Jerzy Skolimowski was already a legend in his youth. Not only is he an ingenious director – his artistic path was outstandingly tortuous, abundant in vibrant episodes and frequent departures to different areas of art.
Even the first studies he graduated from – ethnography at the University of Warsaw – sets him apart from other Polish directors. Born in 1938, over a decade younger than the aces of Wajda and Munk’s generation, he still resembles Andrzej Leszczyc, his alter ego from the debut “Identification Marks: None”: a freebooter and rolling stone wandering the world in search of meaning and adventure.
Skolimowski’s legend grew quickly in the environment of the Łódź Film School. There he was, a brawny student of directing, who knew how to fight, played in movies (e.g. a boxer in Wajda’s “Innocent Sorcerers”), and collaborated on the scripts to the milestones of Polish cinema (Roman Polański’s Oscar-nominated “Knife in the Water”). As an artist, Skolimowski has always been a decathlete: in 1957 he published his first book of poems, and when for almost 2 decades he stopped making films (after “30 Door Key” in 1991), he took up painting. In his home in Malibu, California, he created abstract, expressionist works inspired by Japanese calligraphy.
His debut was extraordinary: in 1964 he put together his student films into the feature-length “Identification Marks: None,” which shook up the sense of cinematic realism of the times. Similarly to what Kazimierz Kutz and Tadeusz Konwicki had done before him, Skolimowski opened up Polish cinema to new-wave poetics, depicting his protagonist as he wanders aimlessly through a raw, miserable landscape of the People’s Republic of Poland. In Skolimowski’s first six films (whose digitally remastered versions will be presented at Two Riversides) the main theme is youth: the time of the greatest challenges, failures, and joys. This period in the director’s career is crowned by the outstanding (although not very well-known in Poland) “Deep End,” shot in swinging London.
Starting with his first foreign production, the Belgian film “The Departure” (Golden Bear at the Berlinale), Skolimowski has been making a Western career as a brilliant emigrant from beyond the iron curtain. Following the horror “The Shout,” in 1982 he made the British “Moonlighting,” which tells the story of Polish labourers working in London at the time of general Jaruzelski announcing marshal law in Poland. In 2008, after several decades spent overseas, Skolimowski returned to Poland and once again began directing. The fairly recent “Four Nights With Anna” and “Essential Killing” have the power and freshness of debuts, but their formal artistry inevitably gives away the master’s involvement.
The expanded retrospective of Jerzy Skolimowski at Two Riversides allows us to trace his diverse body of work, starting from his earliest student films and ending with his contemporary international co-productions. It is also an opportunity to recall the masterpieces of the last 50 years, just before the premiere of Skolimowski’s latest film: “11 Minutes,” the intricate puzzle which is going to compete for the Golden Lion at the Gdynia Film Festival in September.
2015 11 minut (11 Minutes) | 2010 Essential Killing | 2008 Cztery noce z Anną (Four Nights with Anna) | 1991 Ferdydurke (30 Door Key) | 1982 Fucha (Moonlightning) | 1978 Krzyk (Shout, The) | 1970 Na samym dnie (Deep End) | 1967 Start (Départ, Le) (Departure, The), Ręce do góry (Hands Up!) | 1966 Bariera (Barrier) | 1965 Walkower (Walkover) | 1964 Rysopis (Identification Marks: None) | 1961 Pieniądze albo życie (Your Money or Your life) – short | 1960 Erotyk (Erotique) – short, Hamleś (Little Hamlet) – short, Oko wykol (Menacing Eye, The) – short