Wajda, Andrzej

views updated Jun 11 2018

WAJDA, Andrzej

Nationality: Polish. Born: Suwałki, Poland, 6 March 1926. Education: Fine Arts Academy, Kraków, 1945–48; High School of Cinematography, Lodz, 1950–52. Military Service: Served in the A.K. (Home Army) of the Polish government in exile, from 1942. Family: Married 1) Beata Tyszkiewicz, 1967 (marriage dissolved), one daughter; 2) Krystyna Zachwatowicz, 1975. Career: Assistant to director Aleksandr Ford, 1953, then directed first feature, Pokolenie, 1955; directed first play, 1959; made first film outside Poland, Sibirska Ledi Magbet, for Avala Films, Belgrade, 1962; directed Pilatus und andere for West German TV, 1972; following imposition of martial law, concentrated on theatrical projects in Poland and film productions outside Poland; government dissolved Wajda's Studio X film production group, 1983; managing director, Teatr Powszechny, Warsaw, from 1989; senator, Polish People's Republic, 1989–91. Awards: Grand Prix, Moscow Film Festival, for The Promised Land, 1975; Palme d'Or, Cannes Festival, for Man of Iron, 1981; British

Academy Award for services to film, 1982; Officier, Legion d'Honneur, France, 1982.

Films as Director and Scriptwriter:


Kiedy ty śpisz (While You Sleep); Zły chłopiec (The Bad Boy)


Ceramika Iłżecka (The Pottery of Ilzecka)


Pokolenie (A Generation); Idę do słoñca (I Walk to the Sun)


Kanał (They Loved Life; Sewer)


Popiół i diament (Ashes and Diamonds)




Niewinni czarodzieje (Innocent Sorcerers)




Sibirska Ledi Magbet (Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk; Fury Isa Woman; Siberian Lady Macbeth); "Warszawa" episode of L'Amour à Vingt Ans


Popióły (Ashes)


Bramy raju (Gates to Paradise; The Gates of Heaven; TheHoly Apes)


Wszystko na sprzedaż (Everything for Sale); Przekładaniec (Roly-Poly)


Polowanie na muchy (Hunting Flies); Makbet (Macbeth) (for Polish TV)


Krajobraz po bitwie (Landscape after the Battle); Brzezina (The Birchwood)


Pilatus und andere—ein Film für Karfreitag (Pilate andOthers); Wesele (The Wedding)


Ziemia obiecana (Promised Land) (also as series on Polish TV)


Smuga cienia (The Shadow Line)


Człowiek z marmuru (Man of Marble); Bez znieczulenia (Without Anesthetic); Umarła klasa (for TV)


Zaproszenie do wnętrza (Invitation to the Inside) (doc)


Dyrygent (The Conductor); Panny z Wilka (The Girls fromWilko)


Człowiek z żelaza (Man of Iron)




Eine Liebe in Deutschland (Un amour en Allemagne; A Lovein Germany)


Kronika wypadków miłosnych (Chronicle of a Love Affair)


Les Possédés (The Possessed)




The Ring with the Crowned Eagle




Wielki tydzien (Holy Week) (+ co-sc)


Panna Nikt (Miss Nobody)


Pan Tadeusz (Pan Tadeusz: The Last Foray in Lithuania) (+ co-sc)


By WAJDA: books—

Un Cinéma nommé désir, Paris, 1986.

Double Vision: My Life in Film, New York, 1989; London, 1990.

Wajda on Film: A Master's Notes, Venice, 1992.

By WAJDA: articles—

"Destroying the Commonplace," in Films and Filming (London), November 1961.

"Andrzej Wajda Speaking," in Kino (Warsaw), no. 1, 1968.

"Living in Hope," an interview with Gordon Gow, in Films andFilming (London), February 1973.

"Filmer les noces," in Positif (Paris), February 1974.

Interview with K. K. Przybylska, in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), Winter 1977.

"Between the Permissible and the Impermissible," an interview with D. Bickley and L. Rubinstein, in Cineaste (New York), Winter 1980/81.

"Wajda August '81," an interview and article by G. Moszcz, in Sightand Sound (London), Winter 1982.

Interview with Gideon Bachmann, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1982/83.

Interview with Marcel Ophuls, in American Film (Washington, D.C.), October 1983.

Interview with Dan Yakir, in Film Comment (New York), November/December 1984.

Interview with K. Farrington and L. Rubenstein, in Cineaste (New York), vol. 14, no. 2, 1985.

Interview with W. Wertenstein, in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1985.

Interview with T. Hubelski, in Kino (Warsaw), May 1990.

Interview with J. J. Skreiberg, in Film and Kino (Oslo), no. 4, 1990.

Interview with P. Dowell, in Cineaste (New York), vol. 19, no 4, 1993.

"Wajdas ofullbordade," in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 36, no. 2, 1994.

Interview with wanda Wertenstein, in Kino (Warsaw), November 1994.

"Interview with Martti Puukko, in Filmihullu (Helsinki), no. 5–6, 1998.

On WAJDA: books—

McArthur, Colin, editor, Andrzej Wajda: Polish Cinema, London, 1970.

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

Curi, Giandomenico, Cenere e diamenti: il cinema di Andrzej Wajda, Rome, 1980.

Douin, Jean-Luc, Wajda, Paris, 1981.

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

Karpinski, Maciej, The Theatre of Andrzej Wajda, Cambridge, 1989.

Kakolewski, Krzysztof, Diament odnaleziony w popiele, Warsaw, 1995.

Nurczy 'nska-Fidelska, Ewelina, Polska klasyka literacka wedlugAndrzeja Wajdy, Katowice, 1998.

On WAJDA: articles—

Szydlowski, Roman, "The Tragedy of a Generation," in Film (Poland), no. 46, 1958.

Michalek, Boleslaw, "Polish Notes," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1958/59.

Higham, Charles, "Grasping the Nettle: The Films of Andrzej Wajda," in Hudson Review (Nutley, New Jersey), Autumn 1965.

"Wajda Issue" of Etudes Cinématographiques (Paris), no. 69–72, 1968.

Austen, David, "A Wajda Generation," in Films and Filming (London), July 1968.

Toeplitz, K., "Wajda Redivivus," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1969/70.

Cowie, Peter, "Wajda Redux," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1979/80.

"Wajda Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 January 1980.

Aufderheide, Pat, and others, "Solidarity and the Polish Cinema," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 13, no. 3, 1984.

Engelberg, S., "Wadja's Korczak Sets Loose the Furies," in NewYork Times, 14 April 1991.

Ball, E., "Citizen Wadja," in Village Voice (New York), 23 April 1991.

Coates, Paul, "Revolutionary Spirits: the Wedding of Wajda and Wyspianki," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), April 1992.

Dowell, Pat, "The Man Who Put Poland on the Postwar Map of Cinema," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 19, no. 4, 1993.

Falkowska, J., "'The Political' in the Films of Andrzej Wajda and Krzysztof Kieslowski," in Cinema Journal (Austin), Winter 1995.

Epstein, Jan, "Is Cinema Dead?" in Cinema Papers (Fitzroy), August 1997.

Macnab, Geoffrey, in Sight and Sound (London), February 1998.

Seberechts, Karin, "Andrzej Wajda Homage," in Film en Televisie+ Video (Brussels), January 1999.

* * *

The history of Polish film is as old as the history of filmmaking in most European countries. For entire decades, however, its range was limited to Polish territory and a Polish audience. Only after the Second World War, at the end of the 1950s, did the phenomenon known as the "Polish school of filmmaking" make itself felt as a part of world cinema. The phenomenon went hand in hand with the appearance of a new generation of film artists who, despite differences in their artistic proclivities, have a number of traits in common. They are approximately the same age, having been born in the 1920s. They spent their early youth in the shadow of the fascist occupation and shared more or less similar postwar experiences. This is also the first generation of cinematically accomplished artists with a complete grasp of both the theoretical and practical sides of filmmaking.

Their debut was conditioned by the social climate, which was characterized by a desire to eliminate the negative aspects of postwar development labelled as the cult of personality. The basic theme of their work was the effort to come to grips with the painful experience of the war, the resistance to the occupation, and the struggle to put a new face on Polish society and the recent past. Temporal distance allowed them to take a sober look at all these experiences without schematic depictions, without illusions, and without pathetic ceremony. They wanted to know the truth about those years, in which the foundations of their contemporary life were formed, and express it in the specific destinies of the individuals who lived, fought, and died in those crucial moments of history. And one of the most important traits uniting all the members of the "school" was the attempt to debunk the myths and legends about those times and the people who shaped them.

The most prominent representative of the Polish school is Andrzej Wajda. In the span of a few short years he made three films, Pokolenie, Kanał, and Popiół i diament, which form a kind of loose trilogy and can be considered among the points of departure for the emergence of popular Poland. Pokolenie tells of a group of young men and women fighting in occupied Warsaw; Kanał is a tragic story of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising; Popiół i diament takes place at the watershed between war and peace. Crystallized in these three films are the fundamental themes of Wajda's work, themes characteristic of some other adherents of the "school" as well. In these films we also see the formation of Wajda's own artistic stamp, his creative method, which consists of an emotional approach to history, a romantic conception of human fate, a rich visual sense, and dense expression that is elaborate to the point of being baroque. In his debut, Pokolenie, he renounces the dramatic aspect of the battle against the occupation and concentrates on the inner world of people for whom discovering the truth about their struggle was the same as discovering the truth about love. In Kanał he expresses disagreement with a myth long ago rooted in the consciousness of the Polish people and propounded in portrayals of the Warsaw Uprising—that the greatest meaning of life is death on the barricades. In the film Popiół i diament we hear for the first time in clear tones the theme of the Pole at the crossroads of history and the tragedy of his choice. Wajda expresses this theme not in abstract constructions but in a concrete reality with concrete heroes.

Wajda returns to the war experience several times. Lotna, in which the historical action precedes the above-mentioned trilogy, takes place in the tragic September of 1939, when Poland was overrun. Here Wajda continues to take a critical view of national tradition. Bitterness and derision toward the romanticization of the Polish struggle are blended here with sober judgment, and also with understanding for the world and for the people playing out the last tragicomic act on the historical stage. In the film Samson, the hero, a Jewish youth, throws off his lifelong passivity and by this action steps into the struggle. Finally, there is the 1970 film Krajobraz po bitwie, which, however, differs sharply from Wajda's early films. The director himself characterized this difference in the following way: "It's not I who am drawing back [from the war]. It's the war. It and I are growing old together, and therefore it is more and more difficult for me to discover anything in it that was close to me."

Krajobraz po bitwie has become Wajda's farewell to the war for a long time. This does not mean, however, that the fundamental principles of the artistic method found in his early films have disappeared from his work, in spite of the fact that his work has developed in the most diverse directions over the course of forty years. The basic principles remain and, with time, develop, differentiate, and join with other motifs brought by personal and artistic experience. Some of the early motifs can be found in other contexts. Man's dramatic attitude towards history, the Pole at the crossroads of history and his tragic choice—these we can find in the film Popióły, in the image of the fate of Poland in the period of the Napoleonic Wars, when a new society was taking shape in the oppressive atmosphere of a defeated country divided up among three victorious powers. People living in a time of great changes are the main heroes of Ziemia obiecana, which portrays the precipitous, drastic, and ineluctable course of the transition from feudalism to the capitalist order. A man's situation at dramatic historical moments is also the subject of the films Człowiek z marmuru, Człowiek z żelaza, and Danton, which have met with more controversy than the preceding works. In Danton and similarly in Les Possédés another element is present: the description and criticism of destructive revolutionary forces, which lust for power and assert themselves brutally without regard for the rights of others.

Wajda's work reveals many forms and many layers. Over time, historical films alternate with films on contemporary subjects; films with a broad social sweep alternate with films that concentrate on intimate human experiences. Wajda is conscious of these alternations. From history he returns to contemporaneity, so as not to lose contact with the times and with his audience. After a series of war films, he made the picture Niewinni czarodzieje, whose young heroes search for meaning in their lives. In the film Wszystko na sprzedaż, following the tragic death of his friend, the actor Zbigniew Cybulski, he became absorbed in the traces a person leaves behind in the memories and hearts of friends; at the same time he told of the problems of artistic searching and creation. Wajda's attitudes on these questions are revealed again in the next film, Polowanie na muchy, and even more emphatically in Dyrygent, where they are linked to the motif of faithfulness to one's work and to oneself, to one's ideals and convictions. The motif links Dyrygent with Popiół i diament. Another theme of Dyrygent—the inseparability of one's personal, private life from one's work life and the mutual influence of the two—is the basic problem treated in Bez znieczulenia. In Wajda there are many such examples of the migration of themes and motifs from one film to another. They affirm the unity of his work despite the fact that alongside great and powerful works there are lesser and weaker films. Such, for example, is Wajda's sole attempt in the genre of comedy, Polowanie na muchy, or the adaptation of Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness, which underwent a cinematic transformation.

Another unifying element in Wajda's oeuvre is his faithfulness to literary and artistic sources. A significant portion of his films come from literature, while the pictorial aspect finds its inspiration in the romantic artistic tradition. In addition to such broad historical frescoes as Popióły or Ziemia obiecana, these include, for example, Stanislaw Wyspianski's drama of 1901, Wesele, important for its grasp of Poland at a bleak point in the country's history. Wajda translated it to the screen in all the breadth of its meaning, with an accent on the impossibility of mutual understanding between disparate cultural milieus. The director also selected from the literary heritage works that would allow him to address man's existential questions, attitudes towards life and death. This theme resonates most fully in adaptations of two works by the writer Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz, Brzezina and Panny z Wilka, in which the heroes are found not in history but in life, where they are threatened not by war but by old age, illness, and death, and where they must struggle only with themselves. To address such existential tension Wajda also developed a transcription of Mikhail Bulgakov's prose work The Master and Margarita, filmed for television in the German Democratic Republic under the title Pilatus und andere-ein Film für Karfreitag.

In the 1980s, after a number of years, Wajda goes back to the subject of war. It is in the nostalgic Kronika wypadków miłosnych, which deals with young people into whose loves and disappointments creeps the premonition of a military catastrophe and death. Eine Liebe in Deutschland is about the tragic consequences of the love felt by a married German woman for a Polish prisoner. And it is also the subject of Korczak, the most important work of Wajda's comeback. The director based Korczak on an authentic story, and the hero who gave the film its name is a portrait of a real person. After the arrival of the German occupying forces in Poland, Korczak followed his charges from an orphanage into the Jewish Ghetto, and in the end of his own free will into the extermination concentration camp of Treblinka. With this film about Korczak Wajda closed, for the time being, one of the great subjects of his life and work. He has done this by employing the simplest and therefore the most effective method: black-and-white photography, which renders a sober record of life in a sealed-off ghetto and at the same time pays homage to the unostentatious heroism of a man who, face to face with death, did not forget the moral code of the human race.

Wajda's oeuvre, encompassing artistic triumphs and failures, forms a unified but incomplete whole. The affinity among his films is determined by a choice of themes which enables him to depict great historical syntheses, metaphors, and symbols. He is constantly drawn to those moments in the destinies of individuals and groups that are crossroads of events with tragic consequences. In his films the main motifs of human existence are interwoven—death and life, love, defeat, and the tragic dilemma of having to choose, the impossibility of realizing great aspirations. All these motifs are subordinated to history, even a feeling as subjective as love.

Wajda's films have not been, and are not, uniformly received by audiences or critics. They have always provoked discussions in which enthusiasm has confronted condemnation and agreement has confronted disagreement and even hostility; despite some failures, however, Wajda's films have never been met with indifference.

—Blažena Urgošiková

Wajda, Andrzej

views updated May 29 2018

Andrzej Wajda

Filmmaker Andrzej Wajda (born 1926) is considered the founder of modern postwar cinema in his native Poland. Wajda's films chronicle the tragedies of Polish history as interpreted on a more personal, human scale, and they gained him international renown during his country's Communist era, though he worked under the watchful eye of the government–sponsored filmmaking industry for many years. "It is to his credit that his films managed to challenge almost everyone in Poland, not least his Communist overlords," noted an essay in the Economist in 2000, when Wajda was honored with the Academy Award for lifetime achievement.

Wajda was born on March 6, 1926, in Suwalki, Poland. When he was 13 years old, the country was invaded by neighboring Nazi Germany with the help of Soviet Russia, Poland's eastern neighbor. The act of aggression effectively launched World War II, and Germany proceeded to deal harshly with Poles of Jewish extraction, corralling them into walled–off ghettoes in the cities before sending them en masse to concentration camps. As for the rest of the population, German chancellor Adolf Hitler's master plan called for the Poles to be reduced to what was essentially serfdom as factory labor for the German war machine. All secondary education was abolished, for example, and cultural institutions shuttered. The Soviet–Nazi alliance soured, however, and in 1941 Germany launched a massive assault on Russian territory, and Poland became a battleground.

Lost Father in the War

During the war years, Wajda joined an underground resistance group, the Armia Krajowa (Home Army, or A.K.), which was the secret militia of the Polish government in exile. His father died in what became the notorious Katyn Forest massacre near the Soviet city of Smolensk, in which mass graves of some four thousand Poles—including an extraordinarily high number of officers in the Polish Army held as prisoners–of–war—were discovered in 1943. Wajda has sometimes been asked why so many of his films dealt with this period. "World War II is the thing closest to me," he told Aisha Labi in Time International. "The most painful thing in my life."

When the war ended, Wajda enrolled at the Fine Arts Academy in Kraków, where he spent three years. He later attended the High School of Cinematography in Łódź in the early 1950s, and it was during this time that he began making his first movies. These early works followed the strict guidelines set forth by Poland's new Communist government, which had been established by the postwar Soviet occupiers. In 1955, just as Poland seemed to loosen slightly from the grip of harsh Stalinist rule and a cultural thaw emerged, Wajda's first feature film, Pokolenie (A Generation), was released. The work is set in occupied Warsaw, and follows a group of young resisters to the Nazi occupation. "Wajda's young protagonists show courage," noted a Cineaste essay by David Paul, "but unlike the typical heroes of Stalinist art, their courage is interwoven with the bravado of youth and is, therefore, volatile."

Clever Shots Eluded Censors

Pokolenie was the first in what would become Wajda's classic trilogy of World War II films. It was followed by Kanal in 1957, a title that roughly translates to "sewer." It centers on the last stand of the A.K. and other groups, the 1944 Warsaw uprising. The characters in this film are literally forced underground into the sewer system in order to make their way to another part of the city to join a second brigade they believe is still holding off German forces. A year later, with the cultural thaw still in place, he made Popiól i diament (Ashes and Diamonds), which takes place during the immediate postwar period. In it, a hero of the Communist side is assassinated by a member of the underground, who in turn becomes the victim of retaliation. The killer was played by Zbigniew Cybulski, sometimes referred to as the James Dean of Poland for his appealing looks and tragic early death, in a performance that garnered him fame for its nuanced portrayal of a conflicted youth. Cybulski's character is manipulated by his own leaders in the resistance, and is later left to die on top of a pile of garbage when the other side extracts its revenge.

"The censors thought it was good he died on a garbage heap because he had killed a communist," Wajda explained later in interview with Andrew Nagorski of Newsweek International. "But the audiences had a different attitude. They asked themselves: 'What kind of system is this that forces such a sympathetic lad to die on a garbage heap?' " It was one of many clever tricks that Wajda managed to insert into his cinematic works that shaped his reputation as a daring auteur. At one point in Kanal, for example, the characters gaze out through a gated sewer outlet onto the opposite bank of Vistula River. They see a vast stretch of green, but many Poles remembered that spot from a moment just 13 years earlier, when the Soviets were pushing German troops back toward Warsaw. The A.K. had made a last–ditch effort to take control of Warsaw before the Soviets arrived, on orders from the Polish government–in–exile in London. The Poles believed that the Soviets would help them crush the Germans, but instead the Soviet tanks parked themselves on that same river bank and waited for the Germans to decimate the remnants of the Home Army.

The subtle political implications of such camera shots were usually missed entirely by Polish government censors, and Wajda even won an award in Moscow for Kanal. It also took the special jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and the recognition boosted Wajda's reputation inside Poland—especially with executives of the state–controlled film industry. He went on to make a number of other works, including Lotna, a 1959 film about the German invasion of Poland and released near the twentieth anniversary that occasion, and 1961's Sibirska Ledi Magbet (Siberian Lady Macbeth), the first one of his works to be made outside of Poland. A year after Cybulski's 1967 death in a car accident, Wajda made Wszystko na sprzedaz (Everything for Sale), which featured a film director at a personal crossroads, wandering through the sets of his old projects.

Hailed Across Europe, in Hollywood

During the 1970s, Wajda's reputation outside of Poland grew. His 1974 film Ziemia obiecana (Promised Land) earned an Academy Award nomination for best foreign film for its tale of factory owners in the textile city of Łódź. His Studio X production unit, funded by the Polish government, trained a new generation of filmmakers, and he grew more daring in his themes. A 1977 film, Człowiek z marmuru (Man of Marble), was set during the modern era, but had as its centerpiece the tale of a 1950s–era hero–worker, a bricklayer whose impressive work ethic was highly publicized by the state. In Wajda's film, one of his characters investigates what happened to the socialist hero, and grows disillusioned about the government's long history of subterfuge.

Another work from 1977, Bez znieczulenia (Without Anesthetic), was Wajda's first collaboration with noted screenwriter, Agnieszka Holland, who would go on to an impressive career as a director herself. A 1979 film, Panny z Wilka (The Girls from Wilko), played in several countries and was also nominated in the foreign–film category for an Oscar that year. But Wajda's career soon hit a wall, indelibly linked to current events in Poland at the time. The long–range economic policies of the Communist Party leadership, which served the Soviet economic interests over those of ordinary working Poles, had led to widespread discontent. In September of 1980, the country's first independent trade union federation, Solidarność, or "Solidarity," was formed in the Lenin Shipyards in the port city of Gdańsk, headed by a 36–year–old electrician named Lech Walesa. The still quasi–legal organization began to urge sweeping social and economic reforms, and quickly gained enthusiastic popular support. In the brief period in which the government allowed the Solidarity movement to flourish—until several million of Poles had joined a year later and general strikes began paralyzing the country—Wajda headed to Gdańsk and shot Człowiek z zelaza (Man of Iron).

Though the characters in Wajda's film were fictional, their individual stories and current struggles mirrored life for many Poles. Walesa himself even made a cameo in the film, which was released in July of 1981 under great duress. The government had tried to block its release, but as Wajda recounted in an interview with Independent Sunday journalist Steve Crawshaw, "when the culture minister told me the film could not be screened, the shipyard workers in Gdańsk organised a petition, saying that Solidarity 'requests that the film should be shown'. Solidarity had 10 million members: the ministry had to give way."

A Politician, Briefly

Five months later, martial law was declared in Poland, Walesa arrested, and the Solidarity movement outlawed. Authorities even tried to have Man of Iron withdrawn from consideration in the best foreign film competition for the Academy Awards in 1982; it was nominated anyway, after also having taken the prestigious Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Under martial law, Wajda's Studio X facility was closed, and he turned for help to other European studios. His 1983 movie Danton, which starred Gérard Depardieu, was made with French help, and as was the case with West German support for Eine Liebe in Deutschland (A Love in Germany). He made just two other feature films over the rest of the decade.

In 1988, a new series of strikes forced the Communist government to open negotiations with the Solidarity movement. It regained legal status in April of 1989 and was allowed to participate in the first free Polish elections held later that year. Wajda served as an advisor to Walesa, and stood for candidacy himself. He served a two–year term in Poland's Senate, during which time Korczak was released. It was based on a true story about a Warsaw teacher who founded an orphanage for homeless Jewish children during World War II. Refusing to abandon them even when a passport to Switzerland is offered to him, Korczak boards the train with them to Treblinka, the Nazi extermination camp. "With this film about Korczak Wajda closed, for the time being, one of the great subjects of his life and work," noted an essay on him in the International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. "He has done this by employing the simplest and therefore the most effective method: black–and–white photography, which renders a sober record of life in a sealed–off ghetto and at the same time pays homage to the unostentatious heroism of a man who, face to face with death, did not forget the moral code of the human race."

Vindicated by Unlikely Success

Poland changed during the 1990s, and though Wajda remained a respected filmmaker, his works did not do well at the box office. American films had flooded the theaters, and the Polish film industry busied itself for a time making Hollywood–style capers to satisfy the public taste. He made four films, but it was not until 1999 and his latest work, Pan Tadeusz (Master Thaddeus), that Wajda suddenly found tremendous commercial success. Somewhat improbably, the period drama was based on a nineteenth–century epic poem from Poland's literary hero Adam Mickiewicz, and its dialogue in rhymed couplets did not deter some six million Poles from flocking to theaters to see it.

In early 2000, Wajda became the first Eastern European filmmaker to win the Academy Award for lifetime achievement from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The honor came thanks in part to Steven Spielberg, who met Wajda in Poland while filming Schindler's List in the early 1990s. As Wajda told Nagorski in the Newsweek International interview, over the course of his long career he had won several prestigious European film festival awards, but "the American award stands completely apart. It's from the country of moviemaking. Cinema may have originated in Europe, but it became what it is today in the United States. I could not have hoped for a greater honor."


International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 2: Directors, fourth edition, St. James Press, 2000.


Cineaste, Fall 1992; October 1994.

Economist, February 12, 2000.

Entertainment Weekly, March 1, 2000.

Independent Sunday (London, England), March 19, 2000.

New Republic, June 5, 1989.

Newsweek International, March 20, 2000.

TDR, Summer 1994.

Time International, March 27, 2000.

Variety, February 28, 2000.