Andrzej Wajda Charles Higham - Essay

Charles Higham

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Andrzej Wajda has only made a handful of films, not all of them good; yet already he is safely among the modern masters. The one director in the Polish cinema whose work one can study as a whole, he is, so far as one can see, its only romantic poet; his style—sombre, stark, elaborately symbolic, often laden with baroque decoration—exists to expose the dark passions of his heroes and their hopeless courage. (pp. 408-09)

The emphasis on courage, youth, physical strength and aspiration blazing like solitary beacons in the night of the world—this is at the centre of the lyrical-romantic Polish literary tradition. Mickiewicz, Stowacki—these poets with their powerfully evocative imagery, their hymns or elegies to the proud youth of Poland dead in war or revolution, are the spiritual godfathers of Wajda and of the late Andrzej Munk. And it is not too much to say that, like Mickiewicz, Wajda has been the voice of Poland crying in its agony, as well as a worthy singer of its eternal songs of freedom. (p. 409)

Disciplined and stark, A Generation has the fierce lyrical intensity of a Mickiewicz poem…. [It] stands in the mainstream of the Polish artistic tradition: it celebrates youth and beauty and courage, the struggle of the emergent warrior to conquer his fears, the final bursting into flower of manhood and strength. And in a sense, Wajda's personality is undergoing a similar purifying process in the development of the film; one can sense a determined attempt to spare himself nothing of his memories of 1942, of his thoughts of people and things seen, loved and lost. The austerity of the images [never falters]….

A Generation remains Wajda's purest, most stripped and disciplined film. And its few moments of emotion—notably when Dorota is arrested, and Stach breaks into a sudden agony of grief—are all the more disturbing because of the tight-lipped sternness of the rest. In Kanal (1957),...

(The entire section is 810 words.)