Jerzy Skolimowski

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Peter Cowie

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Rysopis ends as it began—in a void. It is a film with a question mark in every sentence, and the idea of the quest is given physical expression by Skolimowski's skilful subjective camerawork, leading his audience down staircases, through gigantic scrapyards, and along crowded streets that heighten the feeling of dislocation.

Rysopis may owe something to Godard in terms of technique and incident …; but it is both too dour and too bitter to be French, and Skolimowski's own performance in the role of Andrzej carefully avoids magniloquent gestures and makes no appeal to sentimentality.

In Walkover, the personality of Andrzej is more clearly defined. The intelligent, rather sad face tucked truculently into the shoulders; a listener more than a talker; a disconsolate, reflective fighter. (p. 234)

Barrier is an obtuse fantasy that questions contemporary Polish society, championing the young student outsider at the expense of the generation that fed him and fought in the ruins of Warsaw during the Second World War. Everything in the film is related in symbolic terms. Sombre, menacing scenes tip over into comedy at their last gasp…. Barrier is like a piece of avant-garde animation where one has time only to respond to the welter of images, and not to reason out their larger meaning. It is as seductive as it is unpredictable, and if some sequences are intolerably pretentious (old Resistance fighters jostling together in a night-club, wearing paper hats for Stupidity), there are other moments of quiet, almost entranced reflection. (p. 235)

[Le départ] reveals a hitherto untapped vein of surrealist humour in Skolimowski. This film spurns the dictates of conventional narrative and screen logic. It is essentially a few random reflections on a theme—a young man's frustrated desire to participate in big-time motor racing that gradually comes to be identified with his sexual inhibitions…. Like Skolimowski's direction, Marc's compulsive behaviour not only ridicules each cliché, but endows it with fresh currency, even though his approach to life springs from conventional impulses (smoking to suggest maturity, abandoning a stolen car because a pet poodle appears on the back seat). His cheekiness is infectious, and provides a mordant contrast with the universal happiness preached by posters in the street; and his response to violence, like Paul's in [Godard's] Masculin-Féminin, reveals more curiosity than cynicism. (p. 236)

[Hands Up!], with Skolimowski again playing the leading role, forms a trilogy with Rysopis and Walkover…. It has the contours of a dream, as five doctors, now in their forties, meet on the anniversary of their qualification…. The extra-ordinary climax shows everyone struggling to escape from the railway coach which … has become, by a weird association of ideas, a replica of the wagons in which their older brothers and their fathers were sent to the gas chamber. Fear is the dominant characteristic of Hands Up!—fear of losing position, patronage, and privilege in a society that Skolimowski would appear to regard as being not much better than the one his elders struggled to replace after the war. (pp. 236-37)

With an even younger protagonist than Marc in Le départ, Deep End catches the mysterious awakening of adolescence, when fantasies are nourished by a frustration that only the experience of adult life can interpret…. One can almost smell the chlorine and sense the shabbiness of the dressing rooms. There are surrealistic touches typical of Skolimowski: as Susan skirmishes with the cashier, a man's hand and a brush move into sight at the end of the corridor, painting the green walls an unexpected and faintly alarming red—a foretaste of the...

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tragic finale to the film….

Deep End exerts a powerful spell and although it was shot in Germany and recorded in English, it is at no point banal or stilted. Skolimowski's understanding of human psychology, and of the bizarre currents of desire that course below the surface—at the "deep end"—of the mind, is uncanny. This film offers the conclusive proof that Skolimowski's is not just a quirkish Polish talent, but an arresting vision that can be transmitted to any locale and any period. (p. 238)

Peter Cowie, "Jerzy Skolimowski," in Fifty Major Film-Makers, edited by Peter Cowie (© 1975 by Peter Cowie), A. S. Barnes & Co., Inc., 1975, pp. 234-38.


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