Theatre and film actress, winner of the Golden Palm at Cannes Film Festival. Born on February 15, 1951 in Gdańsk. Jankowska-Cieślak is not only a professional actress and one of the talented actresses of our cinema, but also a “natural actress” of those times and that generation...
Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieślak graduated from the Aleksander Zelwerowicz Theatre Academy in Warsaw in 1972. When she was still a student, the actress made her screen debut in Janusz Morgenstern’s film Trzeba zabić tę miłość / To Kill This Love based on the screenplay by Janusz Głowacki (1972). Her performance in the role of Magda in this intimate drama about a young couple brought her both acclaim and the first significant distinction, the Zbigniew Cybulski Prize. Aleksander Jackiewicz wrote,
The actress plays this role with great naturalness. Although Magda often overacted, it was her, not the actress. Magda was a mix of human parts and a project for a human being. She was not able to put herself together. Jankowska’s natural performance was based on the "mosaic" qualities of contemporary authentic behaviour, in particular teenagers who, in a sense, combine everything at once. (Ekran, 1981, No. 29)
In 1973, Jankowska-Cieślak made her theatre debut. She played the title role in Jean Giraudoux’s Electra directed by Kazimierz Dejmek at the Dramatyczny Theatre in Warsaw.
The remarkable grace and subtleness of a pale and slander plant and the embodiment of a helpless girlishness that she introduces onto the stage as soon as she appears, merges in a unique manner with passion, power of expression, or even brutality that is borne out of a sudden commitment, or a kind of dispassionate losing herself – wrote Leonia Jabłonkówna about Jankowska-Cieślak’s role. – Her Electra is truly implacable and we perceive it; we are sure that nothing will stop her, that she is ready to literally tear down the world…This interpretation is shocking, charming and terrifying at the same time. It is exactly the Electra of the present times…and maybe of the closest future as well? It gives me fits of shivers… (Teatr 1974, No. 29).
Jankowska-Cieślak was an actress of the Dramatyczny Theatre until 1983. She also cooperated with the Theatre Studio in Puławy, a group of young graduates of the Theatre Academy aiming to establish an alternative artistic theatre contesting the big theatre centres. At the Dramatyczny Theatre Jankowska-Cieślak played several characters including, Mania in Witold Gombrowicz Ślub / The Wedding directed by Jerzy Jarocki (1974), Sebastian/Viola in Shakespeare’s The Twelfth Night directed by Jan Kulczyński (1976) and Medea in Euripides’s tragedy by the same title directed by Stanisław Brejdygant (1978). About Jankowska-Cieslak’s role as Medea wrote Jan Kłossowicz,
She is pathetic, sad and frustrated. Sometimes she also becomes dangerous and triumphant. She enables us to understand that a rebellion raised by an individual experience of wrong is not always unsuccessful. Societal rebellions are launched by the sum of individual harmful experiences and rebellions. (Literatura 1978, No. 39)
Her other theatre roles include: Kora in Stanisław Wyspiański Noc listopadowa / The November Night directed by Maciej Prus (1978) and Virginia in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus directed by Krzysztof Kelm (1982). Apart from her roles in the classical works, Jankowska-Cieślak played in productions of contemporary dramas such as Aleksander Vampilov’s Twenty Minutes with Angel (1975) and An Incident with a Paginator directed by Hanna Orlikowska (1975). In addition, she performed in Jerzy Grzegorzewski’s Wariacje / Variations (1977) and as Aniela-Elwira in Aleksander Fredro’s Mąż i żona / Husband and Wife directed by Adam Hanuszkiewcz at the National Theatre (1977).
In the 1970s, Jankowska-Cieślak played numerous roles in films.
Film requires different skills than theatre. It seems like closing one door and opening the other, admitted the actress. In the theatre, I do not use the possibilities and skills that the cinema provides me with. That’s for sure. The process of constructing a role in these two fields differs considerably. For me these two fields exclude each other. While at the theatre I forget about the style of work that is common at the film set, and I use a totally different one. And the other way round - I am careful not to transfer my theatre experiences and methods to the cinema. (…) Now, after years of acting, I believe that the more real, natural the acting and the more it is based on ordinary, average, human reactions, not the artificial ones, the better the final outcome. In my opinion, this is the main difference between the film and theatre actor. (Teatr, 1993, No. 10)
At that time, Jankowska-Cieślak was often cast as an angry young woman. She played Ewa in Paweł Kędzierski’s Na smyczy / Leashed (1975) and as Anna, who leaves her family driven by her desire to make a new start with her old love in Zbigniew Kamiński’s Pani Bovary to ja / Mrs. Bovary, That’s Me (1977). She played Ania in Andrzej Kostenko’s television film Sam na sam / One-on-one (1977), as a student on the threshold of a career as a model and a strong woman taking care of her blind fiancée. The realness of Jankowska-Cieślak’s performance before the camera’s eye made her into a hero, an embodiment of her times.
The image of a girl constructed by Jankowska will be always remembered in the history of our customs. In this sense, she is not only a professional actress and one of the talented actresses of our cinema, but also a "natural actress" of those times and that generation. (Ekran, 1981, No. 29)
In 1982, Jankowska-Cieślak played the role of an uncompromising journalist, Éva Szalanczky in a Hungarian film Another Way directed by Károly Makk. This role won her the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival. The film adaptation of Erzsébet Galgóczi’s book was set in Hungary shortly after the revolution of 1956. The political history is intermingled with a moral dilemma, a lesbian love between Eva and Livia.
Éva Szalanczky, a journalist, fights for the truth and against any compromise, noted Jerzy Płażewski. - For her, the measure of freedom is not to wait on the side but to engage in a direct fight for ideas. (…) Éva is a true and tragic character when she is humiliated by an investigating officer asking her to explain the intricacies of lesbian love, as well as when she is desperate and comes under fire from the borderland army. (Film, 1984, No. 53)
Shortly after Jankowska-Cieślak’s international success, the authorities recalled the director of the Dramatyczny Theatre, Gustaw Holoubek and broke up the theatre’s ensemble. The actress’s last role at the Dramatyczny Theatre was that of Judyta in Juliusz Słowacki’s Ksiądz Marek / Father Marek directed by Krzysztof Zaleski (1983), where she created one of her most intriguing performances alongside Zbigniew Zapasiewicz as Father Marek.
From 1985 to 1986, Jankowska-Cieślak performed at the Polski Theatre. Next, she returned to the Dramatyczny Theatre (1987–1988), and between 1988 and 1990 she was an actress at the Nowy Theatre. At that time, she played nine new theatre roles. In 1986, she commented:
Recently, I have not played too much. Though, I do not worry about it. (…) I have a rather peculiar status in this profession. Some treat me as a crazy lost child, some accept me, others cannot stand looking at me. (Scena, 1986, No. 4)
There are directors who prefer a more ordinary and obvious appearance, faces on which a director paints his or her own moods and thoughts. Jankowska is different. She slips out of directors. She is not their proverbial pen. Her own self – thoughts, dilemmas and objections – is seen through each, even the most banal character, wrote Wiesława Czapińska about Jankowska-Cieślak’s acting talent.
In 1985, the actress played Sophie/Waitress in Bertolt Brecht’s Baal directed by Piotr Cieślak. She also performed in Arthur Miller’s plays produced by an American director Boehm Philip, including Angela in Some Kind of Love Story (1988) and Shop-owner in Elegy for a Lady (1988). Włodzimierz Press was her stage partner in both productions.
(...) they were given two, totally different, contrary pairs to play, wrote Lucjan Kydryński. In Elegy they are dignified, quiet, superficially cold, and yet they have a tension pulsating under their skin. While in ‘Some Kind of a Love Story’ they are historical, impulsive, a bit vulgar. Moreover, they are alone on stage all the time; it is a good material for a concert of actors and… rather well-used. (Przekrój, 1988, No. 2255)
After her international success in Cannes, the actress received many film proposals from abroad. The prohibitions of Martial Law prevented her from accepting them. She played film roles in her native Poland, including Agata in Krzysztof Tchórzewski’s Stan wewnętrzny / Inner Condition (1983), shown for the first time in 1989 due to political reasons, Jacek Bromski’s Ceremonia pogrzebowa / The Funeral Ceremony (1984), Waldemar Krzystek’s Powinowactwo / The Relationship (1984), Ada in Kazimierz Kutz’s Wkrótce nadejdą bracia /The Brothers Will Come Soon (1985), Janusz Kijowski’s Maskarada / Masquerade (1986) and Sztuka kochania / The Art of Loving (1989). In 1989, the actress played the role of Barbara Kwiatkowska, a mother of two boys escaping abroad in a famous film directed by Maciej Dejczer Trzysta mil do nieba / Three Hundred Miles to Heaven.
In the 1990s Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieślak was a lecturer at the Theatre Academy in Warsaw. Between 1990 and 1994 the actress was associated with the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw where she played Eva Meara in Neil Simon’s The Gingerbread Lady directed by Włodzimierz Kaczkowski (1992), Agnes in Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa directed by Judy Friel (1993) and Ernestyna van Veen in George Tabori’s Goldberg Variations directed by Rudolf Zioło (1994). She also cooperated with numerous other theatres including the Studio Theatre and Studio Prezentacje Theatre. In 1992, she played in Andrzej Wajda’s Pierścionek z orłem w koronie / The Crowned-Eagle Ring. The actress also starred in Władysław Pasikowski’s Słodko gorzki / Bitter-sweet (1996). The same year she played the leading part of Barbara Makowska in Mirosław Dembiński’s Wezwanie / The Call, another film referring to the contemporary Polish history. It was based on a true story of an emergency ward doctor tormented by the Secret Security Service. Her role of Maria in a family drama Szczęśliwy człowiek / Happy Man, Małgorzata Szumowska’s feature film debut, gained considerable acclaim. (2000). The actress created a brilliant portrait of Joanna, a wife of a man named Jan (played by Krzysztof Stroiński) in Michał Rosa’s Rysa / The Scratch a psychological drama about a long-term relationship going through a crisis (2008). Her recent roles include that of a friend in Andrzej Wajda’s Tatarak / Sweet Rush, a touching film based on Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz’s story and personal experiences of Krystyna Janda, who played the two leading parts. (2009).
From 1994 to 2008 the actress again returned to perform at the Dramatyczny Theatre. She returned to the antique repertoire by playing Clytemnestra in Sophocles’s Electra directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski (1997). She played in Krystian Lupa’s productions including Thomas Bernhard’s prize-winning Auslöschung / Extinction (2001), where she was the Mother, and Niedokończony utwór na aktora / Unfinished Work for an Actor (2004) based on Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull and The Spanish Play by Yasmina Reza, where she played Aurelia, a neurotic, unappreciated actress who is jealous of her sister’s success on stage.
Aurelia - noted Piotr Gruszczyński, - is hollow; fed with bitterness towards herself; she hates herself, her own life, her sister’s success and her overprotective mother. She is an ideal candidate for Polina in The Seagull. Her struggles with the role of an acting teacher show a tragic condition of an actor in a touching manner. One never reaches the destination. (Tygodnik Powszechny, 2004, No. 44)
Her remarkable roles of Polina and Aurelia in Niedokończony utwór na aktora / Unfinished Work for an Actor and a brilliant Mother in Petr Zelenka’s Tales of Ordinary Madness directed by Agnieszka Glińska at the Dramatyczny Theatre (2005) brought the actress the Aleksander Zelwerowicz Prize. She also played Solveig in an intriguing theatre experiment of Peer Gynt called Szkice z dramatu Henryka Ibsena / Peer Gynt. Sketches from Henrik Ibsen’s Drama directed by Paweł Miśkiewicz (2007).
Since 2008 Jankowska-Cieślak has been an actress at the Stefan Jaracz Ateneum Theatre in Warsaw, where she recently played Ursulka in Magda Fertacz’s Trash Story albo sztuka (nie)pamięci / Trash Story or the Art of (Not) Remembering directed by Ewelina Pietrowiak (2008) and Mrs. Szapiro in Isaak Bashevis Singer’s Passions directed by Izabella Cywińska (2008). The actress performed the role of Emily in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s T.E.O.R.E.M.A.T. staged by Grzegorz Jarzyna at Rozmaitości Theatre in Warsaw (2009).
- 1973 - Zbigniew Cybulski Prize for the role of Magda in Janusz Morgenstern’s film Trzeba zabić tę miłość / To Kill This Love;
- 1974 - The Rector of the Theatre Academy Prize in Warsaw awarded to the graduates for artistic achievements gained during the first two years of work at theatre;
- 1977 - Award for the role of Ania Sarnecka in Andrzej Kostenko’s film Sam na sam / One-on-one at the 4th Polish Film Festival in Gdańsk;
- 1978 - Leon Schiller Prize;
- 1982 - The Golden Palm in Cannes for best actress for the role of Éva Szalanczky in a Hungarian film Another Way directed by Károly Makk;
- 1997 - Award for best leading actress for the role of Barbara Makowska in Mirosław Dembiński’s film Wezwanie / The Call at the 22nd Polish Film Festival in Gdynia;
- 2005 - Aleksander Zelwerowicz Prize for the roles played at the Dramatyczny Theatre in Warsaw: Polina and Aurelia Niedokończony utwór na aktora / Unfinished Work for an Actor based on Anton Chekhov’s and Yasmina Reza’s works directed by Krystian Lupa and Mother in Petr Zelenka’s Tales of Ordinary Madness directed by Agnieszka Glińska;
- 2008 - Honorary distinction for the role of Joanna in Michał Rosa’s film Rysa / The Scratch at the 33rd Polish Film Festival in Gdynia;
- 2009 - Eagle Polish Film Award for the year of 2008 in the category of best leading actress for the role of Joanna in Michał Rosa’s Rysa / The Scratch; 16th Polish National Film Festival Prowincjonalia in Września.
Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, December 2004; updated: October 2009.