Janusz Zaorski is a Polish director and actor, born on 19th September 1947 in Warsaw.
Between 1965 and 1969 he studied directing at Łódź Film School. He graduated in 1969 and received his diploma in 1971. During his studies he assisted Gottfried Kolditz in East Germany on the film Das Tal der sieben Monde (1967) and was an intern at Associated British Pictures in London. After he graduated, he assisted Janusz Morgenstern on his TV series Kolumbowie / Columbuses. His feature debut was Uciec jak najbliżej / Run Away Nearly (1971). Since 1988, he has been the artistic director of Dom Film Studio. Between 1987 and 1989 he was a member of the Film Industry Committee. In 1994 and 1995 he was the chair of the National Broadcasting Council.
He has received many awards at Polish and international festivals: among other things, a Golden Leopard in Locarno for Lake of Constance and a Silver Bear in Berlin for The Mother of Kings.
I feel like a director who can professionally tell any anecdote.
– he said in a conversation with Jerzy Górzański in 1985.
He was right. In his career he's made serious, intellectual movies such as Lake of Constance, an adaptation of Stanisław Dygat’s difficult prose, contemporary dramas such as Run Away Nearly and Childish Questions, and historical films like The Mother of Kings, but also entertaining thrillers such as Baritone, comedies and tragicomedies such as Promotion and Happy New York, romantic comedies such as Haker and Cudownie ocalony / Saved by a Miracle, which completely different in style. He also made a few television series and was one of the first Polish directors to work on a soap opera (Złotopolscy). He mixes film styles and genres, which leads sometimes to humorous misunderstandings.
Zaorski was one of a few to study directing without any previous diploma, but also set many records: he made his TV debut Na dobranoc / Good night (1970) when he was 23 and his first feature a year later. Nobody else has been able to achieve such success this early. His films got attention from the critics: even those who were critical underlined that it was one of few occasions when a young director, who could actually be a protagonist of his film, speaks about youth. He was able to tell the story of his peers.
The director himself was aware of how close his protagonists are to him:
It was my last chance to make a film about young people. I know what they do, what they are passionate about. My older colleagues make such movies as if they were period dramas, they read books and surveys, document schools. Isn’t it funny? (Magazyn Filmowy 38/1971).
One could say that he was faithful to his declaration of interest with the present world. It is proven by films such as Chleba naszego powszedniego / Our Daily Bread based on Jan Himilsbach’s prose, A Room with a View on the Sea, Childish Questions and the TV series Punkt widzenia / Point of View as well as his later films Soccer Poker and Happy New York, which signed his return to the A-list of directors in the late nineties.
His historical movies such as Partita for a Wooden Instrument (1975), set in Poland during German occupation; Baritone (1984) set in 1933, right before Hitler’s takeover; The Mother of Kings (1982), a family saga which begins before World War II and ends in 1956, during the Polish October; Lake of Constance (1985), a story about the Polish nation’s condition in the reality of an internee camp during World War II; and his latest film, Siberian Exile (2013) are all universal stories in which the director either observes human reactions in extreme situations or searches for causes of the present situation.
In an interview with Danuta Karcz, Zaorski said that he treats film as ‘a people’s art, not only an expression of the artist’s soul’ (Kino, 5/1972).
And so for many years he tried to combine artistic, intellectual themes with some humour, hide them in a thriller, and use genre cinema to say something serious. In his review of Happy New York, Tomasz Jopkiewicz called it ‘an in-between movie’.
On the one hand we have stereotypes from the cinema of moral anxiety, the tradition of moral allegory, on the other – schemes from satirical comedies. Human drama, a dark vision of the human fate is also seen somewhere ‘in between’. (Kino 10/1997).
One could say that all of Zaorski’s body of work could be called ‘in-between cinema’. Standing astride doesn’t always produce good effects, but Janusz Zaorski proves that sometimes it does.
Those who want to be convinced should watch his The Mother of Kings, a film about Poland, communism, Hitlerism and, Stalinism, seen through the eyes of a simple woman, Łucja Król, and her four sons. She was spared from no experiences, but her instinct and motherly love helped her face the challenges she faced. Played masterfully by Magda Teresa Wójcik, she ‘saves the universal aspect of the mother ethos’ (Michał Boni, Kino 8/1987).
Author: Ewa Nawój, Jan Strękowski, September 2008, transl. and ed. N. Mętrak-Ruda, January 2016.
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