A Kind Mocker: Kazimierz Kutz's 10 Most Important Works
default, Photo from the set of the movie ‘The Leap’, directed by Kazimierz Kutz, 1974. Pictured: Kazimierz Kutz, photo: Piotr Kwiatkowski/Archiwum Filmu/Forum
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A patron of Silesian tradition and a rationalist which mocked national insecurities. An example of directorial precision and one of the greatest artists in the history of Polish Television’s theatre programme. Here are 10 works by Kazimierz Kutz that everyone should know.
Tales From Hollywood, written by Christopher Hampton (1987)
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A still from the TV play ‘Tales From Hollywood’, directed by Kazimierz Kutz, 1987, The Golden Hundred of the Polish Television Theatre, photo: TVP press materials
One of Kazimierz Kutz’s masterpieces made for the Polish Television Theatre was an adaptation of a play by Christopher Hampton – a story about the artists who emigrated from Nazi Germany to try their luck in Hollywood. In America, Bertolt Brecht, Thomas Mann and his brother Henry, try to retain their sense of artistic mission and intellectual honesty while dealing with their demons.
By telling the story of their tragic fates, Kutz asked questions about the role of the artist in relation to key historical events. With irony and scepticism, he discussed the public responsibilities of art, the darker side of politics and the need for a greater goal, as well as the cult of martyrs and victims and the desire of freedom.
As a director who took part in the Solidarity movement a couple years earlier and the only filmmaker interned during the martial law, Kutz discussed also himself and his friends in Tales From Hollywood, attempting to work through his own idealism and cynicism.
The humorous, film-like adaptation was a display of great acting by Janusz Gajos, Jerzy Bińczycki, Monika Niemczyk and Henryk Bista, and the play was later chosen as one the one hundred best productions of Polish Television Theatre.
Six Feet Under, written by Tadeusz Różewicz (1989)
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Staging this play required quite a lot of courage as the work of Polish poet and writer Tadeusz Różewicz was controversial from the very beginning. Written in 1972, it had to wait seven years to be published in print and the premiere in Warsaw’s Na Woli Theatre sparked such strong protests that the show was cancelled.
In Six Feet Under, Różewicz told the story of the brutal life of Polish partisans. He demythologised the pro-independence underground fighters of the World War II period by raising the issue of their criminal activities. It offended both the Home Army veterans and politicians.
In his adaptation of Różewicz’s play, Kutz broke with the romantic vision of army life. His partisans were dirty and animal-like, focussed on fulfilling their physiological needs rather than on the celebration of patriotic sentiments. In the story of the naïve young Waluś (a great performance by Piotr Cyrwus), the director looked at what lay underneath the bronze monuments and asked the audience uncomfortable questions.
The artists and the producers of this TV play were aware of the risks involved with its premiere. The adaptation had to wait a couple months for its broadcast and it was accompanied on screen by a discussion involving both Kazimierz Kutz and Tadeusz Różewicz which was supposed to prepare the viewers for what they were going to see.
Nobody’s Calling (1960)
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In his second feature-length film, Kutz engaged in a deep polemic with Andrzej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds. In Nobody’s Calling, Kutz told the story of Bożek, a young man who, during the war, faced a similar choice to Maciek Chełmicki in Wajda’s masterpiece. However, contrary to the character played by Zbigniew Cybulski, Bożek did not follow the order of executing a communist activist. He ran away and settled in a small town near the Western border where he attempted to build a new life with the woman he loved. But when his former friends from the underground organisation managed to track him down, the man once again had to fight for his survival.
Discussing moral choices and patriotic duties, Kutz discarded the easy idealism and adopted a plebeian perspective. He portrayed love as a universal and life-changing experience. People saw in this movie, masterfully shot by Jerzy Wójcik, many similarities with the works of Michelangelo Antonioni and Nobody’s Calling proved to be the best of Kutz’s early works.
Salt of the Black Earth (1969)
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This is the first part of a triptych that granted Kutz his position as a legend of Polish cinema and cemented his reputation as the greatest film promoter of everything Silesian. In this movie, the director discussed the fate of the II Silesian Uprising of August 1920. Instead of reconstructing historical events, Kutz told a poetic tale of brothers who join the uprising together to fight for the independence of their homeland from Germany.
Aleksander Ledóchowski wrote in Kino magazine:
The heroes are not guided by big reasons, pompous phrases or ambition. They are like blades of grass struck down by wind, which then rise up and are struck down again. They don’ even understand themselves, because the motivation for their action is encoded in their blood, contained in the language of their ancestors, embedded in their thoughts and safeguarded by traditions – it is the voice of their land. The uprising is more of a biological necessity than a question of worldview.
Kutz built a monument to his Silesian ancestors and neighbours. He sketched a portrait of the community, their customs, rituals and dreams. The picture, accompanied by great cinematography by Wiesław Zdort and music by Wojciech Kilar, brought Kutz many awards and was the beginning of his Silesian trilogy which was continued by the Pearl in the Crown.
Pearl in the Crown (1971)
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"Perła w koronie" / "Pearl In The Crown"
Kutz filmed it two years later, giving his viewers a kind of a sequel to the story of the insurgents. This time, the story takes place a decade later and its heroes are now miners (portrayed by the actors from Salt… – Olgierd Łukaszewicz, Jan Englert and Jerzy Cnota) striking against the German owners who were closing down the mines.
Speaking of their fight, Kutz once again praised Silesia and its people – their love of freedom, diligence, strong character, sense of dignity and attachment to the traditional, patriarchal model of family. In Kutz’s work, home was an oasis of happiness and a space in which one could see the everyday rituals that showed the true image of a Silesian community.
Kutz said himself that his ‘Silesian movies could be treated like scientific, ethnographic studies’ and the world was fascinated with his stories of the unfamiliar land of pre-war Silesia. Pearl in the Crown received awards at the film festival in Łagów, but also abroad: in Antwerp, Milan and Panama.
The Beads of One Rosary (1979)
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Kutz’s fans had to wait eight years for the last part of the Silesian trilogy. In The Beads of One Rosary, the director told the story of a family that was forced to leave their home by the authorities – it was going to be demolished to make room for a block of flats. This forced relocation had a symbolic meaning. The Beads of One Rosary was a story of the end of a culture – of the dissolution of the traditional patriarchal working class family and the Silesian culture that was created on the basis of this model.
Tadeusz Lubelski wrote about Kutz’s movie on Culture.pl’s Polish site:
The Beads… were an indictment of the contemporary Polish authorities, which stripped the individual of their autonomy. This way, the director became a part of the opposition’s ‘cinema of moral anxiety’. The Silesian trilogy was an original artistic accomplishment of Kutz’s, who connected universal issues with the folklore of his region.
In 1980, Kutz’s movie received Golden Lions during the Polish Film Festival in Gdańsk and a special award at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
Death Like a Slice of Bread (1994)
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Kutz returned to Silesia in another great movie. In Death Like a Slice of Bread he told the story of the pacification of the ‘Wujek’ coal mine, the most tragic event of martial law in Poland. The lyricism present in the movies of the Silesian trilogy was now replaced by realism and pathos.
Presenting the revolt of the Silesian miners, Kutz paid an homage to their bravery. Instead of focussing on one character, he created a collective protagonist and the magnificent performances of Janusz Gajos, Jerzy Radziwiłowicz and Teresa Budzisz-Krzyżanowska left their mark on Polish cinematic history. The tragedy of the miners was illustrated by the soundtrack by Wojciech Kilar, which transformed this almost documental picture into a cinematic tale of martyrdom.
Its lofty character distinguished Death Like a Slice of Bread from Kutz’s other ‘plebeian’ movies. In order to maintain balance, Kutz made another movie that year and it also dealt with the ideals of the Solidarity movement: The Convert was an ironic comedy about the traps of ideology.
Antigone in New York, written by Janusz Głowacki (1995)
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Kazimierz Kutz during the rehearsal for a play ‘Sami Porządni Ludzie’ (Only Honest People), directed by Kazimierz Kutz, 1992, Współczesny Theatre in Warsaw, photo: Kuba Atys/AG
In 1992, the theatre critic Jan Kott listed Sławomir Mrożek’s Emigrants, Tadeusz Różewicz’s Six Feet Under and Janusz Głowacki’s Antigone in New York among the best Polish plays of that time. Kazimierz Kutz must have shared this opinion, because he adapted all three of them into teleplays.
Głowacki’s Antigone in New York was the most witty of the three. Głowacki filtered the ancient tragedy through uncompromising irony and set it in a Manhattan park inhabited by homeless people from all over the world: a Russian Jew, a Puerto Rican and a Polish compulsive liar. Together they decided to bury Anita’s frozen lover.
Kutz had this to say of Antigone in New York:
Głowacki’s play is a story of contemporary America, a place where people go to exist in a state of hopelessness. For Pchełka and Sasza, America was a paradise. Because the idea of a paradise collapsed, Antigone shows how this paradise became hell.
The play, written for the actors Anna Dymna, Jerzy Trela and Jan Peszek, received a new life on television thanks to Kutz and became one of the most discussed Polish TV adaptations of the 1990s.
Four-Handed Supper, written by Paul Barz (1990)
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Bach and Handel. A modest music director of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig and a celebrity admired all over Europe. Two genius composers meet in Paul Barz’s play for supper during which pride engages with modesty, jealousy is replaced with admiration, and the relationship between the two musicians is transformed completely.
In Kutz’s adaptation, the composers are portrayed by two masters of Polish acting – Janusz Gajos playing Johann Sebastian Bach, and Roman Wilhelmi embodying the character of Georg Friedrich Handel. They created an unforgettable tale about the essence of art and artist’s involvement with the world. They told us about the freedom of searching and the illusion of fulfilment.
Kutz’s TV play was chosen as part of the Golden Hundred of Polish Television Theatre.
Emigrants, written by Sławomir Mrożek (1995)
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Photo from the set of the play ‘Emigrants’, directed by Kazimierz Kutz, 1995, Polish Television Theatre. Pictured: Marek Kondrat and Kazimierz Kutz, photo: Ryszard Kornecki/Archiwum TVP/Forum
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Young Kutz dealt with Wajda’s cult Ashes and Diamonds in his Nobody’s Calling, and he once again challenged Wajda more than 30 years later. By filming one of the two greatest plays by Stanisław Mrożek (the other being Tango), Kutz had to deal with the legendary adaptation by Andrzej Wajda from 1975. His challenge was successful as he created a teleplay that is now considered among one of the hundred best plays of the Polish Television Theatre.
The dialogue between an intellectual forced into political emigration and an immigrant worker searching for financial freedom in the West is a masterful spoken duel between Marek Kondrat and Zbigniew Zamachowski. On New Year’s Eve, the two men share with each other their dreams and illusions and in Kutz’s interpretation, they become the embodiments of the Polish fate consisting of deceptions and personal mythology.
Originally written in Polish, translated by MW, Dec 2018
Sources: Polish Television Theatre, Filmpolski.pl, own information; T. Lubelski, Historia Kina Polskiego, Kraków 2015, M. Hendrykowski (ed.), Debiuty Polskiego Kina, Konin 1998
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