.
"Squaring Off," an interview with A. Taubin, in Village Voice (New York), 14 October 1997.
On HOLLAND: articles—
"Agnieszka Holland," in Avant-Scene Cinéma (Paris), December 1983.
Warchol, T., "The End of a Beginning," in Sight and Sound (London), no. 3, 1986.
Stone, Judy, "Behind Angry Harvest: Polish Politics and Exile," in New York Times, 16 March 1986.
Taubin, Amy, "Woman of Irony," in Village Voice (New York), 2 July 1991.
Quart, Barbara, "Three Central European Women Directors Revisited," in Cineaste (New York), no. 4, 1993
Blinken, A. J., "Going to Extremes," in Harper's Bazaar (New York), February 1993.
Cohen, R., "Holland without a Country," in New York Times, 8 August 1993.
Taubin, Amy, "Imagination among the Ruins," in Village Voice (New York), 17 August 1993.
Clark, J., and H. S. Hample, "Filmographies," in Premiere (New York), September 1993.
Quart, Barbara, "The Secret Garden of Agnieszka Holland," in Ms. (New York), September/October 1993.
Gaydos, Stephen, "For Holland, Less Is More," in Variety (New York), 30 October 1995.
Possu, T., in Filmihullu (Helsinki), no. 5, 1995.
Lally, K., "Holland's America," in Film Journal (New York), October 1997.
* * *
The death camps were liberated decades ago. Auschwitz and Birkenau, Chelmno and Dachau—the ABCD's of the Final Solution—have long been silent memorials to the mass murder of millions. Despite this passage of time—and despite the media-induced impression that Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List is the only movie ever made that confronts the extermination of a people during the Second World War—the Holocaust was and is a fertile subject for cinematic exploration. One filmmaker whose body of work has been profoundly affected by the events of the era is director-screenwriter Agnieszka Holland.
Holland is a Polish Jew who was born scant years after the end of the war. She is not so much interested in the politics of the era, in how and why the German people allowed Hitler to come to power. Rather, a common theme in her films is the manner in which individuals responded to Hitler and the Nazi scourge. This concern is most perfectly exemplified in what is perhaps her most distinguished film to date: Europa, Europa, a German-made feature based on the memoirs of Salamon Perel, who as a teenaged German Jew survived World War II by passing for Aryan in a Hitler Youth academy. This thoughtful, tremendously moving film was the source of controversy on two accounts: it depicts a Jew who compromises himself in order to insure his survival; and it was not named as Germany's official Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award entry, making it ineligible in that category for an Oscar. However, it did earn Holland a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Even though Holland only wrote the script for Korczak—the film was directed by her mentor, Andrzej Wajda—it too is one of her most impassioned works. Her simple, poignant screenplay chronicles the real-life story of a truly gentle, remarkable man: Janusz Korczak (Wojtek Pszoniak), a respected doctor, writer, and children's rights advocate who operated a home for Jewish orphans in Warsaw during the 1930s. Korczak's concerns are people and not politics. "I love children," he states, simply and matter-of-factly. "I fight for years for the dignity of children." In his school, he offers his charges a humanist education. And then the Nazis invade his homeland. Given his station in life, Korczak easily could arrange his escape to freedom. But he chooses to remain with his children and do whatever he must to keep his orphanage running and his children alive, even after they all have been imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto.
After directing several theatrical and made-for-television features in Poland, Holland came to international attention in 1985 with Angry Harvest, a superb drama about a wealthy farmer who offers to shelter a Jewish woman in his cellar in World War II Poland. His repressed sexuality transforms this act of kindness into one of hypocrisy, as he attempts to abuse his guest. Films like Angry Harvest, Korczak, and Europa, Europa serve an essential purpose: they are tools that can be used to educate young people, Jew and non-Jew alike, about the exploitation and extermination of a race. They are monuments, as much to the memory of generations past as to the survival of generations to come.
Another of Holland's themes—which by its very nature also may be linked to the Holocaust—is the loss of innocence among children that occurs by odd, jarring circumstances, rather than the natural progression of growing into adulthood. Olivier, Olivier, like Europa, Europa and Korczak, also is a based-on-fact narrative. It is the intricate account of a country couple whose youngest offspring, Olivier, mysteriously disappears. Six years later he "reappears," but is no longer the special child who was a joy to his family. Instead, he is a Parisian street hustler who claims to have forgotten his childhood. One also can understand Holland's attraction to The Secret Garden, an adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett children's story about a ten-year-old orphan who revitalizes a neglected garden in her uncle's Victorian mansion. And one can see how she would be drawn to Washington Square, Henry James's story of an awkward, unattractive young woman, the daughter of a well-heeled, domineering doctor, who is wooed by a poor-but-handsome fortune hunter. The characters in Washington Square, The Secret Garden, and Olivier, Olivier are further linked in that they share complex familial bonds.
Religion has had a significant presence in Holland's films. In Europa, Europa, the young hero chooses to disavow his Judaism in order to insure his survival. To Kill a Priest is the story of an ill-fated activist priest in Poland, while The Third Miracle deals with a self-doubting clergyman whose job is to scrutinize the lives of potential saints. In these films, Holland is concerned with various aspects of theology, including religious identity, the manner in which religion affects the individual's worldview, and how the religious establishment deals with the passions and politics of its adherents.
Most of Holland's films have been artistically successful. Two exceptions have been To Kill a Priest, an ambitious but ultimately clumsy drama; and Total Eclipse, about the relationship between French poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine (and based on a play by Christopher Hampton). Total Eclipse was a fiasco—one of the more eagerly anticipated yet disappointing films of 1995. Thankfully, however, these failures comprise the minority of Holland's filmic output.