Film director and screenwriter. Born in Kraków in 1925, died in Łódź in 2000. Best known for directing The Manuscript Found in Saragossa and The Hour-Glass Sanatorium.
Has is often referred to as a visionary of Polish cinema. Critics note that he created a body of work that was surprisingly cohesive in its poetics, as if the director were recounting the same tale in various ways. In practically every film he has created his own world. The adventures of his protagonists, their problems and the storylines in which they become embroiled were always of secondary importance compared to experience of the visual environment in which the action takes place. These worlds are like journeys through the labyrinth of time with its own particular narrative rhythm, and Has's use of an array of strange objects (critics often use the term rupieciarnia - a random collection) create a unique visual universe. As the director himself has said of his cinematic style, 'In the dream that is a film one often has a singular time loop. Things of the past, issues long gone, are overlaid onto current reality. The subconscious invades reality. Dreams thus allow us to reveal, to show the future'.
Has studied in Kraków at the city's Business School during the German occupation of Poland. He went on to study at the School of Art Industry, essentially the underground facility of the Academy of Fine Arts, until it was closed down in 1943. After the war he went on to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. In 1946, he also completed a one-year course in film, and began producing educational and documentary films at the Documentary Film Studio in Warsaw before moving on, in the '50s, to the Educational Film Studio in Łódź.
In 1947, he made his debut with a medium length feature titled Harmonia (Harmony). In 1957, he began making full-length feature films. In 1974, Has became a lecturer in the directing department of the Leon Schiller Polish National Film, Television and Theater School in Łódź. Between 1987-1989, he was artistic director of the Rondo Film Studio and a member of the Komitet Kinematografii (State Cinema Committee). Between1989-1990, he served as dean of the directing department at the Łódź Film School. In 1990, he became the school's provost and remained in this position for six years. He was the managing director and chief professional advisor at the school's Indeks Studio. In 2000 the Polish National Film, Television and Theater School in Łódź bestowed an honorary doctorate on the filmmaker.
Has avoided political or commercial overtones in his work, which often alienated him from the propaganda-driven industry. Although he produced his most important films at the height of the famed Polish School, his films were stylistically different and manifested a unique poetic vision. Fellow director Aleksander Jackiewicz said of Has that if he had become a painter, 'he would surely have been a Surrealist. He would have redrawn antique objects with all their real accoutrements and juxtaposed them in unexpected ways'.
In remembering Has, documentary film director Henryk Kluba stated that he was a director who 'resolved compositions' while filming, treating each shot as a painted canvas. Has has said of his cinema that its
point of departure is always literature. Operating on time. Abbreviations of time. Jumps in time. Sidetracks and various layers. Space is the domain of painting; time is the domain of literature and film. Playing with time activates the imagination of film viewers (...) the fundamental topic of cinema to me is that of the journey.
This is evident in Has's best-known films such as the swashbuckling Spanish adventure The Saragossa Manuscript, The Hourglass Sanatorium, and in later works like The Memoirs of a Sinner and The Tribulations of Balthazar Kober.
Has's oeuvre has been associated with Surrealist painting. This is reinforced by the director's poetics of dream and his use of seemingly random objects, which is also characteristic of the Surrealist aesthetic. Film scholar, Mirosław Przylipiak, less obviously describes Has's style as Painterly Cubism. Przylipiak writes of the director's formula of alternative time in The Hourglass Sanatorium. The singularity of Has's films lies in his juxtaposition of several time dimensions in a sort of 'temporal cubism'. In 2009 when London's Barbican hosted screenings of two remastered versions of the film - together with The Manuscript Found in Saragossa - The Guardian's Xan Brooks wrote "The Hour-Glass Sanatorium is even better than The Saragossa Manuscript, and even more adept at driving you crazy. Has's style is playful, teasing and defiantly loopy".
Has also created a number of intimate psychological dramas during his career - Pętla (The Noose), Pożegnania (Farewells), Jak być kochaną (How to Be Loved), Szyfry (The Codes). Critics have noted that Has specialized in films about people with restless, damaged mentalities who have difficulty settling into life. He was fascinated by outsiders, people evicted from the main current of life and incapable of finding their place in society.Two strands are clear in Has's work: one is his cinema of psychological analysis, the other, his films of visionary form in which he most often uses the motif of the journey. The director's stylistics encourages these strands to interweave. In the book Kino, wehikuł magiczny (Cinema - A Magical Vehicle), Adam Garbicz wrote that Has's dramas were 'always peculiar, always intimate, based on half-tones and on speaking through images'. Andrzej Szpulak, on the other hand, writing in the Kino monthly, remarked,
Each work turns out to be a journey into the depths of a once-glimpsed or once-conceived world. Whether this is eighteenth-century Spain or German-occupied Poland or even the overtly fantastic thirteenth month, we always find ourselves at the fringes of reality, among protagonists who, while awaiting death, passively submit themselves to a capricious and uncertain chain of events.
Wojciech Jerzy Has and his cinema was the subject of a documentary by Adam Kuczyński titled Ze snu sen (A Dream from a Dream, 1998). Grzegorz Jankowski and Jacek Szczerba also made a film about Has entitled Jabłko. O Pożegnaniach Wojciecha Hasa (The Apple - On Wojciech Has's Farewells, 1999).
Documentaries and educational films:
Author: Ewa Nawój, July 2003. Updated by Agnieszka Le Nart, April 2011.
Wojciech Jerzy Has
Wojciech Jerzy Has
Wojciech Jerzy Has