In what unexpectedly ended up being his final film, Andrzej Wajda returned to grand historical themes and political engagement, as well as his greatest personal passion: painting.
Afterimage, the parting shot of the late master of Polish cinema, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival just a month before the director's death on 9th October 2016. Only a week earlier, the director, who turned 90 in March this year, had been awarded at the Gdynia Film Festival, and his new film had been selected as the Polish entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2017 Oscars.
Afterimage follows the story of painter Władysław Strzemiński, a pioneer of Polish avant-garde art during the inter-war period, and co-founder of the constructivist Blok movement.
The film focuses on Strzemiński's life and career immediately after World War II. At the time, the artist was teaching painting at the State School of Visual Arts in Łodź, even designing the famous Neoplastic Room at the Museum of Art in Łódź. But he was soon stripped of his position by the new Communist authorities who were now following a strict new Stalinist policy in the creation of art.
As Wajda explained, Afterimage is about ‘the worst time in Polish post-war history, the years 1948-1952, when the Soviet doctrine of Socialist Realism was introduced in art’.
Tracing the relentlessly courageous path taken by Strzemiński, the movie becomes a meditation on the role of the artist in society and that of artistic freedom in the political world. In an interview for the Polish Press Agency, Wajda explained:
There are different views on how art should develop, to what extent it should serve this or that political formation. With this movie, I intended to warn against any intervention on the part of the state into matters of art. As Strzemiński said, art should be appraised not through its usability, but through its creative potential, through how it opens us to new possibilities, a new world, new views. This is the value of art, and I think that it still remains valid.
Asked whether the movie was created out of rage, Wajda answered:
No. It came from my long experience. From the fact that I saw those times and know where they can lead us.
Afterimage - Trailer from Culture.pl on Vimeo.
Wajda's final movie can also be seen as the return to one of his greatest passions: painting. The medium imbues much of his cinematic oeuvre.
Before he became a film director, Wajda studied painting in 1946-1949 at the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts. It was there that he befriended Andrzej Wróblewski, one of the most talented Polish painters of the post-war generation. Making a movie about Wróblewski, who died at the age of just 29 in 1957, became one of Wajda's long-running but never realised artistic goals. In 2015, he finally narrated a film about his old friend and idol, co-produced by Culture.pl: Wróblewski According to Wajda.
Afterimage premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2016. It will be the Polish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards.
Andrzej Wajda debuted as film director in 1951. His best known films include Canal (1956), Ashes and Diamonds (1958), Everything for Sale (1968), The Promised Land (1975), Man of Marble (1976), Man of Iron (1981), and Katyń (2007). In 2000, Wajda was presented with an honorary Oscar for his contribution to world cinema. The late director's penultimate movie, Wałęsa: Man of Hope (2013), was a political biopic about Lech Wałęsa, the leader of the Solidarity movement and first president of Poland after the communist regime ended.
At the time of his passing, Wajda was already developing his next film project, but fate has left us with Afterimage as his swansong.
Author: Mikołaj Gliński, ed. az, 10th October 2016