Film director, cameraman and screenwriter. Born in Łódź in 1936.
Photo from: www.filmpolski.pl
He graduated from Cinematography at the Leon Schiller National Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre (PWSTiF) in Łódź. The school accepted him in 1954, however, he was removed from the list of students during his first year of studies. He re-entered the course in 1956 and graduated in 1961.
During 1953-1954 he worked in the Feature Film Studio in Łódź as a lighting technician, and during his studies he acted in a number of short films. After graduating in 1962, he began his work as a cameraman. While at the film school, as a director of photography or an assistant director of short films, he collaborated with the likes of Roman Polański and Witold Leszczyński, in later years he worked with Jerzy Skolimowski, as a screenwriter.
Kostenko completed his first independent assignment as a cameraman working on the 1967 film directed by Witold Leszczyński entitled "Żywot Mateusza" / "Matthew's days". He began directing documentary films in the 1970s, he also became known for being a feature film director - he film "Rewizja osobista" / "Body search", in collaboration with Witold Leszczyński, while his solo directorial debut came in the form of the psychological drama "Sam na sam". He also directed a television series.
He worked abroad during the 1980s, continuing to collaborate with Polish directors who were active in the West - such as Skolimowski and Polański. After 1990 Andrzej Kostenko returned to work in Poland, gaining recognition predominantly for directing a television drama series.
In 1962, Kostenko was awarded an honourary diploma at the PWSFTviT Short Film Festival, for his footage in three short productions: "Ściana emocji", "Portret mężczyzny z medalem" and "Zabawa". He received the prestigious 1st Award at the Kraków Film Festival (at the time known as the National Short Film Festival) - "Złoty Smok Wawelski" / "The Golden Dragon of Wawel", alongside director Roman Polański and screenwriter Andrzej Kondratiuk. His work as a documentary director was nominated for the main prize at the festival in Karlovy Vary, for the film "Białowieża".
The professional achievements of Andrzej Kostenko do not seem to follow any clearly noticeable artistic development pattern. There are possibly two reasons for this. The first one lies in the wide range of his interests and the ease with which he is able to shift from being a cameraman to a screenwriter, and later to a director, often working in one of the roles, or even taking the responsibility for the three most significant parts of the film production simultaneously. Kostenko's creative career has, from the very beginning, been marked by a desire to gain the largest possible degree of control over the finished film. Completing responsibilities of a cameraman alone was not sufficient to fulfill this goal.
Kostenko wrote the following in an article regarding the work of a cinematographer:
A cameraman can, of course, have a very large impact on the final shape of a film, but only providing that he oversteps a mark and during the preparation and shooting time he takes the majority of the most important, artistically significant decisions himself. Unfortunately, this independence must by restricted by, for instance, the very existence of a director, but more importantly the editing process in which - as I stated earlier - the cameraman does not take part in.
- Kino 7/1972
Kostenko has contributed to the success of a number of significant films made by other authors. He supported Roman Polański by collaborating with him as a director during the making of films such as the famous short "Two men and a wardrobe" completed in 1958, and another short made the following year entitled "Lampa", as well as during Polański's feature film debut "Knife in the water" from 1961. The tasteful frames in Polański's short entitled "Ssaki" / "Mammals", with footage which resembles an avant garde painting - a man wrapped in white bandages standing in a snowy desert, was designed and achieved by Andrzej Kostenko. Finally, continuing his collaboration with Polański after a number of years, Kostenko took on the responsibility of the second assistant director during the making of "Pirates".
From the late 1950s until the mid-1960s, Andrzej Kostenko was perfecting his skills as a cinematographer under the watchful eye of Jerzy Lipman, working as a cameraman in feature film productions. He also began collaborating with Witold Leszczyński on short films, which have been awarded in the field of cinematography.
1966 is said to have been the year when Andrzej Kostenko began working with Jerzy Skolimowski. Kostenko contributed to Skolimowski's most famous productions, as either a co-screenwriter or cinematographer, such as: "Bariera" / "Barrier" (1966), the legendary film, banned by the board of censors for several years, as well as "Ręce do góry" / "Hands up" (1967), and a number of films completed abroad, where he also worked as a co-director. Kostenko participated in the writing of the script for Skolimowski's "Start" (a Belgian production), which gained an award in Berlin. As with Polański, he continued to work with Skolimowski in the years to follow.
In 1967, alongside working on Skolimowski's script for "Ręce do góry", he was responsible for the camerawork in "Żywot Mateusza" / "Matthew's days" (1967), directed by Witold Leszczyński. Andrzej Kostenko's beautiful footage for "Żywot Mateusza" matched its poetic, sublime plot. In fact, the film became successful largely thanks to the footage, and the effect of the cameraman's work prompted enthusiastic reviews. This moving drama about the loneliness of a man maladjusted to living in society touched audiences and the carefully composed frames attracted their attention. The director gathered many laurels for "Żywot Mateusza", and in 1968 the film was considered for an Oscar nomination. Film critic Konrad Eberhardt referred to "Żywot Mateusza" as a masterpiece and wrote the following:
This most peculiar story was told on the screen using a captivatingly clear film language, but it ought to be strongly emphasised that this clarity is not in any way meant to create claptrap. One has the impression that the makers of the film look at the world through the eyes of Mateusz; they find it equally fascinating and, just like him, they discover a multitude of signs within it, which they then attempt to decipher – just like him. This film has certain elements of mystery, of a ritual of being initiated into the world: when the camera shows a close-up of a bleeding tree, a tree shattered by lightning and being cut with a saw, one senses that there exists a circulatory system, which is shared by those trees, birds and plants; that all of them create one living organism.
- Film, 7/1968.
In an editorial discussion in Kino monthly magazine, Wiesław Stradomski appreciated Andrzej Kostenko's craft, and emphasised the fact that "Żywot Mateusza" is the type of film in which "the photographic layer elevates the value of the film more than other creative elements" (Kino,11/1998).
Even Aleksander Jackiewicz could not deny the beauty of the photography created by Kostenko, despite being one of the few critics who disliked the film.
The world in 'Żywot Mateusza' seems immersed in a glass bowl. And this comparison can be interpreted literally, the critic emphasised the artificiality of the plot, which he was not moved by, but at the same he complimented some of the elements he noticed in the film. Music seems to be the most beautiful element in the film: 'Concerto grosso' opus 6 no. 8 by Corelli. I also appreciate the landscape at certain times, especially when I forget that it is a film, and I begin to watch it like I would a graphic art piece.
- Aleksander Jackiewicz, "Moja filmoteka. Kino polskie", Warszawa 1983.
Jackiewicz accused the film, which was based on the prose of a Norwegian writer (Tarjei Vesaas, The birds), of being too 'Scandinavian', viewing the fact that Polish cinema searched for inspiration in a foreign culture as a paradox, deeming it incompetent at describing its own national reality.
"To describe Polish reality", this postulate keeps returning like a nightmare, tormenting both writers and filmmakers. In the 1960s and 1970s, this phrase was repeated obsessively among artists, many of whom attempted to fulfill it, despite the difficulties linked to the political situation of the time. Through their collaborative work entitled "Rewizja osobista", Kostenko and Leszczński joined the movement, this time sharing both the roles of a director and cinematographer. In addition, they both took part in the scriptwriting process alongside Andrzej Bonarski.
The film was constructed like a drama, maintained the unity of space and time, and showed an excerpt of Poland, or to be precise, the reality prevailing in the People's Republic of Poland. Two Polish women return to the country from Western Europe, carrying large amounts of goods that are unavailable in Poland in their car. They have to use their wit in order to smoothly cross the border. Elżbieta Smoleń-Wasilewska reported the following from the set of "Rewizja osobista":
Our conversation included a reference to 'Żywot Mateusza'. The film depicted an artificial reality, allowing an orthodox mode of production. Here, the situation is different: characters and their behavioursare based on true life.
This particular piece of work attempts to combine two artistic temperaments: Leszczyński's 'classicis' and Kostenko's fluctuating style, his grasping of 'pulsating matter'. They correct one another. They aim for the characters depicted in the film, to be as truthful as possible, and for the viewers to experience a sense of seeing a composed reality, rather than one observed through a keyhole.
- Film, 43/1971.
Kino (8/1973) monthly magazine published a summary of a discussion featuring opinions of viewers who attended the premiere of the film, which outlined some of the problems faced by the cinema goers of the time. They debated whether the film condemned a consumerist lifestyle, or whether it aimed to stigmatisecorrupt customs officials and the arrogance of dignitaries holding high offices.
If this film condemns a consumerist lifestyle, then why is it simultaneously a paean in honour of packaging, shiny boxes, ornate bottles and elegant clothes?, asked an inquisitive member of the audience.
Reading this discussion today may be both surprising and informative. Just like the film itself. The characters are written into a particular reality that is plausible, if grotesque, and their behavior is governed by the rules outlined by this grotesque reality. The events taking place at the border crossing, featuring the two female characters, one of their sons and customs officers, bluntly reflect the absurdity that stemmed from the isolation from the rest of the world, imposed on Poland by its political system. The film was said to be disappointing in terms of its artistic (and acting) qualities. The film received an 'anti-award' - a Sour Grape - at a film festival held in Łagów. The artistic outcome should not be the most important factor for a modern viewer, "Rewizja osobista" may serve as a testimony of the time it was created in, in a mode typical for documentary films.
After "Rewizja osobista", Witold Leszczyński made films similar to "Żywot Mateusza", which were poetic to a certain extent, and he searched for universal themes that were far from sociopolitical journalism. Andrzej Kostwnko, on the other hand, despite the failure of their production, remained faithful to analysing reality in his work as a director. His psychological drama "Sam na sam" proves this statement - it tells the story of a man and a woman whose lives and relationship are governed by their selfishness, and who only mature to create a relationship based on feelings and loyalty after painful experiences caused by their own lack of responsibility.
The next project the director worked on was the television series "Przyjaciele" / "Friends", which was produced in 1979 but was broadcast, perhaps unfortunately, in 1981, at a time crucial for Poland when the 16 month-long "Solidarity carnival" was taking place, just before martial law was imposed.
Aleksander Minkowski's script was submitted a number of years ago, the director said in an interview for the "Film" weekly magazine in 1981. Other directors were offered the position. I was aware of the fact that my decision to direct the production would be interpreted by many people as an effort to suck up to the authorities, to make a propaganda piece about the marvelous historical past of the period between the war and the year 1956. People had an opinion that the series was about the Union of Polish Youth (ZMP), and therefore interpreted it in an unequivocal manner, (speaking to Nina Sławińska, "Film" 33/1981)
Anrzej Kostenko emphasised in this interview that he was not directing a film about ZMP, but about a generation, whose representatives belonged to the movement, refraining from casting judgments on the actions and attitudes of the characters. He purposely removed some blatant simplifications from the first draft of the script.
This version" the director explained, served as a sort of a compendium of all the press observations regarding the period of Stalin's rule. However, it also contained scenes that have never been shown in films, e.g. members being expelled from ZMP, and Minkowski succeeded at portraying the atmosphere of psychological terror, present during that time. I thought that if this was included in the script and accepted, it would make a pretty good starting point.
For the sake of accuracy, it should be added that the matter of being expelled from ZMP was discussed in the earlier film "Ręce do góry", which was an attempt to describe the awareness of the ZMP generation, which Kostenko contributed to (in the screenwriting and cinematography departments). However, this film, for many years banned by the board of censors, was also screened in 1981.
As far as "Przyjaciele" was concerned, time was against Andrzej Kostenko. What in 1979 could be seen as uncovering small elements of truth, the series broadcast in 1980, at a time when for a number of months the gag of censorship was not an issue, was only an illusion.
Long before "Przyjaciele" was produced, Kostenko has worked abroad on a number of occasions since 1967, collaborating with Jerzy Skolimowski, who decided to emigrate after his experiences with the board of censors. Kostenko co-wrote the script of the famous film "Start", and was a co-screenwriter, second assistant director or the camera operator in other productions (including Torrents of Springs, The Adventures of Gerard and Success is the best Revenge). From the year 1980, he continually worked in the West. He directed the first episode of the biographical series about Joseph Conrad, to name just one of his achievements.
In the recent years, Andrzej Kostenko has been cooperating with public service broadcasters and private television channels in Poland. He occasionally makes documentary films. He directs a number of television series. These include those based on imported formats, such as "Lokatorzy" / "Tenants" and "Hela w opałach" / "Hela Out on a Limb", as well as original productions which attempt to keep up with the changes in Polish reality and mentality, such as "Zaginiona" / "Lost", "Bulionerzy", and the latest production "Mamuśki" / "Desperate Housewives". The sitcom "Bulionerzy" deserves particular attention as, despite its conventionality that stems from its form, it manages to use a rare ability to observe human behaviour and social changes in order to humorously, poignantly reflect Polish modernity.
Short films - cameraman, director, screenwriter:
- 1959 - "Dobosz", short film based on the work by Sławomir Mrożek, directed by Włodzimierz Kamiński, cinematography;
- 1959 - "Felix", short film based on the work by Sławomir Mrożek, directed by Mariusz Chwedczuk, cinematography;
- 1959 - "Obiad z kilku dań", short film directed by Irena Kamieńska, cinematography;
- 1959 - "pan x boi się", short film directed by Marian Ewstatiew, cinematography;
- 1959 - "Portret mężczyzny z medalem", short film directed by Witold Leszczyński, cinematography with "Mieczysław Małysz"; awards: 1962 - Warsaw, PWSFTviT Short Film Festival, honourary diploma for cinematography;
- 1959 - "Siłowdz", documentary short film directed by Stefan Szlachtycz, cinematography, co-screenwriter with Szlachtycz;
- 1960 - "Dalekie podróże", short film based on the story Dalekie podróże by "Stanisław Dygat" directed by "Stanisław Olejniczak", cinematography with Ryszard Jastrzębski;
- 1960 - "Hotel Metropole", feature film based on the work by Stanisław Dygat Hotel Metropole, directed by Mariusz Chwedczuk and Władysław Ikonomow, cinematography;
- 1960 - "Moglibyśmy mieć to wszystko", short film directed by Mariusz Chwedczuk, cinematography;
- 1960 - "Zabawa", short film directed by Witold Leszczyński, cinematography with Wojciech Palmowski, awards: 1962 - PWSFTviT Short Film Festival, Warsaw, honorary diploma for cinematography;
- 1961 - "Ściana emocji", short documentary directed by Stefan Szlachtycz, zdjęcia; awards: 1962 - PWSFTviT Short Film Festival, Warsaw, honourary diploma for cinematography;
- 1962 - "Wycinanka z szarego papieru", short film based on the short story Oranges by William Saroyan, directed by Irena Kamieńska, script.
Documentary films, animations, short films - cameraman, director, screenwriter:
- 1962 - "Ssaki", directed by Roman Polański, cinematography; awards: 1963 - im: National Short Film Festival , Kraków, 1st Prize "The Golden Dragon of Wawel" in the "other film forms" category;
- 1965 - "Mauthausen", directed by Jerzy Bednarczyk, cinematography with Jacek Stachlewski;
- 1965 - "Podróże sołtysa Kierdziołka. Cz. 1. Próba generalna" directed by Jerzy Bednarczyk, cinematography;
- 1966 - "Nie pożyłem długo", directed by Jerzy Bednarczyk, cinematography;
- 1966 - "Spotkanie na Dunaju", directed by Jerzy Bednarczyk, cinematography;
- 1968 - "Szyk", directed by Jerzy Wolen, cinematography;
- 1978 - "Białowieża", documentary film, director and screenwriter; awards: 1979 - im:International Film Festival, Karlove Vary,main prize in the documentary film category;
- 1979 - "Powrót", documentary film, director, scriptwriter, cinematographer;
- 1987 - "Polacy na galeonie", animated film, director and scriptwriter;
- 1999 - "O każdej porze", documentary film, director, cinematography with Jacek Mierosławski. History of the Tatra Volunteer Search and Rescue;
- 2005 - "Świadek", documentary film, director. A portrait of the gangster nicknamed Czarny. The protagonist, a criminal who decides to cooperate with the authorities, exposes the structure of the mafia and describes the rules that govern it.
Feature films and television series - director, cameraman, screenwriter:
- 1967 - "Ręce do góry", directedy by Jerzy Skolimowski, script co-written with Jerzy Skolimowski, cinematography with Witold Sobociński;
- 1967 - "Żywot Mateusza", directed by Witold Leszczyński, cinematography;
- 1967 - "Le depart" / "Start", directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, script co-written with Jerzy Skolimowski;
- 1968 - "Dvatsatrocni" / "Dwudziestolatki" in Dialog 20-40-60, directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, zdjęcia;
- 1972 - "Ostatni liść", directed by Barbara Sass-Zdort, cinematography;
- 1977 - "Sam na sam", director, script co-written with Maciej Zembaty.
A story of a relationship between a student and a fashion designer. An unwanted pregnancy, and a planned, forced wedding. During a journey to the girl's parents, her partner is beaten up in a roadside café, and as a result he loses his sight. The provocative behaviour of the girl caused the fight. She is left feeling guilty. The film depicts a difficult evolution of feelings between the characters who understandably succumb to emotions, and, considering the situation, they are not able to build a relationship straight away;
- 1972 - "Rewizja osobista", co-directed with Witold Leszczyński, script co-written with Andrzej Bonarski and Witold Leszczyński, cinematography with Witold Leszczyński.
The 1970s. Polish tourists want to smuggle attractive goods from the West through the border. They resort to a variety of methods in order to either bribe the customs officers or to divert their attention. Finally, the older woman calls her influential husband from Warsaw. Filled with disgust over his mother's behvaiour, her teenage son destroys her car by setting fire to it. Awards: 1973 Lubuskie Lato Filmowe, Łagów, a 'Sour Grape' award for the worst film;
- 1979 - "Przyjaciele" / "Friends" - a 5-part television series. director and co-writer of dialogues, alongside the screenwriter Aleksander Minkowski
- 1990 - "Joseph Conrad", 6-part television series directed by Andrzej Kostenko, Jean-Pirre Blanc, Philippe Carrese, Roman Chalbaud, director and co-script writer of the 1st episode (other scriptwriters: Dominique Casna, Michał Komar, Edward Żebrowski). A biographical series about a world-renowned English writer of Polish origin Joseph Conrad (or Józef Konrad Korzeniowski), a sailor whose experiences at sea were used in his prose. The first episode depicts the childhood years of the title character spent in Russia, where his father is later sent for his political independence activism and where he lived with his family;
- 1994 - "Un chateau en boheme" (television film, a French production), director, also script collaboration with Simon Michael. A French journalist and a private detective with Czech roots goes to the Czech Republic in order to solve a case dating back to the Communist times;
- 2000 - "Sukces", television series - a continuation of a 1995 series of the same name directed by Krzysztof Gruber, director;
- 2002/2005 - "Lokatorzy", television series, director;
- 2003 - "Zaginiona", 7-part television series, director;
- 2004/2006 - "Bulionerzy", television series, director (with Grzegorz Warchoł);
- 2006/2007 - "Hela w opałach", television series, director (with Magda Batorska and Patrick Yoka);
- 2007 - "Mamuśki", television series, director;
- 2008 - "Stary człowiek i pies" (director – continuing the work of the original director and screenwriter Witold Leszczyński after his death).
Robert Rommel, an ageing film director, previously a renowned artist, currently a lonely, divorced alcoholic, unable to cope with life, largely the victim of his own mistakes. He gradually regains the faith in the meaning of life. Initially, thanks to the bond with a dog which he saves, later because of regaining contact with his former wife, who becomes seriously ill. Robert gives her his own kidney, thus saving her life. Despite past mistakes, they remain close to each other.
- 2008/2009 - "Ojciec Mateusz", television series based on the Italian format of "Don Matteo", director (with Maciej Dejczer)
- 1958 - "Dwaj ludzie z szafą" / "Two Men and a Wardrobe", short film directed by Roman Polański, co-director;
- 1959 - "Lampa" / "The Lamp", short film directed by Roman Polański, co-director;
- 1961 - "Nóż w wodzie" / "Knife in the Water", feature film directed by Roman Polański, co-director;
- 1962 - "Gangsterzy i filantropi" / "Gangsters and Philanthropists", directed by Jerzy Hoffmana and Edward Skórzewski, cinematography by Jerzy Lipman, cameraman;
- 1963 - "Zbrodniarz i panna" / "The Criminal and the Lady", directed by Janusz Nasfeter, cinematography by Jerzy Lipman;
- 1963 - "Rozwodów nie będzie" / "No More Divorces", directed by Jerzy Stefan Stawiński, cinematography by Jerzy Lipman, co-director;
- 1965 - "Popioły" / "Ashes", directed by Andrzej Wajda, cameraman;
- 1966 - "Bariera" / "Barrier", written and directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, cinematography by Jan Laskowski, 2nd cameraman and co-script writer;
- 1968 - "Wszystko na sprzedaż" / "Everything for Sale", directed by Andrzej Wajda, assistant director with Andrzej Jerzy Piotrowski;
- 1970 - "The Adventures of Gerard", directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, cinematography by Witold Sobociński, 2nd camerman;
- 1980 - "Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson", 10-part television series, cinematography by Gabor Pogany, cinematography - 2nd crew;
- 1984 - "Success is the best Revenge", directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, director - 2nd crew;
- 1986 - "Pirates", directed by Roman Polański, director - 2nd crew;
- 1989 - "Torrents of Springs", directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, director - 2nd crew;
- 1990 - "Las katyński" / "The Katyn forest", documentary, directed by Marcel Łoziński, cinematography by Witold Stok and Andrzej Adamczak, camerawork collaboration.
Andrzej Kostenko acted in a short film by Roman Polański "Gdy spadają anioły" / "When Angels Fall" (1959) and in the following feature films: "Zamach" / "Answer to Violence" (1958) by Jerzy Passendorfer and "Zadzwońcie do mojej żony" / "Call my Wife" (1958) by Jarosław Mach. He featured in a documentary about Krzysztof Komeda ("Wybrańcy bogów umierają młodo" / "Those choosen by God die young", 1999) directed by Krzysztof Bukowski and a documentary about Roman Polański entitled "Knife in the Water". "A Ticket to the West" directed by David Gregory (2003).
He devised the editing concept for the film "Cztery noce z Anną" / "Four Nights with Anna" (2008) by Jerzy Skolimowski.
He directed the spectacle entitled "Ekscelencja" / "Excellency" (1995) for the Television Theatre, based on the story by Fyodor Dostoyevsky "The Village of Stepanchikovo".
By: Ewa Nawój, September 2007; last updated: December 2009.