Zanussi, Krzysztof

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ZANUSSI, Krzysztof

Nationality: Polish. Born: Warsaw, 17 June 1939. Education: Educated in physics, Warsaw University, 1955–59; faculty of philosophy, University of Cracow, 1959–62; directing course, State Film school, Lodz, graduated 1966. Career: Director, from 1966; appointed to faculty of Lodz film school, and named vice president of Association of Polish Filmmakers, 1973; chosen by Pope John Paul II to make his film biography, From a Far Country, 1980; during suppression of Solidarity movement, directed mainly in Western Europe, 1980s; elected president of FERA (Fédération européenne des réalisateurs de l'audiovisuel), 1990. Awards: Venice Festival prizewinner for The Death of a Provincial, 1966; Best Film, Polish film critics, for The Structure of Crystals, 1970; State Award, Polish Minister of Culture and Arts, 1973; Special Prize, VII Polish Film Festival, 1980; Donatello Prize, for From a Far Country, 1980; Special Jury Prize, Venice Film Festival, 1982; State Prize 1st Class, 1984; Vittorio De Sica International Film Award, Sorrento, 1990.

Films as Director:


Droga do nieba (The Way to the Skies) (amateur film in collaboration with Wincenty Ronisz)


Smierc prowincjala (The Death of a Provincial) (short, diploma film); Przemysl; Maria Dabrowska


Komputery (Computers)


Twarza w twarz (Face to Face) (+ co-sc) (for TV); KrzysztofPenderecki (for TV)


Zaliczenie (An Examination, Pass Mark) (+ co-sc) (for TV); Struktura krsztalu (The Structure of Crystals) (+ co-sc)


Gory o zmierzchu (Mountains at Dusk) (for TV); Zycierodzinne (Family Life) (+ sc)


Rola (Die Rolle) (+ sc) (for West German TV); Za sciana (Behind the Wall) (+ co-sc) (for TV)


Hipoteza (Hypothesis) (+ sc) (for TV)


Illuminacja (Illumination) (+ sc)


The Catamount Killing


Milosierdzie platne z gory (Nachtdienst; Night Duty) (for TV); Bilans kwartalny (A Woman's Decision) (+ sc)


Barwy ochronne (Camouflage) (+ sc)


Anatomie stunde (Lekcja anatomii; Anatomy Lesson) (for TV); Haus der Frauen (House of Women); Penderecki,Lutoslawa; Brigitte Horney


Spirala (Spiral) (+ sc)


Wagen in der Nacht (Ways in the Night; Paths into the Night) (+ sc)


Constans (The Constant Factor)


Kontract (The Contract); From a Far Country; Versuchung (for TV)


Uerreichbare (Imperative)


Blaubart (Bluebeard); Rok spokojnego slonca (The Year ofthe Quiet Sun)


Le Pouvoir du mal (The Power of Evil; Paradigme)


Wherever We Are


Stan Posiadania (Inventory) (+ sc)


Dotkniecie (Touch)


The Last Dance; Wittold Lutoslawski (doc); Zycie Za Zycie (ALife for a Life)


The Silent Touch (+ co-pr); Lang Gespräch mit dem Vogel (for TV) (+ sc)


Cwal (At Full Gallop) (+ sc, pr)


Our God's Brother


Zycie jako smiertelna choroba przenoszona droga plciowa

Other Films:


Amator (Camera Bluff) (Kieślowski) (role as himself)


Kolejnosc uczuc (Sequence of Feelings) (Piwowarski) (pr)


"Steps" (Olszewski) and "Pigs and Pearls" (Nikolic), episodes in Love & Hate (co-pr)


By ZANUSSI: articles—

"The Ethics of Being Krzysztof Zanussi," an interview with S. Murray, in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), September/October 1976.

"Opcja przekorna: za świadomościa," an interview with T. Krzemień, in Kino (Warsaw), February 1977.

"L'Oeuvre de Zanussi: le refus de la compromission," an interview with René Prédal, in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), November 1980.

"The Workings of a Pure Heart," an interview with Jiri Weiss, in Cineaste (New York), vol. 11, no. 2, 1981.

Interview with P. Pawlikowski, in Stills (London), Winter 1982.

Interview, in La Revue du Cinéma (Paris), April 1983.

Interview, in Interview (New York), December 1984.

"Tightrope," an interview with Marcia Pally, in Film Comment (New York), January/February 1986.

Interview, in Etudes Cinématographiques (Paris), no. 156/158, 1987.

Interview with T. Sobolewski, in Kino (Warsaw), June 1988.

"An International Pole," an interview with Ania Witkowska, in Film (London), January 1989.

"Applause for a Donkey," an interview with Z. Pietrasik, in Performing Arts Journal (New York), vol. 12, no. 2/3, 1990.

"Ma premiere visite au cinéma," in Positif (Paris), June 1994.

Interview with Wanda Wertenstein, in Kino (Warsaw), November 1995.

Interview with Rafal Stec, in Kino (Warsaw), December 1997.

On ZANUSSI: books—

D'Agostino, Paolo, Krzysztof Zanussi, Florence, 1980.

Pezzali, Giacomo, Polonia ultimo ciak: l'avventura del film "Da unpaese lontano" di Krzysztof Zanussi, Milan, 1982.

Paul, David W., editor, Politics, Art and Commitment in the EasternEuropean Cinema, New York, 1983.

Estève, Michel, Krzysztof Zanussi, Paris, 1987.

On ZANUSSI: articles—

Hopfinger, M., "Zanussiego ćwiczenia z źycia," in Kino (Warsaw), January 1973.

Boleslaw, M., "The Cinema of Krzysztof Zanussi," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1973.

"Krzysztof Zanussi," in International Film Guide 1976, London, 1975.

"Director of the Year," International Film Guide (London, New York), 1976.

Tassone, A., and others, special Zanussi section of Positif (Paris), December 1979.

Martin, Marcel, and others, "Les Constantes de Krzysztof Zanussi," special section of Image et Son (Paris), September 1980.

Cowie, Peter, "Made in Poland: The Metaphysical Cinema of Krzysztof Zanussi," in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1980.

Paul, David, and S. Glover, "The Difficulty of Moral Choice: Zanussi's Contract and The Constant Factor," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1983/84.

Josephson, E., article in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 33, no. 1, 1991.

Filmowy Servis Prasowy (Warsaw), March 1991.

Möller, Olaf, "Die ruhende Sonne oder ein Mann bleibt sich treu," in Film-Dienst (Cologne), 28 April 1992.

Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 6, 1994.

Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 2, 1996.

Rehlin, Gunnar, "Danish Girls Show Everything (Danske piger viseralt)," in Variety (New York), 30 March 1998.

* * *

The cinema of Krzysztof Zanussi explores a continuum of conflict ranging from the individual and interpersonal to the larger social order. He explores the relationship of the individual's conscience to society's norms of morality. Appearing as himself in Krzysztof Kieslowski's Camera Buff, Zanussi says that he feels an obligation to question why the corrupt manipulators are the survivors. His is a provocative, cerebral cinema, objectifying its characters through both attention to detail and cool observation of the stages of conflict. During this process Zanussi demands the intellectual participation of his audience, and ultimately its response. The spectator should attain the level of self-awareness that his protagonists reach.

Zanussi has worked chiefly under a system of government subsidy in his native Poland. He has headed one of the three Polish film units. Yet while West German television has produced many of his recent, non-Polish films, they are still subject to Polish government approval. His films have therefore occupied a space between individual self-expression and government tolerance. Prior self-censorship has been a factor in both his message and the discourse which conveys it. No clear separation exists between the private world of Zanussi the artist-intellectual and the public realm in which he operates.

Three major types of conflicts permeate the films. The first is between determinism and free will (often clouded by chance). He elaborates this as the bridgeable gap between empiricism (rational analysis) and Catholicism (grace) in, for example, Illumination, The Constant Factor, and Imperative. Zanussi's background in physics and philosophy strongly influences these films. Conflict between the individual and the corruption of (contemporary Polish) society is explored in Camouflage, The Constant Factor, and Contract. Zanussi masks the conflict in Ways in the Night, which presents the dilemma of an intelligent, sensitive young German officer who must uphold the policies of the National Socialists. The third major opposition is between the individual's self-awareness and the invisible (yet pervasive) pressures of the immediate social milieu; this is presented most strongly in Spiral and The Contract. From a Far Country, Zanussi's biography of the Polish Pope John Paul II, is an important key to understanding Zanussi's world view. In this film, no separation exists between the actions of the individual and the larger network of social forces in which he moves. The dichotomy of free will and determinism underlies the entire project.

Although Zanussi sets his films in a precise historical context, he does explore some of the issues that have been universally debated by artists and intellectuals for many centuries. What distinguishes him as a filmmaker is his particular deployment of the technology of the cinema as a vehicle for his thematic concerns. His orchestration is meticulous. Spiral exemplifies the plight of the solitary individual living disharmoniously with himself and those around him. Zanussi follows the tortured protagonist with a jerky handheld camera through the maze of rooms and characters in a ski resort. In Family Life an individual in conflict with his family must resolve his dilemma, which will otherwise haunt him in his interaction with the larger social order. The director introduces the protagonist through a carefully plotted series of zooms, pans, and tilts, contextualizing the different spheres of conflict. In Contract Zanussi adds both an aural and a visual dimension to the conflict between a son and his family. The handheld camera follows his attempt to burn down the family home. Zanussi intercuts this obsessive behavior with the repetitive sound of bells from a sleigh which carries his family. At the end of The Constant Factor, a stone falls in slow motion from where the protagonist, who has fallen from occupational grace because of his incorruptibility, is cleaning windows. It strikes a child playing below; chance plays a hand in a universe beyond the individual's control. Zanussi then cuts to the majestic, desolate mountains, as if to say there is no rational method for solving the existential dilemma.

In all of Zanussi's films these moments of cinematic self-consciousness alternate with long takes of intellectual debate and questioning. During these probing conversations Zanussi is least obtrusive in the application of cinematic techniques. The irony, however, is that the ideological imprint of the director is most overt in the depiction of these verbal conflicts.

Zanussi's later films continue to examine human emotions and the difficulties of human relations as they exist within the context of historical events and cultural and political differences. Inventory is a subtle, reflective allegory whose characters mirror the downfall of Communism and the resulting political upheaval in Eastern Europe. Zanussi tells the story of two women: Julia, an ex-government censor who had rebelled against an oppressive system and whose spirit has been crushed; and an older woman, a devout Catholic whose church had played a key role in the resistance against Communist authority. The faith of the latter is tested when her idealistic son falls in love with Julia.

Other Zanussi films deal with the issues of sacrifice and survival as they specifically relate to World War II. The Year of the Quiet Sun is a poignant drama set immediately after the end of the war in an area abandoned by the Germans and in the process of being resettled by Poland. While one small town begins to be revived, an American soldier and Polish refugee fall in love. "This is meant to be a film of gentle emotion," explained the director. "The story I wish to tell is a love story, whose protagonists don't speak a common language and can understand each other only by gestures, facial expressions, laughter, and a few isolated words."

A Life for a Life actually is set during the war. In reprisal for the escape of a young Silesian from Auschwitz in 1941, the Nazis condemn ten prisoners to starvation. A Franciscan priest eventually offers his life to save that of one of the prisoners, who has collapsed. Finally, The Silent Touch features Max von Sydow as a classical composer who survived the Holocaust. Now in retirement, he has turned to drink in his solitude. The scenario charts how he is induced back into creativity upon the arrival of a young music student who acts as his "guardian angel."

—Howard Feinstein, updated by Rob Edelman