Andrzej Wajda Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Andrzej Wajda 1926–

Polish director and scriptwriter.

Wajda is generally acknowledged to be one of Poland's greatest directors. He is not a popular figure with the public in Poland, however, due to his unsettling views of traditional values. His trilogy, as well as establishing Wajda as a major European director, proved to be a milestone in Polish cinema for its moving depiction of war and those it affects.

Wajda fought with the Polish resistance during World War II, then attended the Kraców Academy of Fine Arts before going on to the film school at Lódź. He assisted Aleksander Ford on Five Boys from Barska Street, an experience that prepared him for his first feature film, Pokolenie (A Generation).

This film, along with Kanal and Popiol i Diament (Ashes and Diamonds), formed Wajda's war trilogy, exposing the myths of national heroism and the conflicts Poland's young generation underwent as they watched their elders suffer. Caught up in a war they wanted no part of, these youths were confused and frustrated, and Wajda's films depicted this effectively. These films were stark and simple. In contrast, his films of the sixties were stylized period pieces that relied on elaborate imagery and symbolism and were, for the most part, unsuccessful artistically.

Wszystko na Sprzedaz (Everything for Sale) changed Wajda's style and, more significantly, altered his philosophy of film-making. Aside from being his most personal work, inspired by the death of a close friend and star of many of his films, it is also Wajda's acceptance of the "new cinema," the exchange of his stylized drama for a more personal realistic view of life.

Wajda's earlier films were most successful when they did not stray from the Polish theme he knew best: the analysis of Poland's youth and their attitudes towards their situation. Later films embraced subjects not exclusively Polish, though Polish cinema asks to be judged in terms of its issues as much as its artistic merit. Though Wajda's work is occasionally flawed by a style some find ambiguous and baroque, his intensely personal vision makes him, according to Charles Higham, "the voice of Poland crying in its agony."