Film director and screenwriter. Born on the 19th of January 1922 in Gwoździec (now Gvozdets in Ukraine), died on the 27th of December 2007 in Warsaw.
Film director and screenwriter. His first films were counted as part of neo-realism and he is best known for his 1960 film Mother Joan of the Angels.
Kawalerowicz's first films were counted as part of neo-realism. This style served the director mainly to poeticise the uninteresting everyday reality he showed in his films. At the time, Kawalerowicz gained recognition as an excellent observer of reality, and a portraitist of authentic characters through sensitive visual imagery.
Although Kawalerowicz made his films at the time of the "Polish school", he remained outside its mainstream. The Polish school of filmmaking usually followed a national perspective - its great theme was the fate of the Poles. Kawalerowicz, meanwhile, chose universal themes. He is probably best known for his films Mother Joan of the Angels
reveal the director's special and original style. Critic Konrad Eberhardt wrote about the director's style in the Film weekly in 1996:
The moonscape of Mother Joan of the Angels, the austere convent architecture, the white walls obsessively enclosing the characters (...) create a vision of a world made up of a huge number of road signs which have to be deciphered. (...) 'Pharaoh' was made along similar lines. Its picturesque beauty, its fascinatingly spectacular character, also were not meant to be the objective but a starting point, an invitation to penetrate areas of the subject matter which stretched above, or among the reality.
Many of Kawalerowicz's films are adaptations of literature, which has been processed into original works marked with the director's creative individuality. Kawalerowicz has been called an epic author and a reconstructor of no longer existent worlds. Critic Zygmunt Kałużyński wrote in the Polityka weekly in 2000:
Mother Joan of the Angels' was a reconstruction of the lost Middle Ages (though the plot is set in the 18th century, but in conditions mentally unchanged for centuries), 'Pharaoh' ... is a reconstruction of Egyptian antiquity. And then 'The Inn' - a re-creation of the destroyed world of Hasidic Jewish culture.
Despite the diversity of subjects, it is possible to discover a constant trend which is fundamental for his vision. This is a kind of deeply rooted and instinctive opposition to any unbridled individual and collective emotionality. That's why this director stayed away from Romanticism. As Maria Kornatowska remarked, he is one of those people who prefer the "wise man's looking glass and eye" to "feeling and faith".
He got his start in film right after the war and completed a course in the rudiments of filming in Kraków. He studied at the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts
in 1946-1948, at the same time working as an assistant director on the film Jutro premiera / Premiere Tomorrow
, which was
never finished. He was also the director's assistant for the films Zakazane piosenki / Forbidden Songs
, Ostatni etap / The Last Stage
, Stalowe serca / The Steel Hearts
, and Czarci żleb / Devil's Ravine
. He debuted as a director in 1951. In 1955, he was appointed artistic manager of the Kadr film studio. He was a co-founder and the first president of the Association of Polish Filmmakers (1966-1978). He was elected the Association's honorary president in 1981. He became a member of the National Council of the Patriotic Movement for National Rebirth (PRON) in 1983. He was a member of the Sejm (parliament) in 1985-1989, and in 1983-1986 - chairman of the Film Industry Team. A teacher at the National Film, Television and Theatre School
(PWSFTviT) in Łódź since 1980.
His fourth film, Cień / Shadow
(1956), includes many expressionist fragments. Pociąg / Night Train
from 1959 also carries the indelible marks of expressionism - in the visual aspects, in how the characters are framed, and in the setting. The film travels trough various cinematic genres as the camera scrutinises the intimacy of the cabins filled with passengers on a train that is headed towards the Baltic seaside. Kawalerowicz builds a sort of post 1956 Polish microcosmos falling into a nocturne journey heading to an unknown dawn. Wrapped in vibrant realism and rawness, the film remains one of the most striking images of the era. Critic Maria Kornatowska wrote in the Kino monthly in 1978 that the director's expressionism "is not built on an ideological foundation … It only serves to make reality more appealing. It gives it shape and mood."
He received a Knight's Cross of the Polonia Restituta Order in 1954 and 1959. He was awarded a special Golden Grape award in 1975 for achievement as an artist who particularly aptly and beautifully presented historical subjects, for the films Faraon / Pharaoh, Matka Joanna od Aniołów / Mother Joan of the Angels, and Celuloza / Cellulose. Also in 1975, he received an Order of the Banner of Labour first class on the 30th anniversary of the film industry in People's Poland. October 1998 saw the unveiling of Jerzy Kawalerowicz's star on the Avenue of Stars in Łódź, in Piotrkowska Street. During the Festival of Stars in Międzyzdroje, the director left his handprint on the Promenade of Stars (2001). He has received honorary doctorates: from the University of Paris III - New Sorbonne in 1998, and from the PWSFTviT in Łódź in 2000.
Other awards and distinctions:
- 1979 diploma from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, for his contribution to promoting Polish culture abroad;
- 1997 award from the Minister of Culture and Art, for artistic output as well as promoting and protecting cultural assets;
- 1999 nomination for the Polish Film Award for lifetime achievement;
- 2001 award sponsored by Lukas Bank for achievement in film, at the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia;
- 2002 award for lifetime achievement at the Mar Del Plata IFF;
- 2003 Luis Buñuel Award at the 31st Huesca FF in Spain
In 1991 Yahia A. Zaidan wrote a paper on Kawalerowicz, entitled "Jerzy Kawalerowicz's Film Output" (typescript). A book about Kawalerowicz, Faraon Kina / The Pharaoh of Cinema by Małgorzata Dipont and Stanisław Zawiślański, was published in 1997.
- 1951 Gromada / The Village Mill (director and screenwriter with Kazimierz Sumerski). A conflict between smallholders and the miller and kulaks during construction of a mill which is meant to serve all the local residents. A socialist-realist tale of changes in rural Poland. Awards: 1952 - special mention for directing at the Karlovy Vary IFF.
- 1953 Celuloza / Cellulose (based on the novel Pamiątka z Celulozy / Recollection by Igor Newerly, who is also co-author of the script). The film's plot is set in Poland before September 1939. It tells the story of the tough life of Szczęsny, who is forced by poverty to leave his native village in search of work. He comes in contact with an organized worker movement and joins the revolutionary struggle. Awards: 1955 - State Prize first degree.
- 1954 Pod Gwiazdą Frygijską / Under the Phrygian Star (the 2nd part of Celuloza / Cellulose; screenplay as above). The later life of Szczęsny, who joins the communist party. He is thrown in prison, and after being released goes to Spain to take part in the civil war. Awards: 1954 - Social Progress Award at the Karlovy Vary IFF; 1955 - State Prize first degree.
- 1956 Cień / Shadow (screenplay: Aleksander Ścibor-Rylski). A man jumps from a train and is killed. It is impossible to identify him because his face is mutilated and he has no papers. The recollections of a few people help explain who he might have been. A spy and resistance story combining flashbacks to the war with 1950's reality. Awards: 1957 - Warsaw Mermaid in the feature film category for 1956.
- 1957 Prawdziwy koniec wielkiej wojny / Real End of the Great War (based on a short story by Jerzy Zawieyski, who is also co-author of the script). Juliusz returns after the war, having been in a concentration camp. His wife, certain that her husband is long dead, has made a new life for herself with another man. Realizing what the situation is, Juliusz commits suicide. A psychological drama analysing the long-term effects of war on the human psyche.
- 1959 Pociąg / Night Train (screenplay with Jerzy Lutowski). Most of the plot is set in the enclosed space of a moving train. A group of people meet by accident during their journey. Each of the passengers is lonely in their own way, and each one has their own tragedy. This is a psychological study (as the director said) "about the hunger and desire for feelings". It also contains a crime-story motif - there is a wanted murderer on the train. The travellers become very aggressive and almost lynch him. Awards: 1959 - Georges Melies Premio Evrotecnica at the Venice IFF; Golden Duck award for best Polish film (award granted by "Film" magazine).
- 1960 Matka Joanna od Aniołów / Mother Joan of the Angels (based on a short story by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz; screenplay with Tadeusz Konwicki). The 18th century. Father Suryn arrives at a convent in the Smolensk region. He is an exorcist who will cast out the demons from possessed nuns. A sudden passion develops between him and Mother Joan, but both are afraid to admit it. This secular love makes the priest commit a crime. It is his way of freeing the nun of her demons. This is a drama which can be interpreted in universal terms, as a study of the psychology of people who voluntarily agree to restrictions on their own nature and to imposed rules. One of the visually most beautiful Polish films. Awards: 1961 - Silver Palm Special Jury Award at the Cannes IFF; 1962 - Warsaw Mermaid award from Polish film critics; Award of the Minister of Culture and Art, first degree; 1963 - Young Critics' Award at the Oberhausen IFF; 1966 - Film Critics' Award at the Panama IFF.
- 1965 Faraon / Pharaoh (based on the novel by Bolesław Prus; screenplay with Tadeusz Konwicki). The young pharaoh, Ramses XIII, intends to reform Egypt. Herhor the priest opposes him. The power struggle between them is the focus of the film. Other themes include the friendship with Pentuer the priest, the love for Sara the beautiful Jewess and Kama the priestess, the story of the secret pact with Assyria, the solar eclipse and how the priests used it to subdue the crowds, and the assassination of Ramses XIII at the hands of his look-alike. A historical fresco of universal meaning, revealing the mechanisms of power and the influence of religion on social life. Awards: 1966 - group State Prize first degree; 1967 - an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film.
- 1968 Gra / The Game (screenplay with Andrzej Bianusz). A couple married for twelve years is in crisis. The husband and wife play a game with each other, in which one partner wants to gain the upper hand over the other. An intimate psychological drama.
- 1971 Maddalena (prod. Yugoslavia-Italy; screenplay with Sergio Biassini). The title character falls in love with a priest, her love is reciprocated. A story about unfulfilled love ending in tragedy.
- 1977 Śmierć prezydenta / Death of a President (screenplay with Bolesław Michałek). The film reconstructs a tragic episode of Polish history from the time of the Second Republic - on 16 December 1922, Poland's first president, Gabriel Narutowicz was murdered by a fanatical nationalist called Eligiusz Niewiadomski. This is a universal treatise about power and the mechanisms of political crime. Awards: 1977 - Special Jury Prize at the Polish FIlm Festival in Gdańsk; 1978 - Silver Bear for directing at the Berlin IFF; Special Award for directing at the Liberec Working People's IFF (Czechoslovakia); Critics' Award at the Cordoba IFF; Warsaw Mermaid - Award of the Film Critics' Club at the Polish Journalists' Association.
- 1980 Spotkanie na Atlantyku / Chance Meeting on the Atlantic (screenplay with Bolesław Michałek). The plot is set on a great ocean liner en route from America to Poland. It is a confrontation of the attitudes of the passengers, revealing the motives behind their moral choices. Kawalerowicz called this a "drama of characters".
- 1982 Austeria / The Inn (based on the novel by Julian Stryjkowski - screenplay with Tadeusz Konwicki and Julian Stryjkowski). 1914 - the first day and night of the war. The title austeria (inn) becomes a refuge for Jews fleeing from the Russian forces. Wealthy bourgeoisie and poor people, conservatives and radicals form a vivid cross-section of society. This is a confrontation of people's different attitudes in a situation of uncertainty and danger. Only Tag, the wise old innkeeper, maintains a stoic calm. Awards: 1984 - Grand Prix for best film at the Polish Film Festival in Gdańsk.
- 1989 Jeniec Europy / The Hostage of Europe (screenplay based on the novel by Juliusz Denkowski). The final years of Napoleon I's life in exile on the island of St. Helena. The film shows a debunked image of the great emperor - as a suffering man defeated by serious illness. Bonaparte dies in exile in 1821.
- 1990 Bronsteins Kinder / Bronstein's Children (prod. Germany; screenplay based on the novel by Jurek Becker). The Bronsteins are a family of German Jews. Though it is 1973, the father still remembers the horrors of the war. When he meets a man who was a concentration camp kapo, he wants to see him judged and sentenced. This causes a conflict with Bronstein's 18-year-old son for whom the war is ancient history.
- 1995 Za co? / Why? (prod. Poland-Russia; based on a story by Leo Tolstoy - screenplay with Pawel Fin, Valeri Pendrakovsky and Alexander Bondarev). The dramatic story of a Polish nobleman who is arrested and sentenced to penal servitude for taking part in the November Uprising of 1830.
- 2001 Quo Vadis (based on the novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz). The story of the love that develops between Vinicius, a young Roman, and the beautiful Ligia, set against the backdrop of the lives of the early Christians in ancient Rome ruled by Nero. An almost four-hour (160 min.) faithful adaptation of an extremely popular piece of prose.
- 2001 Quo Vadis - six-episode television version of the film.
In 1965 Kawalerowicz published the book Filmy, styl, metoda / Films, Style Method, written with Ramil Pavlovich Sobolev.
Author: Halina Olczak-Moraczewska, May 2004; updated: December 2007.