Feature and documentary film director, theatre director, screenwriter, born 3rd December 1964 in Częstochowa.
Feature and documentary film director, theatre director, screenwriter; his first full-length film was Warszawa and it won the Gold Lion's, Gdynia's top prize, in the year 2003.
Gajewski, who has a Master's degree in law from Jagiellonian University, earned in 1986, as a well as a directing diploma from the Łódź Film School where he studied in 1988-94, initially made documentaries for Polish Television. He embarked upon a feature director's career on 1999 with the staging of Leatherface, a play by the German dramatist Helmut Krausser, at Warsaw's Teatr Dramatyczny. He then made it into a script of AlaRm, a film which he shot on his own with a digital camera and which was shown at the Independent Cinema Competition of the 27th Polish Film Festival in Gdynia in 2002. This enabled Gajewski to do his first full-length feature, Warszawa (Warsaw), which won Golden Lions, Gdynia Festival's top prize, the following year.
Poland's hottest, though shot at minus 20C, feature debut of recent years, Warszawa addresses themes which are central to Gajewski's work, that is young people's search for identity and their bumpy journeys to emotional maturity, especially with regard to the male-female relationships. Warszawa is a journey in a literal sense, too, for its main character, the honest, straightforward and somewhat naïve boy, arrives in a town he does not know to look for a road leading to himself.
Warszawa owes its fame in principle to the verdict of the festival jury chaired by Marek Koterski and to the shower of prizes which unexpectedly descended on the debutante's team. Although it was booed at during the Gdynia festival, some say it is redeemed by its precise, mosaic-like structure and unique atmosphere, enhanced by the Kormorany music score. Extreme skeptics, however, find it "an ambitious, but lame, technical exercise" (Bartosz Żurawiecki, "Przekrój", 2003, nr 46). Such acutely diverse opinions will be voiced about Gajewski's later projects, too.
Warszawa welcomes its characters on an early, misty morning. Paweł, a boy (played by Łukasz Garlicki) who has recently left an orphanage, gets off the train at the Central Station. When he sees the snow-clad city, he emits a cry of premature triumph. As the director said about the film and his experience:
I have confronted this city the way the characters of my film do. When I left the Film School, I got off with my hold-all at the Central Station and found some strange, empty space in front of me. Of course I had known it from before, but now I have come to this city to ... find my own place in life. I had nowhere to go, nowhere to sleep. ... This is a fascinating, fantastic city which keeps growing anew, keeps looking for itself. It is a kind of a metaphor of a search for your own identity, for an answer to the question: 'Who am I?'.
Warszawa's characters will pass this identity test, perhaps owing to the courage with which they face their past, like Father who is searching Warsaw for his missing daughter. The past accompanies the audience at all times, and in a historic perspective, too. 'A grave is my house. About a thousand people went in the foundations', scoffs a drug addict approached by Father when looking through the window at the Monument to the Warsaw Rising. An old man dressed in the rising's uniform and unable to find the way home roams the streets. Meanwhile Paweł, the boy without family roots and, in a way, without a past, carrying only a shopping bag with his old clothes (in Warsaw he changed into a suit purchased for the job interview) makes an enigmatic appointment with Klara, a girl he has met on the train (Agnieszka Grochowska): "Let's meet...". "Where is it?" "I don't know." "I'll be there if I can find it." "Agreed, then." The two idealists who wander through Warsaw find each other easily, however, both in terms of urban space and emotions. Their surrealistic dialogues are well matched by the giraffe marching behind their backs at the end of the film.
I like this combination - when a film happens at the borderline between realism and fantasy.
said Gajewski in an interview given to "Kino" (11/2008), commenting on the convention of his second film, the Polish-Austrian adaptation of Radek Knapp's witty novel Lekcje pana Kuki (Mr Kuka's Advice).
This film is reminiscent of Warszawa in a number of ways. Here, too, is a town (Vienna), a promised land attracting jocks and dodgers from all over Poland, and the main hero, Waldemar (again Łukasz Garlicki), who is their opposite: a boy in old white sneakers, upright and intelligent, though - like Paweł from Warszawa - somewhat gullible. Short on cash (after all, he has come from the east), he makes up for it with frankness and a smile for which life will reward him with luck and love - the things of which the rich (from his perspective) and eccentric Viennese portrayed in Lekcje pana Kuki can only dream. On the way he will find out that things are not what they look: the enticing welfare of the West is no paradise, the Germans can steal, too, and a cassock is not necessarily worn by a priest.
Lekcje pana Kuki provoked mixed critical response, too - even in the columns of one newspaper, "Gazeta Wyborcza", where Tadeusz Sobolewski wrote:
Gajewski's film repeats the episodic, maze-like structure of Warszawa. It also has the same weaknesses: a rickety, messy plot, a sluggish hero...
whereas Paweł T. Felis argued:
This long-awaited picture has got what Warszawa was lacking: breath and space, better acting and improved awareness of form, natural humour and, perhaps most importantly, grace.
It seems that the case with both Warszawa and Lekcje pana Kuki is the same as with the talisman which Mr Kuka, a know-all fifty-year-old presses into Waldemar's palm, instructing him on his first journey to the West: magic for some, a jamming cigarette lighter for others.
In 2015, after 8 years of silence, Gajewski returned to the cinema with Strange Heaven. It was a family drama telling the story of Polish immigrants in Sweden, whose little daughter is taken away.
Although very well played, Strange Heaven was moving, yet unaccomplished. The story of Poles fighting the ruthless machine of Swedish bureaucracy is in Dariusz Gajewski's film presented as a black-and-white tale about victims and a cruel system. Gajewski didn't care much about subtlety: he chose the formula of social drama, but subjugated it to the rules of a fairy tale about an evil witch and its innocent victims.
Agnieszka Grochowska received for Strange Heaven the prize for best leading actress at the 40. film festival in Gdynia. Grochowska was able to connect contradictions: she seduced with truth at the same time irritating with choleric temper. Her Basia is strong and warm at the same time and Grochowska skillfully showed different faces of her protagonist.
In 2015 another Gajewski's film had its premiere – Czas niedokończony. Wiersze księdza Jana Twardowskiego (Unfinished Time. Jan Twardowski's poems), realized on occasion of the priest's 100 years anniversary. In this documentary the director showed Jan Twardowski's poetry's influence on contemporary protagonists.
In 2017 Gajewski started shooting his latest film, The Legions. The high-budget production tells the story of the creation of the titular Polish Legions. Its main roles are played by Sebastian Fabijański, Bartosz Gelner, Wiktoria Wolańska, Mirosław Baka, Borys Szyc, and Jan Frycz, and it is due to premiere in September 2019.
Gajewski is the winner of the Mayor of Częstochowa Outstanding Direction Cultural Prize and of the Andrzej Munk Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre Graduate's Debut Award, both in 2004.
Gajewski has co-written (with Przemysław Nowakowski) Ostatnia niedziela (The Last Sunday), one of the two scripts which won the Warsaw Rising Screenplay Competition announced by the Polish Film Institute and the Warsaw Rising Museum in autumn 2005. In August 2008 Gajewski was appointed chairman of the Program Board of the Andrzej Munk Young and Film Studio which operates within the Polish Filmmakers Association.
Originally written in Polish by Małgorzata Fiejdasz, December 2008; latest update: August 2019 (NS).