The DVD box of four digitally restored Kawalerowicz classics with English subtitles - The Night Train, Mother Joan of the Angles, The Pharaoh and The Inn - show the director’s drive to poeticise, his sense of detail and astute feel for observing reality.
When Jerzy Kawalerowicz died in 2007, he was best recalled for his adaptation of Henryk Sienkiewicz’s novel of ancient Rome during Emperor Nero's reign, Quo Vadis., the book for which the writer received the Nobel Prize. The Kino Polska DVD box set comprises The Night Train (1959), Mother Joan of the Angels (1960), Pharaoh (1965), The Inn (1982) and the biographical documentary Whisky with Milk dedicated to his memory, and is part of the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema series. With nearly ten hours of motion pictures, the box, A Forgotten World, pays tribute to the influential filmmaker (born 1922) who created penetrating features while remaining outside the contemporary mainstream.
"No, you just don’t get it. I am completly alone in what I do", the protagonist from Kawalerowicz’s The Game (played by Gustaw Holoubek) said in the director's 1968 release. "You don’t have the slightest idea of how the world in which I live in is. What kind of relationships there are, how envious the people are. How I have to fight to maintain, to have them recognise me, even those with whom I am close". His words come close to describing Kawalerowicz himself, a loner with his own vision of the cinema.
Bartosz Staszczyszyn writes in an article for culture.pl.that "Probably almost everyone knows his name, but only part of the people knows him for his earlier works.While [Wojciech Jerzy] Has is rightfully considered the main poet of Polish cinema, Wajda its chronicler and Polański an ironist with an incredible imagination, to the general public, Kawalerowicz remained a filmmaker without overarching characteristics." As the artistic manager of the Kadr film studio and co-founder and first president of the Association of Polish Filmmakers, he was the godfather of the Polish Film School, yet with his own creativity, he remained outside prevailing trends. "He didn’t have favourite topics, one sense of aesthetics and film style", Staszczyszyn writes "Every time, trusting a different vision of the cinema and drawing inspiration from different sources, he created new worlds."
"He ended up in the industry by accident," Stanisław Zawiśliński says in Kacper Lisowski’s documentary film Whisky with Milk, which is part of the A Forgotten World box. Kawalerowicz planned on becoming a painter, studying at the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts. There, he met his wife, a painter, and upon recognising that her talent exceeded his, he gave up painting as a career choice. Cinema offered new possibilities.
He got his start in film just after the war and completed a course in the rudiments of filmmaking in Kraków. After working as an assistant director, in 1951 he debuted as a director. His first films, such as The Village Mill (1951) and Cellulose (1953), fit of necessity with socialist-realism doctrines - they were even considered its prime cinematic examples. The young director's sensitivity and consciousness of the medium's form shone through, nevertheless.
In Kawalerowicz’s cinema, the camera is the eye of the protagonist. "I always put the viewer in the scene and the staging of the scene, right between the actors. The viewer has to be one of the participants of the story." As the director said, "That brings about a certain manner of storytelling – a camera that is subjective. […] I always allow the viewer to co-create the whole story." His collaborator and fellow filmmaker Tadeusz Konwicki used to say that "Kawalerowicz thinks with his camera, he has a camera in his head and perceives the world as if he had a lens in his eye".
The importance of cinematography is evidenced in the new box's offerings by the claustrophobic comportments in The Night Train (starring Lucyna Winnicka, with cinematography by Jan Laskowski), the lurking uncertainty and danger in The Inn (cinematography by Zygmunt Samosiuk), the demon-possessed nuns of the monastery in Mother Joan of the Angels, and the powerful solar eclipse in Pharaoh (both filmed by Jerzy Wójcik).
The four films have been restored, brightening colours, strengthening contrasts and erasing surface imperfections.
The Forgotten World DVD Box Set includes:
Pociąg / The Night Train, 1959, duration: 93'
Matka Joanna od Aniołów / Mother Joan of the Angels, 1960, duration: 103'
Faraon / Pharoah, 1965, duration: 175'
Austeria / The Inn, 1982, duration: 102'
Whisky z mlekiem / Whisky with Milk, dir. Kacper Lisowski, 2012, duration: 51'.
Sources: based on the article by Bartosz Staszczyszyn for culture.pl, culture.pl
Editor: Marta Jazowska