Opening of the exhibition: 15 September, 6.00 pm
Curator: Krzysztof Stanisławski
Coordinator: Matylda Hinc
Exhibition production: Wojciech Ruminski
A descendant of a family of great merit to Polish culture, grand-nephew of Jerzy, the author of the first science fiction novel On the Silver Globe, son of the writer and diplomat Mirosław, nephew of the painter Marek – Andrzej Żuławski is one of the most important and original Polish film directors, who, however, made most of his films in France.
Before he made his debut film The Third Part of the Night, he was considered Andrzej Wajda’s most talented assistant working on the legendary Ashes, but also the novella Love at Twenty. He also made two television films. He had an excellent chance to achieve a very high professional position and earn the title of ‘Wajda’s successor.’ There is no doubt that he was held in high esteem as a reinventor of Polish cinema. He was ‘on a roll,’ as it was popularly called, when he made his debut film The Third Part of the Night, based on a script written with his father and referring to the occupation period in Lviv. The film was well received by critics and audiences alike, not least thanks to an excellent performance by Małgorzata Braunek.
Everyone was waiting for his second film. He submitted a script and a film project and almost immediately was given the opportunity to realise it, and as the first project in the newly formed Team X, it was headed by Wajda.
It was not an easy project, being historical and relating to a period not fully described and documented and, moreover, a highly controversial history from the fall of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Such a historical background, with omnipresent foreign soldiers and the titular devil – agent of the secret services, made it possible to allude to the then current situation, and so, from the beginning foreshadow problems with censorship. And they couldn’t have been out of place in that period just after the events of 1968 and the so-called December 1970 events, when the party was struggling to maintain power at any cost. The authorities did not allow the film to be shown.
The Devil is Andrzej Żuławski’s best film, although the years of forced relegation to the shelf (it did not premiere until 1988) added neither value nor charm to it. The film aged considerably – that is, the poetics in which Żuławski made it grew old. But since he did not significantly alter this poetics over the next two decades, reaching such heights in it as the scene in the Berlin subway with Isabelle Adjani in Possession, one might think that the poetics were right, but the execution imperfect. What Adjani was able to win in Possession, Leszek Teleszyński in The Devil was unable to play. That is why Wojciech Pszoniak in his role as the Devil is so lonely in this film.
For critics, the fundamental question remains: why The Devil, as a possible masterpiece, was not, or did not become, that masterpiece? Was it solely on account of censorship? Why does The Devil seem so weak today when it was expected to be so brilliant? This is a fundamental question. But can it be posed at all? It will always sound false, especially in relation to a work locked away on a shelf for years. And then, years later, in a completely different era unshelved and… poorly intelligible to the public.
On the Silver Globe was also intended to be a masterpiece, a super-production, joining the worldwide wave of sci-fi films headed by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Unfortunately, once again the communist authorities deprived the filmmaker of the opportunity to fully emerge, annihilating the film even before it was completed, even destroying the sets.
No wonder, then, that the young director left the country.
The CoCA project Andrzej Żuławski. The Devil is thus a story about Polish unfulfilled film masterpieces, about opportunities squandered by censorship and the ambitions of officials of the communist nomenclature.