A film director and screenwriter; born on 28 February 1944 in Łódź.
Marczewski began studying directing at the State Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre in 1962. He suspended these studies in 1964 and enrolled at a university with the intention of studying philosophy and history. Three years later, he returned to the film school to complete the course of study in film directing. Although he produced his final project in 1969, he was not granted a degree until 1998. Marczewski has to date received two lifetime achievement awards. The first, dating from 1981, was an Award of the Minister of Culture and Art 2nd class in the realm of cinema (for artistic achievement in the films Zmory / Nightmares and Dreszcze / Shivers). Marczewski received a second distinction from the Minister of Culture of Poland in 2002, this one a general award for cinematic achievement in the year 2001. It was also in 2002 that the director was granted the academic title of Professor of Film Art.
Marczewski initially worked at the Studio Malych Form Filmowych Se-Ma-For (Se-Ma-For Studio of Small Film Forms) in Lodz, where he created Lekcja anatomii / The Anatomy Lesson, a short film in which he combined live action with animated elements. The director went on to work with the Wytwornia Filmow "Czolowka" ("Vanguard" Film Studio), where he directed a number of television films, including Podrozni jak inni / Travelers like Others, Odejscia i powroty / Partings and Returns (three-episode series) and Wielkanoc / Easter. All these films related to World War II, often having stories that were set during, or in some other way linked into, the wartime German occupation of Poland.
"To an extent, the war is something of an excuse for me," the director was quoted as saying. "I am interested in human attitudes, experiences, ambitions and efforts. It is in the dramatic situations of wartime that these reveal themselves most strongly" ("Film" monthly, 1972, no. 7).
Marczewski's early films revealed an attitude to human freedom as a subject that would come to characterize much of the director's work. Prominent critic Tadeusz Sobolewski noted the following:
"In long shots composed to have a visual depth that almost encircles the protagonist, Marczewski expresses the degree to which his heroes become entangled in history, which turns into a trap from which they cannot escape" ("Kino" monthly, 1993, no. 10).
Almost all of Marczewski's films focus on children and adults somehow lost in the turmoil that surrounds key historical events.
Marczewski's debut film Zmory / Nightmares features just such a protagonist in the teenager Mikolaj Srebrny (Nicholas Silver). The film is based on the novel of the same title by Emil Zegadlowicz, a novel that became the target of numerous attacks immediately after its publication in 1935. The author gained numerous enemies when his book proved to contain bold erotic scenes in a story that was both anti-clerical and pro-leftist. Wojciech Marczewski was responsible for writing the dialogues for Nightmares, while Czech playwright Pavel Hajny (screenwriter on Zaklete rewiry / Hotel Pacific) took on the task of structuring the screenplay. When the film was still in pre-production, the director made many changes in the script, adding several scenes that do not exist in the book and were often the product of Marczewski's memory of his own experiences. The resulting film is faithful not so much to the novel as to its general tone; in essence it constitutes an attempt at depicting the anxieties of a sensitive boy going through puberty.
Maciej Zalewski noted the following about Nightmares:
" 'Nightmares' is more than just one more escape into the colorful world of a fairy-tale past. While respecting the intimacy of memories and even creating a singular memory-based poetic, Marczewski reveals to us a range of perplexities and anxieties that remain valid today" ("Kino" monthly, 1979, no. 3).
In an interview with Malgorzata Furdal, Marczewski expressed himself thus:
"Although ‘Nightmares' is set in the early part of the 20th century, I really tried to tell the story as if it were the story of my own life, my own childhood. I really wanted to prevent this movie from being perceived as a historical film. This is a decidedly autobiographical film in terms of the emotions, fears, feelings and fascinations tat are portrayed in it" ("Kino" monthly, 1993, no. 10).
Nightmares came to be considered one of the most important debuts in post-World War II Polish cinema. Critics expressed very high opinions of the film and it helped the director win many awards, including the Grand Prix at the Festival of Polish Feature Films in Gdańsk.
In Dreszcze / Shivers, Marczewski conducted a particularly precise analysis of the ways in which young minds are shaped when they face moral depravation and must deal with mechanisms that are designed for the express purpose of controlling human attitudes. In writing the film's screenplay, Marczewski drew on personal experiences (the arrest of his father, his time as a scout) but, as he stated, the filmed story is more a fiction than it is a reality. Shivers was singular, highly disturbing in mood, which is something the director achieved through special means.
"In building 'Shivers' I drew on various definitions of the word in the title and made reference to them in the film. Tomek has the shivers, his hands shake. He strives to hide this. I tried to find a formal, filmic analogue of shivering. The editing 'errors' I introduced went counter to the fundamental principles according to which humans perceive reality. I wanted to make viewers nervous, induce shivering in them. This was not supposed to be a pleasant film; I made it to show what was happening to me at this time, which was the worst and most terrifying period of my life" ("Kino" monthly, 1993, no. 10).
In the film, the director consciously combined religious symbolism with Communist iconography: the portraits of political dignitaries hang where crucifixes are usually seen, a portrait of Karl Marx cries like a holy painting might, the protagonist prays before this portrait. To Tomek, the triangular "Madagascar 1938" postage stamp symbolizes his entirely private religion. Added to this is the fanatical bridesmaid, who like a priestess initiates the boy into the mysteries of his new, sick faith. Tadeusz Sobolewski noted the following about this aspect of the film:
"This strange love affair between the boy and this mature woman says much about the religious and ethical lining of the Communist faith - namely, it suggests that this socio-economic system was a surrogate, blighted form of love, a religion of the disenfranchised always ready to reappear under one name or another."
However, the seemingly demonic bridesmaid is hardly "Satan." In essence, she has been cheated just as all those around her have been. She has built her life on a foundation of limitless belief in the Idea, on the conviction that what she is doing is right. So, Marczewski seems to say, both Tomek and this woman are victims of the system within which it is their destiny to live.
Above all, however, Shivers explores the world of children's imaginations, feelings and psychology. Interviewed by Teresa Krywow, the director stated the following on this topic:
"My chief intention was to fulfill my need for creating a work about my own and my peers' childhood -with its entire baggage of the experiences that were inherent to those times" ("Ekran" / "Screen" monthly, 1981, no. 24).
Toward the end of the film, the protagonists learn of the workers revolt in Poznan, which event marks the end of a certain era - reflected here in the symbolic, rushed dismantling of the scout camp. The children leave for home and their cruel education is suspended. This time they have been saved, but what would have happened if workers in Poznan would not have rebelled and the ensuing political ‘thaw' had never occurred? Though never posed in the film, this question inevitably comes to viewers' minds.
Marczewski made Shivers soon after the Solidarity Labor Union was first formed in Poland, bringing on a wave of public euphoria and optimism. At this time, the film's message must have been disturbing given that in the film Marczewski essentially explores self-delusion in its infinite variations, which even the most honest individuals prove incapable of controlling. Shivers premiered on December 12, 1981 - i.e. the evening before Martial Law was declared in Poland - thus acquiring astonishing symbolic value itself.
The young protagonists of both Nightmares and Shivers are inwardly pure and bursting with goodwill. The aggressive world that surrounds them proves to be tainted by evil and responsible for all the ills that beset them. In Nightmares they are embodied in despotic middle school teachers, while in Shivers they are the scout group leaders.
Betrayal is the central issue in both these films, as well as in Odejscia i powroty / Partings and Returns and Ucieczka z kina "Wolnosc" / Escape From the "Liberty" Cinema. However, Marczewski's focus is not betrayal in the normal sense of the term, but betrayal (in some sense unavoidable) of the ideas one was raised believing in. Mikołaj first betrays the Catholic Church, and then does the same to the Socialist organization he joins. In allowing himself to be captivated by Communist mottoes, Tomek betrays the worldview he held up to that point. However, all these betrayals are unintended. Henryk of Partings and Returns, lost in wartime turmoil, also betrays guiltlessly. But can the same be said of a man who consciously agrees to be a censor, as is the case with the protagonist of Escape from the "Liberty" Cinema? Still, Marczewski looks with understanding upon this character and, what's more, seems to say that every Pole was this kind of "censor" to a degree in allowing him- or herself to be seduced by the system.
Nightmares, Shivers and Weiser - the latter film from the year 2000 - make up a trilogy that centers on the theme of young people coming of age. However, while political circumstances were an important element in the first two movies, Marczewski decided that the third would completely non-political. The director was quoted as saying:
"I abandoned the Solidarity-related storyline and the interpretation based on generational issues, because I was thrilled at the opportunity of experimenting with a kind of universalism. I was thrilled by the power of childhood" (interviewed by Maria Malatynska, "Przekroj" weekly, 2001, no. 1).
Weiser was based on Pawel Huelle's novel Weiser Dawidek / Who Was David Weiser? - which proved a very significant literary event when published in the late 1980s. Several attempts were made at adapting it for the screen (by the likes of Maciej Dejczer and Englishman Toni Grisoni), but all these were unsuccessful. Finally, Wojciech Marczewski produced a screenplay that proved acceptable. The director made numerous changes to the story: firstly, the film is set in the 1960s, and secondly, the action transpires not in the city of Gdansk as it did in the novel, but in Lower Silesia. This second change was made partly for practical reasons, as Gdansk has transformed significantly, whereas Lower Silesia features many locations that have not changed since the 1960s. It was also the result of a personal preference - as a child, Marczewski spent two years in the town of Kowary in Lower Silesia and found it easier to identify this region with his own childhood, which he strongly wished to invest in the film.
In an interview with Tadeusz Lubelski, the director said the following of this film:
"For me, 'Weiser' is all about the concept of mystery and our longing for mystery" ("Kino" monthly, 2001, no. 12).
The mystery in Weiser remains unresolved through the end of the film, evoking such classic titles as Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock or Antonioni's The Adventure. All paranormal phenomena in this film are related to the central character, David, whose singularity and inexplicable disappearance are a symbol of the lost childhood we seek out in vain throughout our adult lives, as the character Pawel Heller does in the film.
Prominent critic Piotr Wojciechowski offered the following about Marczewski's film:
"'Weiser' is an ambitious, moving film that is singularly visually attractive. Marczewski has succeeded in creating a world of children's magic, children's fascinations and children's metaphors" ("Film" monthly, 2002, no. 1).
Marczewski is a master of creating on-screen moods. In Weiser the unusual beauty of the images is amplified by Zbigniew Preisner's exceptional music.
Apart from the three movies described above as possessing child protagonists, Wojciech Marczewski made a handful of films with adults as their main characters. These included Klucznik/ the Housemaster (1979), Ucieczka z kina "Wolność" / Escape from the "Liberty" Cinema (1990) and Czas zdrady / A Time of Betrayal (1998).
In Housemaster the background is once again an important moment in history - the year 1945, when in spite of a general mood of uncertainty, authorities went forward with agricultural reform. This strongly affects the protagonists - a count and his housemaster. Wojciech Marczewski based his script on the stage play by Wiesław Myśliwski. The film's initially realistic narration transforms as the story develops and proves symbolic at the movie's end.
After directing Shivers in 1981, Marczewski stopped making films for almost ten years - a rather lengthy interval in this profession. It was not until 1990 that he made Ucieczka z kina "Wolność" / Escape from the " Cinema Liberty" , an unusual story with fantasy elements. The film is a kind of reckoning with the absurd realities of life in the Polish People's Republic, and the director summed up his views as follows:
"I endowed the film with many of our social, political and psychological obsessions, but also with many of my own feelings about all that surrounded and absorbed us at that time. The movie is a political story that instead of being told in realistic terms is a construct of my inner responses, visions and memories - it is an impressionistic picture" (interviewed by Maria Brzostowiecka in "Ekran" / "Screen" monthly, 1992, no. 7).
The film is set in a Łódź cinema house ironically named the "Freedom" by the Communists (it is now known as the "Capitol") and the film being screened there is titled "Jutrzenka" ("Morning Star"). These choices automatically granted the film a grotesque dimension. Marczewski wrote the screenplay of Escape from the "Cinema Liberty" in the 1980s, but the script was not approved for production at that time. In fact, the film was not made until after 1989, when it went on to win a number of awards in Poland. To everyone's surprise, including the director's, Escape collected a number of distinctions at international fantasy film festivals, including the prize for best film in Burgos and the Grand Prix at Avoriaz. At the latter event, Escape from the "Cinema Liberty" outshone a number of big budget productions, including Barry Sonnenfeld's The Adams Family. The film's political message was entirely overlooked by the competition jury, and the jury chair, famed actor Malcolm MacDowell, stated:
"In Marczewski's film we saw imagination and ingenuity first and foremost."
Marczewski is viewed as making movies that are part of the creative current in Polish cinema. The director never identified with the so-called cinema of moral anxiety. The only connection between his films and those of this thread (as he himself stated) is their most fundamental trait, i.e. their unwillingness to accept reality as it was and is. For Marczewski, the cinema of moral anxiety overly simplified the realities and issues it explored. The director did not believe that dismantling the system was the miraculous prescription that would cure all of Poland's ills. Film critic Zdzisław Pietrasik thus described Marczewski the artist:
"Wojciech Marczewski is a true original among Polish filmmakers, someone who seeks no splendor nor awards, someone who makes films rarely and only when he has something important to say" ("Polityka" / weekly, 2001, no. 3).
Apart from filmmaking, teaching occupies a prominent place in Marczewski's life. He has taught regularly at the National School of Film and Television in Copenhagen since 1984. From 1992 to 1994 he was dean of the Directing Department at the National School of Film and Television in Great Britain. He has lead workshops for directors, screenwriters and actors in Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Denmark and in Poland (at the film schools in Lodz and Katowice). In addition, Wojciech Marczewski is a co-founder of, and one of the star lecturers at, the Andrzej Wajda Master School of Film Directing, which opened its doors to students in Warsaw in 2002.
Author: Halina Olczak-Moraczewska, April 2004
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