Jerzy Skolimowski Nigel Andrews - Essay

Nigel Andrews

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Skolimowski's bewildering The Adventures of Gerard was kept in cold storage for months before its appearance. One sees the problem. The film is too naive to be Art and too sophisticated to be Entertainment. It also looks as if Skolimowski made it up as he went along, not so improbably in the light of some of his own confessions ('Laziness lies behind everything I have done'). Gerard in fact is the sort of film that only an established director would be allowed to get away with….

The result is a sort of cross between [Sergei Bondarchuk's] Waterloo and [Richard Lester's] The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film…. Like Lester, however, who seems stylistically the nearest point of reference, Skolimowski aspires to complete visual anarchy ('a world gone topsy-turvy …' narrates Gerard's voice early on, and the camera gyrates to turn Napoleon's army upside down), breaking formal barriers to achieve a fluid comic style. The story is rightly skeletal….

The plot is simply on hand to plant signposts when the anarchy flags. Despite some witty dialogue and good set-up gags, the film's impetus is neither verbal nor histrionic but derives from a frenzied extension/burlesque of cinematic idiom. The cerebral, straight-to-camera soliloquy, Godard-style, is transformed into Gerard's perpetual braggadocio, directed unembarrassed and full-volume at the audience. Skolimowski peppers the action with accelerated film (and sound) and the occasional hiccoughed insert….

If the film threatens at times to degenerate into a parade of conjuring tricks, it is redeemed partly by the air of baroque, Munchhausen-like fantasy that pervades Gerard's adventures, rich in such casually surrealist details as General Millefleur's accident-prone human dining-table; partly by the fact that Gerard is a genuine Skolimowski hero, quirky and single-minded in his pursuit of self-fulfilment, a Napoleonic counterpart of Marc in Le Départ. For all its chaotic surface, Gerard carries a distinctive signature.

Nigel Andrews, "Film Reviews: 'The Adventures of Gerard'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1971 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 40, No. 1, Winter, 1970–71, p. 51.