Xawery Żuławski, fot. Tadusz Poźniak / Reporter / East News
Xawery Żuławski, photo: Tadusz Poźniak / Reporter / East News

Director, screenwriter, also actor and cameraman, born on 22 December 1971 in Warsaw.

Xawery Żuławski is the son of Andrzej Żuławski, world-famous film director and author, and Małgorzata Braunek, an acclaimed Polish actress who turned away from the film world in the 1980s in favour of Buddhist practice (she is a sensei of the Kanzeon Polish Buddhist Association). After his parents' separation, the young Żuławski grew up at his mother's home, but moved to Paris as a teen, where his father lived and worked. In Paris, Xawery's creative perspective was free to develop in a different way than that of his contemporaries living in Poland under martial law. He encountered youth culture at a French high school, a phenomenon which didn't come into existence in Poland until after 1989 and the socio-political transformation. After returning to Poland, Żuławski passed his matriculation exam at Warsaw's Tadeusz Reytan High School.

Contact with his father developed his interest in film. In 1990, he participated in the production, in France and Poland, of Andrzej Żuławski's film La note bleue / The Blue Note about the relationship of Fryderyk Chopin and George Sand that marked the end of the great composer's creative output. In 1991, Xawery was accepted to the Łódź Film School. Other students in his class included Mariusz Front, Grzegorz Packi and Artur Urbański. The same year, Bartosz Prokopowicz and Arkadiusz Tomiak attended the school's cinematography department. Piotr Szulkin, one of Żuławski's professors, singled him out as one of his most talented students. A scene on the terrace of the Palace of Culture in the film by Mariusz Front Portret podwójny / Double Portrait, where a group of film school students discuss a film produced by one of the characters, the director's alter ego, provides a testimonial to the role Xawery Żuławski played in shaping, or rather showing the possibilities offered by cinema, for his friends.

Like every film student, Żuławski made several shorts and worked as an assistant during film productions (including as a directorial assistant for director and Łódź Film School professor Mariusz Grzegorzek during the original film Rozmowa z człowiekiem z szafy / Conversation With a Man from the Cabinet). He also took a shot at his own work (e.g. his documentary from the Berlin Film Festival, Wiadomość od Jimmiego / News from Jimmi, co-directed with Artur Urbański). He graduated from film school in 1995 and began his efforts to complete his feature-length debut - an effort that was to take 10 years. Over that time, he shot several advertisements, worked in the cinematography crew on his father's film La fidélité / Fidelity, and as second assistant director of the critically acclaimed Bellissima, a made-for-television film by Artur Urbański. Soon thereafter, Żuławski began work on his feature-length debut, Chaos, which took about five years as he searched for funding and a producer.

Chaos is the story of three brothers looking for their paths in life - one works in a big corporation, the other tries to make a living by selling goods at a bazaar, while the third is into punk and alterglobalism subculture. Following each one allows Żuławski to sketch a multidimensional image of society from the Polish and the global perspective. Nevertheless, critics were not kind to Chaos.

Some observers of Polish Cinema feel that Żuławski's film is a model to be emulated by young Polish directors while historians of Polish Cinema find it a reference to the model established by Trzecia część nocy / Third Part of Night, Andrzej Żuławski's debut, which changed the way the World War II experience would be treated by film. Chaos received awards for best debut and best costumes at the Gdynia Polish Film Festival and the Grand Prix at the Koszalin "Young People and Film" Festival. The lead role of Niki (the director's alter ego?), played by Mariusz Brzozowski, gave the actor popularity which soon garnered him the Zbyszek Cybulski acting award given by the public.

The directorial skill shown in Chaos and the feel for popular subcultures were decisive in Xawery getting the call to direct the film adaptation of the wildly popular novel by Dorota Masłowska, Wojna polsko-ruska pod flagą biało-czerwoną / Snow White and Russian Red. The task was as alluring as it was difficult - the experienced director Jan Jakub Kolski had just given up on the project. In an interview, Żuławski talks about what caused him to accept the project and the challenge.

"The film is very comic book-like, because as a boy, I was fascinated with the culture of comics. Even today, I might spend all the money I have on a great issue. How does that transfer into 'Snow White'? The camera dumps scenes in your face, just like in illustrations. The set design also serves that purpose. I decided that in places where we see the plot through the eyes of the narrator and hear her narration, the world would be in white and red colors. That is how I accent the Polish point of view, because the book is about Polishness [as seen by Gombrowicz and Witkacy]. Dorota [Masłowska's] work is very close in style to the interwar period, i.e. Polish abstractionism. In a specific way that is removed from reality, she talks about what is churning in Polish minds: romanticism mixed with boorishness, modernity with the past - historical fears and obsessions. Add to that the language the author created for literary purposes."

Whether Snow White and Russian Red is viewed as a film about the creative act (as suggested in the quote above) or the first film about Polish homeboys (as suggested by some critics following reviews coined by literary critics that Masłowska's novel), Żuławski's film is fresh, dynamic and energetic. In the film magazine, "Kino" (Issue 6/2009), Sebastian Jagielski writes:

"Though 'Snow White and Russian Red' stays true to the plot of the novel, Żuławski shows surprising inventiveness in the way he guides his actors, in trips - often overly dangerous - in the direction of kitsch (though definitely avoiding camp), inspirations from Monty Python, but also the poetics of computer games, formal and production ideas and narrative cul-de-sacs. He actually begins his film with a cul-de-sac, hindering the viewers' already difficult understanding of the main character's world. Silny [Strong], played by the great Borys Szyc - in what is undoubtedly the best role in his career to date, has a hallucinatory and drug-induced escapade, which in the film, closes the book's opening seaside episode. This solution, on the one hand, arranges the material, establishing the framework for a story of unfulfilled love of a homeboy and a small-town tart, but, paradoxically, it breaks up the linearity of the narration even more by depriving the viewer of certainty as to which events 'actually' happened and which are only drug-induced delusions."

The novel's popularity helps the popularity of the film. However, Żuławski skillfully frees himself from the pressure of the original by creating a film that not only transfers Masłowska's prose into film language, but becomes the director's own voice inspired by novel. The film received the Silver Lion award at the Gdynia Film Festival for best actor (Borys Szyc) as well as for costumes and sound. However, observers of Xawery Żuławski's work are more interested in complementary opinions of Andrzej Żuławski about his son's film than in awards. That is the best proof that the Żuławski clan, a clan of writers, painters and filmmakers - so important to Polish culture for over 100 years - has not only maintained continuity, but that it will continue to have something to say in the coming century.

Filmography

Shorts:

  • 1992 - Obserwacja / Observation, Director;
  • 1992 - Wniebowstąpienie / Ascension, Director;
  • 1993 - Naświeżo / Fresh, Director;
  • 1994 - Krótki / Short, Director;
  • 1994 - Smród / Stink (dir. Artur Urbański), Assistant Director.


Documentary films:

  • 1993 - Wiadomość od Jimmiego / News from Jimmy, co-directed with Artur Urbański.


Feature films:

  • 1990 - La note bleu / The Blue Note (dir. Andrzej Żuławski), Production Assistant;
  • 1993 - Rozmowa z człowiekiem z szafy / Conversation with the Man from the Cabinet" (dir. Mariusz Grzegorzek), Director's Assistant;
  • 2000 - Bellissima (TV) (dir. Artur Urbański), Second Unit Director, actor;
  • 2000 - Portret podwójny / Double Portrait (dir. Mariusz Front), actor;
  • 2000 - La fidélité / Fidelity (dir. Andrzej Żuławski), production, actor;
  • 2005 - Chaos director, cinematography. Gdynia Polish Film Festival 2006 - Best directorial debut 2006, Grand Prix "Wielki Jantar" at "Young and Film" Debut Film Festival in Koszalin 2007;
  • 2008 - Pitbull / Pit-bull (TV series), direct third series, actor;
  • 2008 - Tysiąc zakazanych krzaków / A Thousand Forbidden Bushes (short) (dir. Piotr Kielar), script, cinematography;
  • 2009 - Wojna polsko-ruska / Snow White and Russian Red, script (based on Dorota Masłowska novel), director, actor. Public Prize at the Off Plus Camera International Film Festival in Kracow, Juliusz Burski Prize at the Łagów Film Festival 2009, Wrocław Film Prize at the Era Nowe Horyzonty in Wrocław 2009, Silver Lions at the Gdynia Polish Festival 2009.Author: Konrad J. Zarębski, October 2009
    Translated by: Jerzy Kamecki, July 2010

Xawery Żuławski is the laureate of the "Polityka" Newsweekly Passport Awards 2009 for his film Snow White and Russian Red ex aequo with Borys Lankosz (Rewers).