Movie director born 21 May 1930 in Susiec, near Tomaszów Lubelski.
After he had finished, in 1956, his graduate studies in directing department in National Film School in Łódź, he worked for a few years as an assistant to director, or second director, working on movies such as Spotkania (1957) Zimowy zmierzch (1956), Lotna (1959), and Powrót (1960). He worked with such renowned directors as Stanisław Lenartowicz, Andrzej Wajda and Jerzy Passendorfef. His directorial debut came in 1961.
From 1976 to 1980 he was assistant artistic director of Film Studio Iluzjon, and between 1988 and 1991 he performed the same function for film studio Kadr.
Twice in his career (in 1969 and 1975) Sylwester Chęciński has received Award of the Ministry of Culture and Arts, II grade. In 1971 he also got Award of the Ministry of Defence, II grade. He also won an award presented by Film magazine for his trilogy consisting of Our Folks, Take it Easy and Love or Leave. He is also among the winners of Wrocław Cultural Award, which he received in 1968 and 2000. In 2005 in turn, during National Cinema Festival Provincjonalia in Września he was awarded with an Honourary award – Jańcio Wodnik statue. In 2006 he obtained an honourary citizenship of Wrocław, and in 2007 he was granted an Honourary Award of Polish Cinematographers’ Association during 32 Festival of Polish Feature Films in Gdynia. What’s more, in 1983 he received Officer’s Cross of Polonia Restituta.
One of distinctive features of Chęciński’s output is the variety of genres that he directed. His first movie, Story of the Yellow Boot, is clearly directed to direct audience. It was, however, just a warm-up for his further career. The next film of his, Agnes 46 is a psychological drama set in post-war Western Poland. The director explores the difficulties that people, completely changed by the war, face when returning to normal life. Jerzy Płażewski comments that ‘The movie shows that exalted mythos is redundant in everyday, grassroots work’.
Wester Poland is also the place where the action of probably the most beloved movie of Chęciński, a real cult-classic – Our Folks (1967). However, this time he presents us with a perfectly-acted comedy. Jerzy Peltz writes about the movie:
The comedy in the movie stems from three main elements: Sarmatian comedy, its setting in certain historic background and, to top it all off, a slight addition of characteristic dialect of the region which, at least to the younger generation, may sound odd and funny. (Film 1967 no. 38)
The story of Kargul and Pawlak continues in two more movies, Take it Easy (1974) and Love or Leave (1977). Together, they create a kind of comic trilogy. The genre was deserted by Chęciński for some time after that, as he returned to it with Controlled Conversations from 1991.
In 1969 Chęciński directed a spy action movie Only the Dead Will Answer (1969). Helena Opoczyńska emphasizes:
With this movie the director proves that he feel well also in a mainstream, mass-produced cinema. There still remains this freshness of his outlook and his technical virtuosity. (Film 1969 no. 49)
Another action movie aimed at the mainstream movie-goers is Big Shar (1983). Sylwester Chęciński progresses the action extremely fluently. Maciej Zalewski writes about the movie:
Each of the characters is well planned and well thought of, each line and appearance has its purpose. They are usually not that long, but distinctive enough to snatch the viewer from their boredom and engage them in the next episode of the action. (Kino 1983 no. 02)
Chęciński’s only movie that tackles the topic of war is The Legend. Jacek Fukusiewicz writes about it:
There is something fair tale-ish, or ballade-ish in it, the worldview of a grown man is rendered through a spontaneous, naïve view of the heroes, a hint of humour connects with a hint of tragedy. (Film 1971 no. 20)
There are also psychological dramas in his portfolio. The most celebrated are Roman and Magda, Because I’m crazy about Her and Catastrophe. The middle one also contains numerous comedic elements.
All the various movies in Chęciński’s filmography are always connected with one important element: human character is always of the main interest. As Maciej Maniewski writes:
This director has a brilliant ability to give his heroes a certain character, they are not only multi-dimensional and dynamic, but also, in a way, sympathetic towards the viewer. (...) From the very beginning Chęciński realises the model of popular cinema, but enriched with psychological and social level, as well as technically excellent. (Film 1986 no. 49)
It is no accident that Chęciński was named ‘painter of Polish personalities’.
Krzysztof Świrek comments:
Thorough preparation and meekness towards the viewer is his recipe for good popular cinema. Unwavering interest in his movies proves that the recipe was successful (Kino 2008 no. 01)
- 1953 – Lato [trans. Summer]
- 1955 – Człowiek nie umiera [trans. A man never dies]
- 1961 – Story of the Yellow Boot 9based on a novel by Antonina Domańska; screenplay by Zdzisław Skowroński and Wanda Żółkiewska). It’s a historic fairy tale of a talented boy who is an apprentice to Wit Stwosz and helps him create the altar in St. Mary’s Basilica in Kraków. Scenography and costumes based on medieval paintings. Awards: 1962 – Silver Medal during Venice Children’s Film Festival.
- 1964 – Agnes 46 (based on a novel by Wilhelm Mach Agnes, daughter of Columbus; screenplay by Wilhelm Mach and Zdzisław Skowroński). The movie takes place in 1946 on Regained Territories. A young teacher, titular Agnes, arrives at a small village – Białobrzegi. There she meets with a rather cold welcome from a local mayor, a former soldier who rules the village with iron fist. The clash of two strong personalities ensues and results in the mayor leaving the town, as he is a remnant of old, war-time reality which has to be replaced by the new.
- 1965 – The Catastrophe (based on a novel by Zbigniew Kubikowski; screenplay by Sylwester Chęciński and Zbigniew Kubikowski). The protagonist is a thirty-year-old engineer. A bridge designed by him collapses only a few days after being built, killing several people. It’s a psychological drama which tries to describe morality and customs of the intelligence, part of which is the hero.
- 1967 – Our Folks ( Screenplay by Andrzej Mularczyk). After the WWII, two always fighting families from Borderlands arrive to Recovered Territories – Karguls and Pawlaks. They get neighbouring farms and arguments ensue, ending only after their children marry. It’s endoubtedly one of the best Polish comedies, taking inspiration from such classics as Revenge by Aleksander Fredro. Awards: Award of the Ministry of Culture and Arts, II grade; Special Distinction ‘Golden Duck for the 100th anniversary of Polish cinema’ category: Polish comedy of the century (awarded by Film magazine by viewers’ vote)
- 1969 – Only the Dead Will Answer (screenplay by Andrzej Wydrzyński). In one of the factories in Wrocław a cashier is murdered. Captain Wójcik leads the investigation. The director shows each part of the investigation, and with them changes that occur in the cop who gradually get more and more fascinated by the case. In search for the truth he resort to illegal measures, which results in his death. A Polish take on detective movie.
- 1970 – The Legend (screenplay by Walentin Jeżow and Zbigniew Załuski. Winter of 1944. In the forest, two teenage boys meet. One, a Pole, comes from Warsaw, the other, Russian, fled from a transport to Germany. Both of them try their best to fight Nazis on their own, they also both fall in love with the same girls. Picture of youth clashed with the reality of war.
- 1971 – Raja’s Diamond (TV movie; based on a novel by R. L. Steveson; screenplay by Andrzej Jarecki). A tale of a search for a stolen diamond that was brought from India by a British general.
- 1971 – First love (TV movie; based on a novel by Ivan Turgenev ; screenplay by Andrzej Wajda). A story of a young boy who falls in love with a daughter of princess Zinaida. The girl, however, loves the boy’s father.
- 1973 – Droga [trans. The Way] (TV series; 6 episodes; screenplay by Andrzej Mularczyk). Driver, Marianek, travels all around the country. He is the factor connecting all the episodes, as well as focal point of all the unfolding events, always getting tangled up in the affairs of other people whom he tries to help out. Episodes:
- Musisz to wypić do dna [trans. Bottoms up!]
- Numer próbny [trans. Trial number]
- Ostatnich gryzą psy [trans. The last are bitten by dogs]
- Pasażer z nożem w kieszeni [trans. A passenger with a knife in his pocket]
- Rysopis uwodziciela [trans. Description of a seducer]
- Stan wyjątkowy [trans. State of emergency]
- 1974 – Take it Easy (screenplay by Andrzej Mualrczyk). Continuation of the account of Our Folks heroes’ lives. Problems arise concerning the marriage of Kargul and Pawlak’s grandchildren. Awards: ‘Jantar’ at MSF in Koszalin; ‘Golden Grape’ at LLF in Łagów; Award of the Ministry of Culture and Arts, II grade.
- 1977 – Love or Leave (screenplay by Andrzej Mularczyk). The last chapter of Kargul and Pawlak’s adventures. This time, the heroes visit Chicago. Awards: First Jury Award at FPFF in Gdańsk.
- 1978 – Roman and Magda (screenplay by Ireneusz Iredyński). A tale of failing marriage, shown from the perspective of husband first, then wife.
- 1980 – Because I’m Crazy About Her (TV movie; based on a novel by Jerzy Stefan Stawiński; screenplay by Jerzy Stefan Stawiński). Delivery man with a hidden acting talent uses his abilities to trick people and pick up girls. However, the time comes when he falls in love in one of his victims.
- 1982 – Big Shar (Screenplay by Jan Purzycki). Aging card shark gets out of prison after 5 year sentence. He wants to retire, but certain circumstances force him to go back to the green table. Action film with artistic ambitions. Awards: Award of the Ministry of Culture and Arts, II grade; ‘Golden Duck’ awarded by magazine Film category: best Polish movie 1983.
- 1991 – Controlled Conversations (screenplay by Stanisław Tym). First Polish comedy set during Martial Law. The protagonist is the manager of sports club "Tęcza", known from Teddy Bear directed by Stanisław Bareja. Awards: ‘Silver Grape’ at LLF in Łagów; Award of the Head of Radio and Television Committee at FPFF in Gdynia.
- 1997-1998 – Z pianka czy bez [trans. With or without cream] (TV series; 9 episodes; screenplay by Stefan Friedmann and Krzysztof Jaroszyński). Comedy series about actors, who set up a pub at the place where once the theatre they performed in was. Chęciński directed 3 out of 9 episodes:
- Lawranc ojciec Kristiny [trans. Lawranc, the father of Kristina]
- Koncesja [trans. Concession]
- Akcyza [trans. Excise Tax]
- 2005 – Came the Uhlans (screenplay by Grzegorz Stefański), part of a TV cycle "Polish Festivities". In post-state-collective-farm village Osiek a plaque commemorating city’s reclaiming from the Bolsheviks on 15 August 1920 is to be revealed. The Mayor needs a veteran for the occasion, and a local salesman promises to help if he will get a concession to sell alcohol in return. A straightforward satire on Polish glorification of heroes and falsified mythos.
- 1968 - Próba generalna [trans. Dress rehearsal] (author: Andrzej Mularczyk)
- 1994 - Głośna sprawa [trans. Scandalous news] (author: Jerzy Niemczuk)
- 1995 - Racja głodowa [trans. Minimal ration] (author: Jerzy Niemczuk)
- 1997 - Dziękuję za służbę [trans. Thank you for your duty] (author: Włodzimierz Perzyński)
- 1999 - Samoobrona [trans. Self-defence] (author: Feliks Falk)
- 2000 - Żelazna konstrukcja [trans. Iron construction] (author: Maciej Wojtyszko)
- Situational Comedy (authors: Johnnie Mortimer, Brian Cooke) in various theatres.
- Fallen Angels (author: Noel Coward) in Teatr Kwadrat in Warsaw.
In 2003 he starred in Baśń o ludziach stąd [trans. Tale of people from here] (screenplay by Władysław Sikora, directed by Władysław Sikora).
Chęciński’s famous trilogy was realised over 40 years ago in Lubomierz. To commemorate this, the city organises Comedy Film Festival for over 13 years.
Edited by Halina Olczak-Moraczewska, December 2004; update: September. Translated by AS.