A legendary theatre and film actress, born in 1915 in Kosarzyska, died on 19 February 2017.
Theatre and film actress.
A 1939 graduate of the famous State Institute of Theatrical Arts (PIST), she began her artistic career immediately after graduation at the Teatr na Pohulance (1939-1941) in Vilnius. In those two years she appeared in about twenty parts in a very diverse range of plays - from classics to comedies of manners. After the war, she performed at the Teatr Stary in Kraków for a year (1945-1946), and then moved to Łódź and its Teatr Kameralny (1946-1949). In 1949, when the Kameralny was shut down, she moved to Warsaw together with Erwin Axer's group. She appeared at the Teatr Współczesny until 1957, then at the Teatr Narodowy (1954-1966). Between 1966 and her retirement in 1985 she was an actress of the Teatr Dramatyczny. After that, she gave guest performances at almost all of Warsaw's theatres.
Her debut was Pernette in Claude Puget's farce Les Jours Heureux (1939). Later, as she claims, she chose her roles to match her age. She usually played 'flesh and blood' women, full of life, feisty, and radiantly feminine. She felt equally comfortable in a period costume and in contemporary roles. This is what the critics wrote about her Helena Ivanovna in Anton Chekhov's The Bear (1959):
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The character of Helena Ivanovna Popova, studied in the smallest gesture and movement, in shades of well-defined facial expression, harmonizes extremely well with the fin de siècle-style costume. Danuta Szaflarska moves in it with the distinction and ease of a lady. The artist conducts a comedic dialogue with an innate sense of humour, subtly playing the writer's ironic attitude towards the beautiful Helena.
Zofia Karczewska-Markiewicz, 'Puch marny i szulerzy', 'Życie Warszawy', No. 280, 22-23 November 1959
Highlighted in almost every review, her sense of humour, natural manner, and unpretentiousness predestined Szaflarska for comedy or grotesque roles. In William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (1960) she was Maria the servant, a simple commoner.
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The queen of this company is Danuta Szaflarska, who uses fresh, bold, simple and natural means of expression, infecting the audience with her sincere laughter, enchanting everyone with her agile movements, lightness, charm, sense of humour.
Zofia Karczewska-Markiewicz, 'Szekspirowska komedia omyłek', 'Życie Warszawy', No. 141, 7 June 1960
Her subsequent roles included Eveline Dally in William Hanley's Mrs. Dally Has a Lover (1966), Clea in Peter Shaffer's Black Comedy (1969), Podstolina in Aleksander Fredro's Zemsta / The Revenge (1975), Marceline the Housekeeper in Pierre Beaumarchais's The Marriage of Figaro (1983), Betty Dumoulin in Pierre Chesnot's Un Beau Salaud (1985), and Delia in Alan Ayckbourn's Bedroom Farce (1988).
But that's not all. She was also capable of giving extremely moving performances in dramatic or even tragic roles, to mention Żaneta Dylska and her struggle for happiness in Tadeusz Rittner's Wilki w Nocy / Wolves at Night (1962), a determined Ruth in Leon Kruczkowski's Niemcy / The Germans (1949 and 1954), and Kitti in Emil Zegadłowicz's Domek z Kart / House of Cards (1953). Theatre never fully utilized her 'dramatic' specialisation. For many years she wasn't offered a role in which she could present the entire scale of her acting. Such a role finally came in 1988, when she was an excellent Old Woman in Per Olov Enquist's The Hour of the Lynx at the Teatr Powszechny in Warsaw.
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The protagonist is transformed in the course of his conversation with the old woman. In this role, we have the excellent Danuta Szaflarska. Her acting is sparing but expressive, with little movement, few gestures, but each one meaningful. [...] The artist allowed her character to display a special kind of calmness, wisdom, gentleness, all those things which inspire our trust and make us want to open up completely and spurt forth everything that has built up within us over the years
Temida Stankiewicz-Podhorecka, 'Obok nas', 'Życie Warszawy', No. 139, 16 June 1988
Another dream that only came true in her later years were roles in the plays of Sławomir Mrożek. His way of looking at the world, his irony and sense of humour were very close to Szaflarska's heart. Anastasia Petrovna the servant in Miłość na Krymie / Love in Crimea (1994) or Grandmother Eugenia in Tango (2000) are brilliant interpretations.
Danuta Szaflarska became the brightest star of Polish cinema. Her screen debut coincided with the revival of the film industry after the war; it was Leonard Buczkowski's Zakazane Piosenki / Forbidden Songs (1946) with Jerzy Duszyński as her partner. The popularity this picture brought her doubled after she played Krystyna Tokarska in Skarb / The Treasure by the same director (1948). After that, though, cinema seemed to forget the beautiful actress. Her attractive appearance didn't really fit in with the coarse reality of the 1950s. After her role as Podstolina in the film version of Zemsta / The Revenge directed by Antoni Bohdziewicz and Józef Korzeniowski (1956), she played mainly small, secondary characters: the Italian circus artiste in Jan Rybkowski's Dziś w Nocy Umrze Miasto / Tonight A City Will Die (1961), the Mother in Kazimierz Kutz's Ludzie z pociągu / Night Train (1961), Stanisława - a woman hungry for love in Głos z Tamtego Świata / The Voice From Beyond (1962). It wasn't until the late 1970s that she received more interesting film proposals: Misiewiczowa in the TV version of Ryszard Ber's Lalka / The Doll (1977), followed by the extraordinary role of Grandmother Misia in Tadeusz Konwicki's Dolina Issy / Valley Of The Issa (1982), and the Grandmother in Edward Dziewoński's series Pięć Dni z Życia Emeryta / Five Days In The Life Of A Pensioner.
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Szaflarska has not restricted herself to portraying nice and rather typical characters. In her recent roles, she uses a type of contrast which adds dynamism to the characters she plays. This contrast occurs between apparent banality, mediocrity, typicality and a multiplicity of inner experiences uncovered as the characters develop. This forces us to revise our initial hasty judgment of them, because in fact they turn out to be very far from mediocre.
Maciej Maniewski, 'Szaflarska', 'Film', No. 42 , 18 January 1987
In 1993 she played a role very important for her, the Old Jewish Woman in Filip Zylber's film Pożegnanie z Marią / Farewell To Maria. The heroine manages to escape from the ghetto but later returns, choosing to die with her friends. Another interesting character was Sister Feliksa from Jerzy Łukaszewicz's film Faustyna (1994). Feliksa is the narrator, a nun the same age as the saint. At death's door, she talks about Faustyna's difficult life and confesses the wrongs she committed against her, ever envious of her saintliness.
Danuta Szaflarska also valued collaborating with the film director Dorota Kędzierzawska especially highly. She appeared in two of her films, playing the Witch in Diabły, Diabły / The Devils, The Devils (1991), and the Hag in Nic / Nothing (1998).
Danuta Szaflarska was one of the most active actresses of the older generation. In 2000, she played the major role of Aunt Wiktoria in Filip Bajon's Przedwiośnie / The Spring To Come, and the Mother in Janusz Morgenstern's TV film Żółty Szalik / The Yellow Scarf. She also accepted a part in a controversial production directed by one of the youngest and most 'modern' artists - Grzegorz Jarzyna, and was successful as the Grandmother in the play Uroczystość / The Ceremony at the Teatr Rozmaitości in Warsaw.
This is what Erwin Axer had to say about Szaflarska's acting:
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Danuta always had an open attitude to life. But today you can see that when she works in theatre, the whole truth is there. Every role she plays shines like crystal. Working with her is among the greatest pleasures a director can hope for. She is the tuning fork that allows you to evaluate the purity of the whole orchestra's performance.
'Czysta naturalność', 'Rzeczpospolita', No. 52, 24-30 December 1999
In the 2000s, Danuta Szaflarska portrayed the painter Wanda 'Mimi' Przybyłowicz in Królowa Chmur / Queen Of The Clouds directed by Radosław Piwowarski (2003), a TV film from the Święta Polskie / Polish Holidays series. In this picture about Mother's Day, Szaflarska plays an old woman living in the past, slightly eccentric but not without imagination, who suddenly meets a young man and starts treating him like a son. In 2007 she gave a great performance as the lead character in Dorota Kędzierzawska's film Pora Umierać / Time To Die, winning an award at the Film Festival in Gdynia for this brilliant interpretation. She played the lonely, elderly Aniela who used to live with people who had been quartered on her by the authorities, but now that the last of them has died, wants to live with her son and his family.
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'What we see is the inner, fascinating world of the aged Aniela who lives alone in a dilapidated wooden villa. [...] Kędzierzawska, with the help of the 92-year-old Danuta Szaflarska (a great performance rewarded with the jury prize), has created an intimate portrait of beautiful old age: at times bitter, it can also be full of a perverse, playful disagreement with the world.
Anita Piotrowska, 'Tygodnik Powszechny' 25.09.2007
On the stage, Szaflarska could be admired playing wonderful secondary characters at Warsaw's Teatr Współczesny: the Mother in Agnieszka Glińska's Bambini di Praga based on Bohumil Hrabal (2001), the photographer's aunt in Maxim Kurochkin's Transfer directed by Maciej Englert, and in a brilliant episodic appearance as the despotic General's Wife in Izabella Cywińska's Wasza Ekscelencja / Your Excellency based on a short story by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (2006). In 2005 at the Teatr Nowy Praga Warszawa, she played the lead in Edward Wojtaszek's Fioletowa Krowa / Purple Cow based on English-language nonsense poems translated by Stanisław Barańczak.
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Playing the lead, Danuta Szaflarska in huge close-up on a screen talked to herself, the much smaller person sitting in a chair on the live stage. [...] Her personal charm and endless imagination radiated from every word she spoke and every gesture she made, each as guarded as it was meaningful.
Janusz R. Kowalczyk, 'Rzeczpospolita' 07.03.2005
At the Teatr Narodowy, Szaflarska portrayed a slightly infantile and senile 90-year-old grandmother whose thoughts wander to pre-war Lviv, in Amanita Muskaria's contemporary family drama Daily Soup directed by Małgorzata Bogajewska (2007). She created even more excellent roles. She played Nini in Christopher Hampton’s Embers, directed by Edward Wojtaszek (National Theatre, 2007), and Granny in Václav Havel’s Leaving directed by Izabella Cywińska (Athenaeum Theatre in Warsaw, 2008). In Grzegorz Jarzyna’s All Is Well Among Us, directed by Dorota Masłowska (2009), she played the role of 'Dejected Old Woman in a Wheelchair'.
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Danuta Szaflarska played the most moving role in this play. [...] Her dejected old woman, immobilised in a wheel chair, initially tells the story of the first day of the war. The quick dialogues of the other characters seem to drown her out. However, contrary to the author’s description of the character, Danuta Szaflarska does not play a listless, apathetic old woman. Throughout the whole play, she has this girlish defiance – she is very similar to her granddaughter in this way.
Agnieszka Rataj, 'Theatre' 2009, No. 6
'Poland, I remember when your beauty faded!'
She was a member of the group TR Warszawa since 2010. Its director admitted to Gazeta Wyborcza that even from the first reading of the text All Is Well Among Us, there was never any doubt in his mind who should play the role of the Granny. It wasn’t just about an actress of the right age - she also needed to have a sense of humour.
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During rehearsals, she would tell us these wartime stories, for example, a burning building keeping them warm as they hid in a basement opposite. And she described a burning bike that rode by itself. She told us that our ideas about the sound of exploding bombs were wrong because in archival recordings, the sound is distorted. The first time we met was during Celebrations. I dreamt up the ideal pairing: Danusia Szaflarska and Bronisław Pawlik. During the party, they would sit at the table, a generation of great grandparents. I succeeded in convincing them. It was a great honour for me. TR Warszawa is made up of different, very specific personalities. And she fit in perfectly. She had the most optimism out of all of us. She can put a positive spin onto every story. She makes us realise that our seemingly big problems are in fact trivial.
'Poland, I remember when your beauty faded!'- these words said by Granny in All Is Well Among Us astound me. I get shivers down my spine. It sounds so real coming from her lips. I immediately visualise Danuta Szaflarska going to Vilnius in August 1939 with a little suitcase. She’s supposed to get her first role in a play. But this season will not be pretty. War breaks out.
In 2015, she received the Order of Polonia Restituta for her 'excellent contributions to Poland, especially her notable artistic achievements and significant role in developing Polish culture [...].'
- 1961 - award for the role of Kate in William Shakespeare's The Taming Of The Shrew at the 1. Kalisz Theatre Meetings;
- 1966 - Award of the Radio and Television Committee;
- 1967 - Award of the Minister of Culture and Art, second degree;
- 1991 - best supporting actress award, for Diabły, Diabły / The Devils, The Devils at the 16. Polish Film Festival in Gdynia;
- 1993 - best supporting actress award, for Pożegnanie Z Marią / Farewell To Maria at the 18th Polish Film Festival in Gdynia;
- 1995 - special mention for the part of Batyushkova in Sławomir Mrożek's Miłość na Krymie / Love In Crimea at the Teatr Współczesny in Warsaw, at the 1. National Competition for the Best Production of a Polish Contemporary Play;
- 1995 - Grzymała Golden Laurel;
- 2007 - best actress award, for the part of Aniela in Dorota Kędzierzawska's Pora umierać / Time To Die at the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia. The Warsaw Felix for the role of Granny in the show "Daily Soup" by Amanita Muskarii directed by Margaret Bogajewskia at the National Theatre in Warsaw;
- Polish Film Eagle Award 2008 in the category "Best Actress" - for her role in Time to Die by Dorota Kędzierzawska; Award in the name of CK Norwid - For the role of Grannyr in the show Daily Soup by Amanita Muskarii directed by Margaret Bogajewskiej at the National Theatre in Warsaw; Golden Duck in the category "Best Actress in the season 2007/2008" for her role in Time to Die directed by Dorothy Kędzierzawska; Award in the category "Best Actress" for her role in the film Time to Die by Dorota Kędzierzawska at the 15th National Film Festival "Provincialism";
- 2009 - Award for the role of Dejected Old Woman in a Wheelchair in the show All is well among us by Dorota Masłowska directed by Grzegorz Jarzyna in TR Warszawa at the 9th National Festival of Contemporary Drama "Reality performed" in Zabrze; Award in the name of CK Norwid in the category of "life's work" for lifetime achievement. Award for lifetime achievement at the 2nd Polish Film Festival "Vistula" in Moscow; Polish Film Eagle Award for the year 2008 in the category "Best Supporting Actress" for her role as Stanisława Zwierzyńska in the film "How much does the Trojan Horse weigh?" by Julius Machulski.
- 2013 - Polish Film Eagle Award - statuette for lifetime achievement, Szaflarska is the first actress and the first woman featured by the Polish Film Academy in this category.
Date: October 2002, updated: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, November 2007; Alexander Sikorski, June 2014; Alicja Zapalska, February 2020