Nationality: Polish. Born: Warsaw, 5 May 1938. Education: Educated in literature and history at Warsaw University, diploma 1959; Warsaw University and State Superior Film School in Lodz, 1960–64. Career: Published first collection of poetry, Quelque part près de soi, 1959; directed first feature (as film student), Rysopis, 1964; Rece de gory banned by Polish authorities, left Poland, 1967; moved to United States, 1984. Awards: Grand Prix for Grand Prize, Bergamo International Film Festival, 1966, for Barrier; Golden Bear, Berlin Film Festival, 1967, for Le Depart; Special Jury Grand Prize, Cannes Festival, 1978, for The Shout; British Film Award and Best Screenplay, Cannes Festival, for Moonlighting, 1982; Special Prize, Venice Film Festival, 1985, for The Lightship.
Films as Director:
Oko wykol (L'Oeil Torve) (short) (+ sc); Hamles (Le PetitHamlet) (short) (+ sc); Erotyk (L'Érotique) (short) (+ sc)
Boks (Boxing) (short) (+ sc); Piednadze albo zycie (La Bourseou la vie) (short) (+ sc); Akt (short) (+ sc)
Rysopis (Identification Marks: None) (+ sc, pr, art d, ed, role as Andrzej Leszczyc)
Walkower (Walkover) (+ sc, co-ed, role as Andrzej Leszczyc)
Bariera (Barrier) (+ sc)
Le Départ (+ co-sc); Rece do gory (Hands Up!) (+ sc, co-art d, role as Andrzej Leszczyc)
Dialog (Dialogue) (+ sc, art d)
The Adventures of Gerard (+ co-sc); Deep End (+ co-sc)
King, Queen, Knave (+ co-sc)
The Shout (+ co-sc)
Moonlighting (+ sc, co-pr)
Success Is the Best Revenge
Torrents of Spring (+ sc)
Ferdydurke (+ sc)
30 Door Key
Niewinni czardodzieje (Innocent Sorcerers) (Wajda) (co-sc)
Noz w wodzie (Knife in the Water) (Polanski) (co-sc); PrzyJaciel (A Friend) (co-sc)
Falschung (Schlöndorff) (role)
White Knights (Hackford) (role)
Big Shots (Mandel) (role)
Mars Attacks! (Burton) (role)
L.A. without a Map (Kaurismäki) (role)
By SKOLIMOWSKI: books—
Quelque part près de soi, Np, 1958.
La Hache et le ciel, Np, 1959.
By SKOLIMOWSKI: articles—
"Passages and Levels: Interview with Jerzy Skolimowski," with Michel Delahaye, in Cahiers du Cinéma in English (New York), December 1967.
"'An Accusation That I Throw in the Face of My Generation'—A Conversation with the Young Polish Director, Jerzy Skolimowski," in Film Comment (New York), Fall 1968.
"Jerzy Skolimowski: A Conversation," with Peter Blum, in FilmCulture (New York), Fall 1968.
Interview with Michel Ciment and Bernard Cohn, in Positif (Paris), February 1972.
"Skolimowski's Cricket Match," interview with Philip Strick, in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1978.
"Jerzy Skolimowski," an interview with P. Carcassonne and others, in Cinématographe (Paris), June 1978.
Interview with K.L. Geist in Films in Review (New York), vol. 33, no. 9, November 1982.
Interview with Dan Yakir in Film Comment (New York), November/December 1982.
Interviews in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), January 1983 and Summer 1984.
Interview with E. Carrière and Michel Ciment in Positif (Paris), February 1986.
"Under Western Eyes: Skolimowski's Conradian Progress," interview with Richard Combs in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), May 1986.
"Jade do Polski robic 'Ferdydurke,"' interview with V. Remy in Kino (Warsaw), June 1990.
Interview with S. Mizrahi in Positif (Paris), March 1992.
Interview with Peter von Bagh, in Filmihullu (Helsinki), no. 6, 1997.
On SKOLIMOWSKI: book—
Borin, Fabrizio, Jerzy Skolimowski, Florence, 1987.
On SKOLIMOWSKI: articles—
Toeplitz, Krzysztof-Teodor, "Jerzy Skolimowski: Portrait of a Debutant Director," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1967.
Thomsen, Christian, "Skolimowski," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1968.
Bean, Robin, "Adventures of Yurek," in Films and Filming (London), December 1968.
"Director of the Year," in International Film Guide 1970, London, 1969.
Lefèvre, R., "Jerzy Skolimowski ou la poésie du dérisoire," in Cinéma (Paris), September/October 1973.
Powers, J., "Under Western Eyes," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), December 1986.
Fuksiewicz, J., "Des Polonais a l'Quest," in CinemAction (Conde-sur-Noireau, France), July 1990.
Saada, N., "Skolimowski tourne Ferdydurke," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), March 1991.
Miodek, M., "Ferdydurke," in Filmowy Serwis Prasowy, vol. 38, no. 3, 1992.
Mizrahi, S., "La porte de la maturite," in Positif (Paris), March 1992.
Borroni, M., "Jerzy sul ring," in Cineforum (Bergamo), January/February 1997.
Azzalin, C., "Meglio camminare," in Segnocinema (Vicenza), January/February 1997.
* * *
Together with Roman Polanski, Jerzy Skolimowski is the most remarkable representative of the second generation of the Polish New Wave. Younger than Wajda, Munk, or Kawalerowicz, these two did not share the hope for a new society after World War II. They are more skeptical filmmakers, to the point of cynicism at times. With Polanski, Skolimowski wrote Knife in the Water, which deals precisely with the relationship between two generations, after having also collaborated on the script of Wajda's Innocent Sorcerers, one of the director's rare attempts at portraying Poland's youth.
A student in ethnography, a poet, an actor, and a boxer, Skolimowski went to the Lodz film school (1960–1964) and graduated with a diploma work that brought world attention to his talent. That film, Rysopis (Identification Marks: None), and its totally controlled sequel Walkover, reveal an astonishing flexible style as it follows a central character, Andrzej Leszczyc, played by Skolimowski himself. Without resorting to a subjective camera, the director nevertheless makes us see reality through his hero. He refuses dramatic plot twists, filming instead in a manner very much like a jazz musician—all rhythm and improvisation. Rysopis tells of the few hours before being called up for military service, while Walkover provides an account of the time preceding a boxing match. A limited number of shots (39 and 29, respectively!) give an extraordinary sense of fluidity, of life caught in its most subtle shifts.
Bariera is a much more literary and symbolic work. It offers the same themes and milieu (young people, often students), although with a dreamlike atmosphere. The film's somnambulistic quality reappears later in Skolimowski's work, though integrated into its realistic surface. "Our cynical and indifferent generation still possesses romantic aspirations," says one of the characters, a statement that accurately sums up the filmmaker's ambivalent attitude toward life.
If Bariera was, according to Skolimowski, influenced by Godard's Pierrot le fou, his next film, Le Départ, shot in Belgium, borrowed two actors, Jean-Pierre Léaud and Catherine Duport, from the French director's Masculin féminin. The film deals with a young hairdresser who dreams of becoming a rally driver, and his relationship with a girl. The same sensitive portrait of youth is found again in a more accomplished work, Deep End, a brilliant portrayal of a London swimming bath attendant and his tragic love affair.
The titles of Skolimowski's films (Walkover, Barrier, Departure, Hands Up, Deep End) suggest the relationship to sports, movement, and physical effort that characterize his nervous and dynamic style. Hands Up, banned for fifteen years by the Polish authorities because of its bleak symbolic portrayal of a group of people shut up inside a railway carriage, prompted Skolimowski to work in the West, though he has always returned regularly to his home country. But difficulties associated with an international career appeared quickly with the failure of The Adventures of Gerard, a spoof on Conan Doyle's Napoleonic novel, and the more evident one of King, Queen, Knave, a film based on Nabokov's novel that was shot in Munich.
However, Skolimowski came back to the forefront of European filmmaking with The Shout and Moonlighting. The former, adapted from a Robert Graves short story, has a sense of the absurd which verges on creating a surrealistic atmosphere—a classic component of Polish culture. This film, which concerns a love triangle between a kind of sorcerer, the woman he is in love with, and her husband, is an intense, haunting piece of work.
Moonlighting, arguably Skolimowski's best film to date, was written and shot within a few months and looks deceptively simple. The tale of four Polish workers sent from Warsaw to refurbish the house a rich Pole has bought in London gradually reveals layers of meaning, commenting on contacts between East and West and repression in Poland. The nightmare emerges slowly from a close scrutiny of reality, confirming that Skolimowski's materialism and lucidity do not contradict but rather refine his unique poetic sensibility.
Subsequent films included Success, The Lightship, Torrents of Spring, and 30 Door Key. Of these, The Lightship was notable for its depiction of a grim power struggle between characters played by Klaus Maria Brandauer and Robert Duvall. Torrents of Spring, meanwhile, a visually lavish drama about a nineteenth-century Russian aristocrat and his love for two women, was based on an Ivan Turgenev story.