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Zbigniew Cybulski

Source: Filmoteka Narodowa,

Actor. Born on the 3rd of November 1927 in Kniaże near Stanisławów, died tragically on the 8th of January 1967 in Wrocław.

In 1947, he enrolled at the Kraków University of Economics and at the department of Journalism at the School of Social Sciences. After two years, he abaondoned his studies and enrolled at the National Art Academy in Kraków, where he graduated in 1953. That same year he went to Gdańsk with his entire graduating class, under the supervision of film director Lidia Zamkow he began performing at the Wybrzeże Theatre. He made his acting début in 1953 as Ferdinand in the play Intrigue and Love by Friedrich Schiller.

In 1954, together with a group of friends, he became involved in the BIM-BOM student theatre. The theatre had a communal nature, although several leaders emerged throughout its existence - including Jerzy Afanasjew, Wowo Bielicki and Jacek Fedorowicz, but the most important people in the team were Zbigniew Cybulski and Bogumił Kobiela. Their function in the program was designated by three verbs: invent, stage and direct (they acted only in exceptional circumstances). However, due to his charisma and leadership skills, the undisputed head of the theatre group was Cybulski. Fedorowicz called him "the guide of the herd, endowed with supreme authority and radiating strength". Despite not being strictly political in nature, even before 1956, the theatre indirectly attacked and mocked authorities. Konrad Eberhardt explained,

(...) The agitational methods (of the theatre) were very different from the norms accepted in those days: manipulating understandable, sharp contrasts, reaching for a paradox, mental short-cuts, artistic signatures, poetic imagery, jokes, (BIM-BOM) mainly impacted human sensitivity, appealed more to emotion than to one's beliefs.
(Film, 1987 No. 02)

BIM-BOM completed five shows: Zero (1954), Ahaaa (1955), Radość poważna / Serious Happiness (1956), Toast (1957) and last Coś by trzeba / Whatever Is Needed (1960). Each (especially the first three) was enthusiastically received by the audience. Performances were staged in Poland and abroad, in Belgium, France, Austria, Holland and East Germany. Jacek Safuta wrote about the impact of the theatre on the actor,

It was with BIM BOM that Cybulski learnt a particular way of being on screen, playing a unique combination of sharpness, rough unavailability and simultaneous familiarity of tone, a gesture of intimacy, internal warmth.
(Film, 1987 No. 02)

Cybulski himself said that he lived his best years in Gdańsk. He confided in a volume of memoirs by Jerzy Afanasjew,

BIM-BOM was everything. Our mother, our brother, and our teacher. It was our bread. I don't know if it was theatre, fun, a dream or a book. (...) If I die, and this sounds pompous, but believe me that all my films and art (...) is nothing - I would think only of our theatre. Through BIM-BOM I approached humanity... My profession.
(Sezon kolorowych chmur - 1968, reprinted in Zbigniew Cybulski actor of the twentieth century - 1997)

He planned that on the anniversary of the first show, in May 1967, there would be a meeting of troupe members. Unfortunately, it took place earlier on the 12th of January, and not in Gdańsk, but in Katowice, at the actor's funeral.

Along with Bogumił Kobiela he founded the experimental Rozmów Theatre (1957-1958). At the Wybrzeże Theatre, he played a few roles, including Zbigniew in Mazepa by Juliusz Słowacki and Jan in the First day of freedom. In 1958, together with Bogumił Kobiela he directed Jonasz i błazen / Jonah and the Jester by Jerzy Broszkiewicz (The play won the the 1st Northern Poland Theatre Festival in Toruń), and Król / The King by Gaston de Caillavet and Robert de Flers (1959). The theatrical actor played his most important role in a play directed by Andrzej Wajda, the role of young drug addict named Johnny Pope in A Hatful of Rain by Michael Vincente Gazzo (1959). The troupe performed this around half of Poland. Performances were twice Pierwszy dniu wolności /  Last day of freedom by Leon Kruczkowski, he played the role of Jan. At the end of the same year, Cybulski began performing at the Ateneum Theatre in Warsaw. His first role was Jerry in Two for the Seesaw by William Gibson, directed by Andrzej Wajda. He also played Govan Stevens in Requiem for a Nun by William Faulkner, directed by Jerzy Markuszewski (1962).

In the sixties he performed at the Television Theatre. His best and most important role was of Sammy in the play Sammy by Ken Hughes, directed by Jerzy Gruza (1962). He also played the role of Jack's director in Harlequinade written by Terence Rattigan and directed by Andrzej Munk (1961). In a play, directed by Olga Lipińska Cybulski played Fabian Miłobrzeski in Romans prowincjonalny / A Provincial Affair written by Kornel Filipowicz (1961), Walter in Shut the Final Door by Truman Capote (1961) and engineer Krzysztof in the play Podwórko / Courtyard by Andrzej Jarecki (1962).

He played two roles at the Kobra Theatre: Paul Walby in Alibi in black by Colin Robertson (1963) and Carliss in The Whole Truth by Philip Mackie (1963) - both performances were directed by Janusz Morgenstern. He portrayed a director in the television film Mistrz / Master directed by Jerzy Antczak (1966). He also appeared in the Poznajmy się / Let's get to know each other program by Jerzy Gruza (1964).

Cybulski's feature film debut was in Andrzej Wajda's Pokolenie / A Generation (1954). Unfortunately, his role as Kostek was almost completely edited out of the film, all that remains is one scene. He had small roles in two other films Kariera / Career (1954) and Tajemnica Dzikiego Szybu / Mystery of a Mining Shaft (1955). He had a bigger role as Leśniak in the cycling film Trzy starty / Three Losses directed by Stanisław Lenartowicz (1955), and Rafał Grabień in Wraki directed by Ewa Petelska and Czesław Petleski (1956).

Cybulski played the part of Romek in Koniec nocy / The End of the Night a graduation project film of the Łódź Film School directed by Julian Dziedzina, Paweł Komorowski and Walentyna Uszycka (1957). He appeared in the lead role as Piotr based on a novella by Marek Hłasko in Ósmy dzień tygodnia / Eighth day of the week directed by Aleksander Ford, prod. Poland - West Germany (1958). The faithful portrayal of the social realism in the 1950s led the censors to remove the film from circulation. German audiences, however, appreciated the production, and the film gathered a strong following based on the strengths of Polish acting, directing and photography. The film premiered in Poland in 1983.

In 1958, Cybulski scored the most important role of his career as a young home army resistance soldier in Popiół i diament / Ashes and diamonds based on the novel by Jerzy Andrzejewski and directed by Andrzej Wajda. Bogumił Drozdowski wrote about Cybulski's performance in his memoirs,

Maciek Chełmicki was accepted by both critics and the audience, and his success was more comprehensive and explicit than the success of the film. (...) In the role of Maciek, Cybulski found great material. (...) There was a kind of comprehensive understanding between Zbigniew and Maciek, agreeing, in terms of general concept, as well as in the minutest detail. (O Zbigniewie Cybulskim, 1969)

Alicja Helman wrote,

Cybulski is not visible on screen all the time, however audiences perceive that they are watching him without interruption. The screen is irradiated with Maciek; almost vibrating with the strength of his personality. (...) Cybulski's magnetic and captivating charm would not fade over the years, and the character would not experience any prejudice. The diamond would shine in all its splendour. (Zbigniew Cybulski - aktor XX wieku, 1997)

By creating the character of Maciek Chełmicki, Zbyszek Cybulski reached a peak of acting craftsmanship. Thanks to that film, he became both a role model and a superstar, with almost an entire generation of Polish youth donning jeans and dark sunglasses. (...) Cybulski's roles were compared to those of James Dean. (...) He became an idol, the number one character on the screen, someone close to audiences. (...) His name became popular all over the world, Claire René and Alberto Moravia wrote about him. (Kazimierz Witkowski, Ekran, 1992 No. 02)

This role divided the actor's career into two parts. After playing Maciek, Cybulski tried to repeat his great success, but never got a role of similar weight. Critics and audiences waited for the next incarnation of actor, and compared all his role with that of Chełmicki. If he tried to extend the role, everyone accused the actor of repeating himself. If he was different, they all held a grudge, because he was not putting more of Maciek in his characters.

A continuation of the role of Maciek was that of Jacek in Do widzenia, do jutra / Good Bye, Till Tomorrow directed by Janusz Morgenstern - written by the actor himself, together with Bogumił Kobiela (Wilhelm Mach was only credited as a writer, according to memoirs by Janusz Morgenstern). The film was an attempt to summarise the actor's time spent in Gdansk. In the same vein, one could include two small roles: Staszek in Pociąg / Train by Jerzy Kawalerowicz George (1959) and Edmund in Niewinnych czarodziejach / Innocent sorcerers by Andrzej Wajda (1960)

Thanks to his role in Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds, Cybulski became well-known and distinguished abroad, that in 1961, he starred in three films produced in France: La Poupée / He, She or It directed by Jacques Baratier, a surreal comedy in which he played two roles, the dictator Prado Roth and the rebel, and Thé a la menthe / Mint Tea directed by Pierre Kafian, in this short film Cybulski played a young man in a café. The third role was that of Zbyszek - a pathetic, ridiculous man, in the segment Warsaw directed by Andrzej Wajda - part of the film L'amour à vingt ans / Love at Twenty, a collaboration of different directors around the world. The character of this film has little in common with the myth of Maciek. The same goes for his role in the film by Wojciech J. Has Jak być kochaną / How to be loved (1963), where he played the role of Viktor Rawicz, a selfish character. At around this time, Cybulski began to play the roles of ordinary middle-aged men, a doctor in the film Ich dzien powszedni / Their Everyday Life by Aleksander Ścibor-Rylskie (1963), a captain of the communist Militia in Zbrodniarz i panna / The Criminal and the Lady directed by Janusz Nasfeter (1963), a sports coach in Jutro Meksyk / Mexico Tomorrow by Aleksander Scibor-Rilski (1965), an architect in Sam posród miasta / Alone in the City by Halina Bielińska (1965). He played an old student, Łukasz, in Pingwin / Penguin by Jerzy S. Stawiński (1964).

In 1964 he starred in another foreign film, this time Swedish Att Älska / To Love directed by Jörn Donner, Cybulski played Fredrik. His partner in the film was Harriet Anderson.

In Salto / Jump by Tadeusz Konwicki (1965) he played Karol Kowalski vel Malinowski a mythomaniac. In the only costume drama in his film career, he played the role of Alfons van Worden in the film Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie / The Saragossa Manuscript directed by Wojciech J. Has, based on the novel by Jan Potocki (1965). He played the role of Maciek in a film, Szyfry / The Codes (1966), by the same director. It was one of his last roles.

Cybulski played, moreover, a number of successful comedic roles. His greatest achievement in this genre is undoubtedly the role of Staszek in the well-known comedy by Stanisław Lenartowicz Giuseppe w warszawie / Giuseppe in Warsaw) (1964). He also played a zoo technician, Więcek, in Kazimierz Kutz's Krzyż walecznych / Cross of Valor (1959). In Rozwodów nie będzie / No More Divorces by Jerzy Stefan Stawiński (1963).

In 1966 he starred in three films which premiered after his tragic death. He played a sailor in Cała naprzód / Full Ahead by Stanisław Lenartowicz, a sports coach in Jowita directed by Janusz Morgenstern, based on a novel by Stanisław Dygat, as well as Rodecki in Morderca zostawia ślad / The Killer Leaves a Trace by Aleksander Ścibor-Rylski. The role was voiced by Tadeusz Łomnicki.

Actors are divided into those who transform their personalities and those who perpetuate them. I'm more interested in acting within certain individual characteristics. I realise that it is both difficult and dangerous, said Cybulski. (Quoted in Film, 1987 No. 02)

In total, Zbigniew Cybulski played in 35 feature films, 10 stage plays and 9 TV shows. He wanted to direct his own autobiographical script about the three women in his life. On the day before his death, he received a call from New York, notifying him that he was chosen among other actors for the role of Kowalski in the play A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, which was to be executed for a New York television.

His name was dedicated to the films: Wszystko na sprzedaż / Everything for sale by Andrzej Wajda (1969) and a documentary filmZbyszek by Jan Laskowski (1969).

A number of books were also written about the actor. Among them: O Zbigniewie Cybulskim - Wspomnienia / About Zbigniew Cybulski - Memories by Włodzimierz Bielicki (1969); Okno Zbyszka Cybulskiego / Zbigniew Cybulski's Window by Jerzy Afanasjew (1970) and Cybulski Zbigniew - aktor XX wieku / Cybulski Zbigniew - actor of the twentieth century, edited by Jan Ciechowicz and Tadeusz Szczepański (1997).

In 1984 he posthumously won first place in the competition for the best actor of the last 40 years, organised by the Department of Culture and Art of Łódź Medical University. In 1998, he was nominated fourth in the poll among the most important Polish actors of the twentieth century by Polityka magazine. On the 8th of January 1997, on the thirtieth anniversary of his death, Andrzej Wajda unveiled a commemorative plaque at the spot where the actor died on the train station platform in Wrocław. In 1999 a star was unveiled in Łódź's Walk of Fame on ul. Piotrkowska.

Author: Halina Olczak-Moraczewska's picture
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