Film director, screenwriter and producer, theatre and opera director, writer. Born in 1948 in Szczecin...
Janusz Kijowski, photo by Piotr Fotek/Reporter/East News
Janusz Kijowski graduated from history at the University of Warsaw in 1972. While studying, he worked for the weekly magazine Kultura as a film critic. In 1978 he graduated from directing at the Polish National Film, Television and Theater School in Łódź. Kijowski's diploma film "Indeks" was banned by the state censorship. His official first film "Kung-fu", released in 1979, received an award for the best debut at the Gdańsk film festival. "Głosy" was the only other film he managed to complete before the enactment of the martial law in Poland.
In 1981 Janusz Kijowski formed the Irzykowski Studio, aiming to support up-and-coming filmmakers. Later the same year, during a trip abroad, martial law was established in Poland, and he decided not to return. While living in Western Europe, Kijowski made a full feature documentary titled "Przed Bitwą". In 1983 he started giving lectures in the Institut National Superieur des Arts Spectacle in Brussels.
Janusz Kijowski returned to Poland in the mid 1980s. Since then he directed several films (including the foreign produced "Tragarz Puchu"), and plays for V and stage. In the 1990s he also focused more on journalism, starting, among other things, a series of columns for the weekly magazine Fakty. In 1998 Kijowski started teaching at the Polish National Film, Television and Theater School in Łódź. In 2002 he was elected the vice president of the European Federation of Filmmakers (FERA). Since 2005 he has been a member of the Board of Polish Film Institute. He is currently the vice president of the Polish Filmmakers' Association. For the last few years he has managed the Jaracz Theater in Olsztyn, where he moved from Warsaw. He also lectures at the University of Warmia and Mazury.
In 1979 Kijowski's "Kung-fu" received the Best Directorial Debut Award at the Polish Film Festival in Gdańsk. The same title received the FIPRESCI award at the 33rd Locarno International Film Festival in 1980, and in 1981 a Golden Camera - an award given by the magazine Film, in the 'Film dealing with contemporary issues' category. In 2003 he was awarded the Grand Prize of the 'Golden Lions' Jury, as the producer of "Warszawa", directed by Dariusz Gajewski.
Janusz Kijowski is one of the chief representatives of the so-called cinema of moral concern – a term he himself coined. His film "Indeks" initiated the movement, or rather, would have initiated it, had it not been banned in 1977. Hence he was a newcomer without a debut, when three years later he made his second film, "Kung-fu", also part of the same movement. "Indeks" is about accepting no compromises and the price one pays for it. The film, which also deals with the inevitable doom brought by such an attitude, was condemned to obscurity by the censors. It finally made it to theatre screens in May 1981, during the so-called carnival of Solidarity.
Bożena Janicka wrote about "Indeks", which dealt with the events of 1968 and their aftermath, "The paths of normal, valuable life choices were cut off; what came in their place? What did those winding, slippery roads that reality offered instead look like up close? That's the story told by 'Indeks'". Unable to foresee the dawn of the martial law period, she adds, "Then, in 1977, it seemed impossible that Kijowski's song of a wasted generation would, years later, sound so different".
- Film #21, 1981.
The makers of the cinema of moral concern typically created a protagonist who fights alone for clarity and is ready to pay a high price for it, like the main character in "Indeks". To some extent it was similar in Kijowski's second film, "Kung-fu" (for the above mentioned reasons considered his debut). Unlike "Indeks", here the need to defend a friend – who was unjustly fired from his job – leads to group solidarity. In a nutshell, it's a film about effective self-defense, commenced by a group of friends in the interest of a mistreated colleague.
"If I were to briefly describe the concept of this film", said Janusz Kijowski, "I would say it's a film about friendship understood as reliability, solidarity, shared idea of an attitude – How to live and not loose face".
- Życie Warszawy 04-05-79, quoting Film Press Service, 23/1979.
However, some moral issues were raised. Kszysztof Kłopotowski argued that in "Kung-fu", the director staged a 'counter-clique' in order to overcome the clique. Which in a sense is to condone the dirty methods of the unfair opponent. (Kino 5/1981). Czesław Dondziłło expressed a similar sentiment when he wrote, "The methods used by the group of friends are the same as their adversaries', but more effective. The journalist and the chairman have better connections in the capitol than their opponents" (Film 14/1980).
Years later Maria Kornatowska wrote about the cinema of moral concern:
"It became an instrument – although in my opinion you shouldn't exaggerate its role in this matter – of expressing views and opinions, otherwise overly general and clearly obvious. It became a journalistec medium. Hence the increased interest in cinema."
-Wodzireje i Amatorzy, Warsaw 1990, WaiF.
It is not the artistic values of this cinema, but the strategy of its creators and the film criticism of the day, that Kornatowska considers responsible for its popularity. It was undoubtedly an important factor in forming this relationship between the audience and the filmmakers. Krzysztof Kłopotowski pointed it out as early as 1981, when he called Janusz Kijowski a consistent tactician and strategist of his generation.
"It was none else but him", said Kłopotowski, "who coined the term 'cinema of moral concern' – cinema in which he shined, to denominate social competition, using both the subversive aesthetic of ugliness, and trivial plot devices, hitting the gas and the breaks at the same time".
- Kino 5,1981.
After "Index" and "Kung-fu", the protagonists of which faced the political and social conditioning, and the common acceptance of injustice, Kijowski's third film "Głosy" is a bit different, dealing with the extrasensory perception of reality. It was made in 1980, during a temporary democratisation in Poland, soon to be put to end by martial law.
"Ewa Domańska and Marek Ruda are the spiritual siblings of the characters of Andrei Tarkovsky's 'Stalker'", wrote Waldemar Piątek while discussing the film's subject matter. "The main aspect of their consciousness is the need for the metaphysical, the search for this one, inaccessible sphere, in which the one human dream can be fulfilled..."
- Film Press Service, 11/1981.
In this and many other attempts at defining the film's protagonists there is in a sense a reflection on the subject of freedom, perceived in broader terms than just political freedom – freedom to be different, if not strange and unadaptable. The story of "Głosy" is set in the academic environment, and both protagonists are members of the academia. It is this environment the director chose to test the characters' courage to exercise independent thinking.
"The line between compromise and opportunism on one side, and courage and independence on the other, is easily grasped," commented the director. "Besides, it's an environment that ties together the characters of 'Indeks', 'Kung-fu' and 'Głosy'. I needed a common denominator, to make comparisons possible."
- Janusz Kijowski for the Film Press Service, 11/1981.
Thus Janusz Kijowski only managed to make three films before the onset of martial law. He spent its first few years abroad. In the bleak atmosphere of late 1980s, already back in Poland, he made "Maskarada", a story about actors and their craft, about the search for truth and the sense of acting.
"The director tells a story about a young actor in the previous decade, who lost his life, because by performing his profession he attempted to search for the truth", wrote Bożena Janicka in Film (1/1988).
"Kijowski himself describes his character as "torn by two opposing instincts. The first one is success. The second is independence. But - clearly - without independence success is but a substitute, a counterfeit coin, cheap trinket of the moment..."
- quote courtesy of Film Press Service 11-12/1987.
The director's intentions were getting lost In the multitude of obscure allusions; the critics, like the quoted above Bożena Janicka, admitted their helplessness. But it wasn't fully Kijowski's fault.
"'Maskarada' missed it's time," the director said a few years later. "It was taken too literally, whereas what I had in mind was a much more general situation, when people, tired of practicing their own profession resolve to buffoonery, megalomania and various stances".
- interview with Janusz Wróblewski, Kino 10/1989.
The vague references and lofty musings on the meaning of acting were meant to be understood in the context of the actors' boycott in protest against martial law. This is most likely what was behind the speculations about the instinct of success and the instinct of independence, except making this film in Poland, Janusz Kijowski was unable to discuss it in a clear enough manner. He was free of that gag in 1989 when he made "Stan Strachu", a film about the community of actors during martial law, written by Cezary Harasimowicz. Since the director did not experience the dramatic beginnings of the martial law in Poland, he chose a formula which used the literal realism in a somewhat abstract manner.
The director said in a interview with Janusz Wróblewski:
"The reality of martial law outside the window didn't look the way it does in my film, or the one on the main character's television screen. It's martial law in a nutshell, resembling what happened in Chile more than what Jaruzelski did in Poland. [...] The film's material is realistic, but the form of art cinema should always be closer to poetry than a newsreel."
In 1993 in France Kijowski made "Tragaż Puchu", a psychological drama taking place during the war. The protagonists are two young Jews, hiding in a single woman's apartment after escaping from the ghetto. It results in a difficult emotional triangle.
"In the nineties the cinema of moral concern, put simply, went out of fashion", wrote Maria Kornatowska. She also points out that, with few exceptions, these films weren't particularly attractive to watch and
not very well written or put together, often longish and slightly boring - they suffered from weak form. Their undeniable value - compared to the cinema of the last decade - was their conformity with the everyday life. But on the foundation of realism they built a fictional construct, patched together from cliches and banal ideas, serving a certain (usually obvious) premise. Because of the screenwriting issues, the neglect of the form and the prevalence of shallow journalism, it was impossible for the movement to create a truly outstanding work, expressing the nature of the times in an original and evocative manner."
According to Kornatowska, only a few works raised above the norm, among them Kijowski's "Indeks", in which (together with Tomasz Zygadła's "Odwet") she finds a "personal and passionate voice".
Whereas eventually the critics and the audience turned their backs on the cinema of moral concern, Kijowski himself never distanced himself from the ideals driving those films. Even then, when they ceased being attractive to the viewer, and when the political changes brought down the system, to which the movement was a reaction. Although in an interview with Krzysztof Stanisławski he admits:
"In the seventies we made films quickly, without getting too deep. I always knew what I was after, but I put little thought into the form and aesthetics. Hence my turn towards theater, where such elements can be perfected – calmly, without the rush typical of a film set. (...) I don't reject this cinema. I still maintain that the existing reality should be a matter present in Polish film."
- Kino 11/2001.
At the same time he admits that he intends to remain faithful to the criticism characteristic of the cinema of moral concern, despite the political changes in Poland. It's evident in "Kameleon", a feature film and television series made around that time. In the interview with Stanisławski, he avers,
"'Kameleon' is a bridge between my previous films and the current times, and what I think of those ten years of Polish filmmakers' fascination with a cinema which is flashy, but lacks authenticity, a mere copy of American cinema. People will come to their senses (maybe they already have?) and the audience will demand a regular, Polish cinema, appropriate to our needs. I call it: how it used to be. The thing is, the film needs to be attractive, but not stupid; exciting, but not a mere montage of action sequences. Above all, it needs to make you think, after the show is over. In this sense 'Kameleon' continues the ideas of the cinema of moral concern, but set in a different reality, the reality of year 2000."
Regarding the protagonists of his films, Kijowski told the interviewer that their "imperative was to always act, even when faced with a possibility of failure". The hero of the cinema of moral concern fought alone against everyone and everything, against the common sense, accepted customs, the regime and the passivity of others. "And I could put the protagonist of 'Kameleon' in the same category", adds the director.
Janusz Kijowski didn't make a lot of films, but they were important enough to make a permanent mark on the history of Polish cinema. He would often take a few years between each film. Often he'd betray cinema and instead direct plays for the Television Theater, stage, even opera. Towards the end of his life he focused solely on theatre work.
- 1975 – “Anioł Stróż”, fiction
- 1976 – “Z.K. Sieradz”, documentary, directorial diploma work. (Awards:1977 – Kino Młodych, Rzeszów, “Złoty Klaps” award and press awarsd; 1978 - PWSFTviT short film Festival, Warsaw, Grand Prix)
- 1982 – "Avant la bataille" / "Before the fight", full feature documentary, dramatised, produced in Belgium.
- 1982 - International Film Festival, Rotterdam, Grand Prix
- 1997 – Śląsk Kazimierza Kutza
Feature Films (direction and screenplay):
1977 – “Indeks – Life and art of Józef M.”, loosely adapted from a short story by Andrzej Pastuszak. A film about refusal to compromise. Takes place in 1968, following the events of Polish political crisis in March of that year. The protagonist, student, Józef Moneta is trying to intervene after his friends are expelled from school. He gets expelled himself. He looses his chance for a better life, is forced to do physical labor. He tries his hand as a writer. Here he's also expected to compromise (rewrite a piece), to which he doesn't want to agree. His girlfriend calls it a lack of humility towards the world. Everybody around him accepts the rules of the game, settle, but not Moneta. In the end it turns out that for the younger generation, his uncompromising attitude is not enough.
Awards: 1981 – International Film Festival, Taormina, Gold Charybdis; Lubuskie Film Summer, Łagów, ZSMP award; International Film Forum “Man-Work-Creativity”, Lublin, main award.
- 1979 – "Kung-fu". One of the genre-defining works of the cinema of moral concern. A group of friends, who drifted apart after March 1968, gets back together again to help of them, after he gets in trouble with the higher ups at work. The friends' help brings results.
Awards: 1979 – Polish Film Festival, Gdańsk, best directorial debut; 1980 - 33rd International Film Festival, Locarno, FIRPESCI award; 1981 – Film magazine's “Golden Camera” for the best film dealing with contemporary issues in 1980.
- 1980 – "Głosy". A university chemistry teacher, Ewa, ends up in a psychiatric institution after she starts hearing mysterious voices. The doctors can't find any medical reason for the phenomenon. An electronic engineer Marek, whom she met through a classified advert, thinks that an extra-terrestrial civilization picked Ewa to be a medium. Searching for voices through using a short wave radio is his passion. Strange quasi-scientific experiments cause him to be misunderstood by his colleagues. Veiled as a sort of a science-fiction, this film is a psychological drama, which deals, metaphorically, with the need for independent thinking and the courage necessary to break away from existing stereotypes.
- 1986 – "Maskarada". Psychological drama. A story of a young actor, who's searching not only for the meaning of his profession, but most likely also the meaning of life. He fails to find either. He is let down by his mentor, an older actor, who after achieving success turns his back on mainstream theatre, moves away from the civilization to form a sort of theatrical laboratory with a small group of people. He decides to truly act out his own death, paying the ultimate price for his search.
Awards: 1987 - 4th Polish Film Review, Wrocławek, best screenplay.
- 1989 – “Stan Strachu” - screenplay co-written with Cezary Harasimowicz. Martial law and the twisted fates of people involved in opposition – sometimes, like in the case of the main protagonist, actor Jan Małecki.
- 1992 – “Tragarz Puchu” (alternative title: Warszawa. Annee 5703), screenplay co-written with Jerzy Janicki, based on his short story. A young Jewish couple who escaped from the ghetto is hiding in a single Polish woman's apartment, pretending to be siblings. The lie and the game they play gradually leads to an emotional conflict, and ultimately a tragedy.
Awards: 1993 – Artur Braunder Foundation award.
- 2001 – “Kameleon”, screenplay co-written with Jacek Janczarski, action film. Masuria district, small town; the head of police in Szczytno Leon Kamelski as a lone sheriff fighting the forces of evil, in this case the Chairman, head of a local mafia.
- 2001 – “Kameleon” (TV series), screenplay co-written with Jacek Janczarski.
- 1980 – "Głód" / "Hunger" by Knut Hamsun;
- 1981 – "Policja” / "The Police" by Sławomir Mrożek (aired in 1989);
- 1994 – “Msza za miasto Arras” / “Mass for Arras”), based on a novel by Andrzej Szczypiorski;
- 1996 – “Rip van Winkle” by Maks Frisch;
- 1998 – “Czyściec” / “Purgatory” by Janusz Kijowski;
- 1999 – “Piękny Widok” / “Beautiful View” by Sławomir Mrożek;
- 2002 – “Piękna pani Seidenman” / “The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman”, based on a novel by Andrzej Szczypiorski.
Awards: 2003 – Third National Polish Radio and Television Theatre Festival "Dwa Teatry", Sopot, for the adaptation.
Janusz Kijowski starred in a Magdalena Łazarkiewicz film “Ostatni Dzwonek” / “Last Bell” (1989) and Mariusz Fronta's “Portret Podwójny” / “Double Portrait” (2000). He was the cinematographer in documentaries: “A chcieliśmy na Atlantyk” (1974) by Włodzimierz Borowik and “Przez Czarnogórę” (1974) by Tomasz Pobóg-Malinowski, and wrote the script for “Kasztelan” (1995) by Grzegorz Płocha.
A selection of theater and opera plays directed by Kijowski:
- 1994 – “Mass for Arras” (based on a novel by Andrzej Szczypiorski), Stefan Jaracz Theater, Olsztyn
- 1994 – “The Crucible” (by Arthur Miller), Stefan Jaracz Theatre, Olsztyn.
- 1999 – “Bluebeard's Castle” (Bela Bartok), Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera, Warsaw.
- 1999 – “The Miraculous Mandarin” (Bela Bartok), Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera, Warsaw.
- 2007 – “The Master and Margarita” (based on a novel by Mikhail Bulgakov), Stefan Jaracz Theater, Olsztyn.
Author: Ewa Nawój, August 2008.