Film director and screenwriter, also theatre director. Born in 1953 in Swobnica near Gryfino.
Film director and screenwriter, also theatre director. He is a valued director of the middle generation, receiving many major film awards for his works.
From as early as 1954, Waldemar Krzystek spent his entire childhood in Legnica, and went to secondary school there. Years later, this city in Lower Silesia was the setting for some of his films and theatrical productions. He graduated in Polish language and literature from the University of Wrocław. He twice sat entrance exams to enrol in the directing department of the Łódź film school, both times unsuccessfully. He ultimately studied directing at the Department of Radio and Television of the University of Silesia, graduating in 1981.
He is a valued director of the middle generation, receiving many major film awards for his works. Even his feature debut from 1986, W zawieszeniu / Suspended, was a success. Krzystek won the Bronze Lions in the competition for the best directing debut at the Polish Film Festival in Gdańsk. His later film, Zwolnieni z życia / Dismissed From Life was an international success, winning the FIPRESCI prize for best film and the jury prize at the San Sebastian IFF in 1992. In 1987, a few years after graduation, Waldemar Krzystek was invited to contribute to "Kino" monthly and responded with an article on the condition of Polish cinema in which he wrote:
"If people today barely feel like living, let alone going to the pictures - perhaps we should stop making films altogether instead of raising a particularistic outcry over poor turnouts. If we add to this overall situation our Polish specificity of being unable to make certain films - films which, presumably, audiences would like to see but the Sponsor doesn't want to see, or the standard of our 'film industry' doesn't allow them to be made (in other words, the limitations stem from the basis and superstructure) - then I really give up." ("Kino" 2-3/1987)
This was Krzystek's way of saying, obliquely because of censorship but leaving no doubt as to his intention, that discussing the condition of Polish cinema made no sense because the artistic choices of filmmakers were determined by officials. Enforced standardization in culture, a few years after the imposition and later "suspension" of martial law, prevented filmmakers from speaking out candidly.
In the same article, he wrote about his own unfulfilled hopes as a director:
"I had the good but also bad fortune to graduate from film school in 1981. At the time I knew exactly what I wanted my films to be about, or at least I never thought later that I knew better than then. ... I was eager to work, to invent things, take part in things."
And further along:
"Graduates in that important year of 1981 lost the most: though they were very close, they missed out on making the films they had dreamed of before that December, and then had to wait at least two years for things to start moving, and even then at best one-third of the old scripts could be considered at all."
He said these words in early 1987, at a special time for him, when his completed full-length feature debut, Czas Kary / Punishment Time was waiting to premiere. Many more months passed before the film, its title changed under pressure from officials, was released as W zawieszeniu / Suspended. Both this film and his earlier medium-length television debut (his graduation project), Powinowactwo / The Relationship, were a middle ground between what the director wanted to say and what he was allowed to say.
"It was in 'Powinowactwo' that I showed I wasn't interested in political emotions," Krzystek explained, "that I was clearly devaluing them in favour of personal and psychological emotions. Thus, in the discussion on the future of cinematic films I had 'Powinowactwo' as an argument. They believed me when I said I was interested in the mental situations and states of people who were reliant on one another. That's why my first cinema film could be made." ("Filmowy Serwis Prasowy", 21-22/1989)
There is no question, if only based on the above statement, that during this time he was searching for an appropriate language he could use to speak without lying while not putting himself in danger of being muzzled by the censors. If there was any politics in his films, it wasn't there for its own sake but because it allowed him to generate a situation worth noting for psychological reasons.
Waldemar Krzystek found a kind of model in Krzysztof Kieślowski's 1985 film Bez końca / No End:
"To me, that was a breakthrough film," he confessed years later. "At what seemed the worst possible moment, Kieślowski changed his earlier way of thinking. As one of the first people from his artistic generation, he made a sharp turn towards his characters' privacy. ... I probably saw what I very much wanted to see in that film, but there's no reason for me to change my mind today." (Interviewed by Janusz Wróblewski, "Magia Kina", Warszawa 1995)
Kieślowski himself thought of Bez końca / No End as nothing to be proud of. He wrote in his autobiographical book "O sobie" / "About Myself": "In a sense every film is a trap. You want to say something specific, but at the same time something a little different. I now try to avoid those traps." (Krzysztof Kieślowski, "O sobie", Kraków 1997)
In his subsequent films Kieślowski turned towards privacy in a more unequivocal way. Krzystek as an admirer of Bez końca / No End, meanwhile, obviously stuck to his own view. In W zawieszeniu / Suspended he intentionally wanted to say "something specific" and "at the same time something a little different". He set the film in the Stalinist years. The plot unfolds in Legnica. It tells the story of a woman hiding a man in her cellar, a Home Army (AK) soldier who is a runaway from the death cell. Krzystek created an intimate drama about the feelings between two people which they manage to preserve despite a mentally difficult situation of dependence, extremely stressful responsibility for someone, and despite fear.
"I'm interested in politics only insofar as it concerns people, insofar as it involves interesting situations and people's meaningful behaviours," he said about W zawieszeniu / Suspended. ("FSP" 21-22/1989)
Interviewed by Janusz Wróblewski, but let us stress - after censorship had been lifted, he said:
" 'W zawieszeniu' is primarily a film made 'on behalf of the majority'. At the same time, it indicates the roots of what is best about Polish society and what preserved a certain way of thinking about and reacting to communism over the years. Thanks to this, the nation survived." ("Kino" 4/1990)
W zawieszeniu / Suspended, a film with a surprising, extremely muted performance by Krystyna Janda (for which the credit, as the actress herself admitted, was largely due to the director), was a great artistic achievement. At the same time, it's worth emphasizing that it was a kind of test of strength with the authorities of the time, a test from which Krzystek emerged victorious. This fact was noticed by Solidarity's underground structures, and W zawieszeniu / Suspended received a special prize for creative independence from the then-illegal trade union.
"In your films, the antidote to discouragement, alienation, depression caused by totalitarian rule is an awareness of righteousness, an inner life, elementary values like love, loyalty, etc.,"
concluded Janusz Wróblewski, referring not only to W zawieszeniu / Suspended but also to Ostatni prom / The Last Ferry from 1989, in which the characters, in the face of martial law, precisely on the day it is imposed, make difficult and diversely motivated choices.
Though this was still before the political transformations in Poland, Krzystek again managed to say some truths about Polish society in an artistically attractive way. He portrayed the characters in a dramatic moment for Poland without playing up to the authorities. Ostatni prom / The Last Ferry, a bold but also prudent film for its time, later shown many times on television, became the director's trademark for many years.
You can see in Krzystek's subsequent films that despite being freed from the muzzle of censorship, as a film director he still wanted to say, as Kieślowski put it, "something specific, but at the same time something a little different", that the "political emotions" he showed were subordinate to "personal and psychological emotions". He applies this principle whenever he speaks about the past, closer or more distant, in his films or theatre productions. This is also true of plays by other writers which he chooses to produce, to mention Ballada o Zakaczawiu / The Ballad of Zakaczawie or Norymberga / Nuremberg.
Politics is present in a similar fashion in those of Krzystek's films which are set in contemporary times (after the watershed of 1989), such as Zwolnieni z życia / Dismissed From Life, about people thrown onto the fringes of society after the political transformation in Poland, or Nie ma zmiłuj / No Mercy, in which he tries to portray the none-too-beautiful face of Polish capitalism in its infancy. The impression one gets is that he considers the film language he built in a situation of constraints useful enough not to be abandoned despite the political changes in the country. Especially worth noting is Zwolnieni z życia / Dismissed From Life, which can be perceived as a settling of accounts with the time of martial law, but also a lyrical story about precisely such elementary values as an inner life, love, and loyalty. This film was a triumph for its director at the San Sebastian festival, and also for Krystyna Janda, in another noteworthy performance, who received the best actress award at the same festival.
"I don't care," Krzystek declared, "about laying into the post-commies, or the anti-commies. I have never been under the illusion that films can change the political system, or in fact have any influence on reality. I make exactly the same films I made before. This is a different moment in history, but down at the bottom everything's the same: misfortunes, paranoia, and the price which common people pay for this joyous revolution. ... I don't believe you can make films in Poland and about the Poles completely ignoring history." ("Kino" 3/1992)
In 2008 Krzystek directed Mała Moskwa / Little Moscow, a melodrama set in the 1960s, again in Legnica, where Soviet forces were stationed in the years of the Warsaw Pact.It is a film about the love between a Soviet officer's wife and a Polish soldier. Once again, the director's declaration that politics interests him only when "it involves interesting situations and people's meaningful behaviours" takes shape in a film reality. The tragic tale of forbidenn love is not just a story of a classic love triangle between a wife, her husband and lover. The beautiful protagonist's husband is not a monster fighting for his property - the monster is the USRR and the Red Army. The fact that Viera prefers a Pole over a Russian, and also her unhidden fascination with Poland is an offence to the USRR, which deserves punishment.
The director received the Golden Lions award at the Gdynia film film festival and Svetlana Khodchenkova was honoured for best leading actress. This decision raised quite a lot of controversy among the critics (it won with highly acclaimed films such as Małgorzata Szumowska's 33 scenes from life and Jerzy Skolimowski's Four Nights with Anna), although it was appreciated for its craftmanship, a rare ability to make a good mainstream melodrama and tell a story which would challenge the stereotype of an aversion between Poles and Russians.
Fortunately, Little Moscow doesn't pretend to be great. It's a classic love story, but with an important, well written historical backstory, consequently told and elegant in its style - wrote Łukasz Maciejewski in 'Film' monthly.
In 2011 Krzystek proved once again that he has a good understanding of mainstream cinema. He directed the comedy 80 millions - the story of a famous bank robbery, organized by the members of Solidarity from Lower Silesia, led by Władysław Frasyniuk. The film was shot on the 30th anniversary of the martial law, but dramatic events aren't treated seriously but with a lot of humour. The story is colorful and filled with action, and the oppositionists are shown as sexy heroes.
80 millions is a typical film of genre, but the director was able to recreate the atmosphere of the beginnings of the Solidarity movement. He captured the social energy freed by the opposition. The movement's leaders are shown as boys with a hell of an immagination. Pragmatism is confronted with disarming naivety. They could become idols of the modern outraged movement - wrote Rafał Świątek ("Rzeczpospolita", 24.11.2011).
An engaging plot and great roles of young Polish actors (Piotr Głowacki playing the villain SB captain was a true discovery) were huge factors in the film's popularity. It was even chosen as the Polish Oscar candidate in 2011.
Krzystek's last film up til now is the thriller The Photographer (2014), in which the director returns to Legnica - through Moscow, because it's there where a serial killer operates, hunted by a young policewoman Natasza. The film was honoured with the Tarnów Film Award and the Youth Jury Award in Gdynia, were Alena Babenko also received the prize for best supporting actress.
Krzystek also works for television: in the Television Theatre he directed, among others, Maciej Kowalewski's Ballada o Zakaczawiu / Ballad of Zakaczawie (2001), Friedrich Dürrenmatt's The Visit (2002) and two plays by the great modern British playwright David Hare - The Vertical Hour (2008) and Gethsemane (2011). He also worked on a few TV series, among which the most popular is the biography of Polish singer Anna German, made in 2012.
Filmography - director
- 1979 - Czego przybywa, czego ubywa / What Comes, What Goes, short feature (based on a play by Stanisław Różewicz).
- 1980 - Antykwariat / Antiquarian Bookshop, short feature about the son of a recently deceased famous writer who thinks his father's greatness is ruining his life. To overcome this complex, he sells his father's things, including his valuable book collection.
- 1981 - To idzie młodość / Here Comes Youth, short documentary recording the views of secondary-school graduates of 1981.
- 1985 - Panorama Racławicka / Racławice Panorama, a film about art.
1984 - Powinowactwo / The Relationship (also the script), medium-length film. The first months of martial law in Poland. A teacher (Krzysztof) misses his wife who is on a scholarship in the United States. Their separation is made more painful by the fact that the political situation prevents him from joining her, something he dreams of constantly. He is plagued by exhausting dreams, repetitive nightmares symbolizing powerlessness. Soon he finds out that his wife plans a new relationship and wants a divorce. Krzysztof meets a painter; to his amazement, her paintings portray situations from his dreams.
1986 - W zawieszeniu / Suspended (also the script, with Małgorzata Kopernik), full-length political and psychological drama. Marcel, a Home Army (AK) officer arrested after the war by the communist authorities, escapes from prison where he was awaiting the death penalty. He starts hiding in the cellar of the home of his beloved (Anna) who works as a nurse in the Legnica hospital. This politically dangerous and psychologically difficult situation lasts several years. A daughter is born to Anna and Marcel, she grows up not knowing her father who is hiding so close to her. The ties binding Marcel and Anna survive despite this extremely unfavourable situation. In the end, as a result of dramatic circumstances, Marcel comes out of hiding, he is arrested and then, after the political thaw of 1956, released from prison. (Awards: 1987 - Young Polish Cinema, Gdańsk - prize in the feature film category, Polish Film Festival, Gdynia, prize for directing debut, Youth and Film Festival, Koszalin, Prof. Bolesław Lewicki Award, audience award, and special mention for directing debut, Lubuskie Film Summer, Łagów, prize for the script, Stanisław Wyspiański Youth Art Award first degree, Award of the Solidarity Independent Culture Committee for the best film of 1986, Award from the Head of Cinematography for filmmaking in the feature category for 1986, 1988 - Dunkirk IFF, special jury prize).
1989 - Ostatni prom / The Last Ferry (also the script). On the eve of the imposition of martial law in Poland, a ferry leaves the country, its passengers bound for the West for different reasons. Among them is a teacher whose journey is supposed to be a mission on behalf of Solidarity. Upon hearing that martial law has been declared, the captain turns back to shore. The passengers have to decide whether to return to Poland or, by getting on West German boats, choose emigration with no right of return. The protagonist, facing the same moral choice, decides to return and hands over his mission in the West to someone else - his ex-wife. (Awards: 1989 - Polish Film Festival, Gdynia, award from the mayor of Gdynia, 1990 - Award from the Head of Cinematography for filmmaking in the feature category).
1992 - Zwolnieni z życia / Fausse Sortie / Dismissed From Life (also the script), Polish-French production. A psychological drama set right after the political breakthrough of 1989. (Awards: 1992 - IFF, San Sebastian, FIPRESCI prize and jury special prize; 1993 - 7th Tarnów Film Award, Silver Leliwita).
1994 - Polska śmierć / Polish Death (also the script). A surprising combination of a thriller and reflections on social change. A portrait of Poland's educated class pushed to the fringes of life as a result of political change - the embodiment of the social frustrations of a large part of society. (Awards: 1994 - Rochester, New York, Kodak Award).
1998-99 - Życie jak poker / Life Like Poker, TV series, directed episodes 1-10.
2000 - Nie ma zmiłuj / No Mercy (also the script, with Witold Horwath and Jerzy Radwański). In the tough Polish reality of the 1990s a young teacher (Piotr) loses his job and, persuaded by a friend, decides to take advantage of an opportunity to improve his standard of living and becomes a sales rep for a wine merchant company. There's a down side, though - Piotr falls victim to the rat race.
2005-2007 Egzamin z życia / Life Exam, TV series, directed episodes 63-66, 71-75, 83-86.
2005 - Fala zbrodni / Crime Wave, TV series, directed episodes 34-43.
2008 - Mała Moskwa / Little Moscow, (also the script). Late 1960s in Legnica. A Soviet officer Jura and his wife Viera come to Poland to live with the Soviet army stationing in the city. Viera is fascinated with Polish culture, and later - also with a young Pole, Michał. She gives birth to Michał's child. Passionate love is their undoing, since the Soviet army treats it as an offence. The main plot is put in a contemporary frame - Jura comes to Poland to visit his wife grave with her daughter who only now learns who her real father was.
2011 - 80 milionów / 80 millions, (script written together with Krzysztof Kopka). Autumn of 1981. The authorities of the PRL end their preparation for the plan 'Synchronization' - introducing the martial law. Provocations arise and there's more and more tension in the air. People start to understand that confrontation with the communists is unavoidable. It's then that, encouraged by the leader of Lower Silesia's Solidarity, Władysław Frasyniuk, three young activists took 80 million złoty of the union's money from the bank. They did it in the last possible moment, since on December 13th the account was blocked by the communists. The authorities named it a 'bank robbery' and frenetically started to get the money back.
2012 - Anna German, a very popular TV series about the legendary Polish singer.
2014 - Fotograf / The Photographer, (script written together with Krzysztof Kopka). Thriller about a serial killer operating in contemporary Moscow. The ever-escaping criminal leaves cards with numbers on the crime scene, just like police technicians. The investigators find a lead connected to the former garrison of the Soviet Army in Legnica. A young policewoman Natasha takes part in the investigation - she is the only one who survived a confrontation with 'the photographer'.
- 1995 - Bal błaznów / The Clowns' Ball, adaptation with Małgorzata Kopernik, based on the prose of Leo and Aleksandr Shargorodsky.
- 1996 - O człowieku, który redagował "Gazetę Rolniczą" / About A Man Who Edited An Agricultural Paper, based on the prose of Mark Twain.
- 1997 - Śledztwo / The Investigation, adapted by Andrzej Zawada, based on the prose of Stanisław Lem.
- 1998 - Cesarski szaleniec / The Czar's Madman, adapted by Ewa Marrodan, based on the novel by Jaan Kross.
- 2000 - Miłość na Madagaskarze / Love In Madagascar, play by Peter Turrini.
- 2000 - Ballada o zabójcach / The Ballad Of The Killers, play by Adam Drabik.
- 2001 - Ballada o Zakaczawiu / The Ballad Of Zakaczawie, play by Maciej Kowalewski, Jacek Głomb and Krzysztof Kopka - previously directed by Jacek Głomb at the Helena Modrzejewska Theatre in Legnica. (Awards: 2002 - Two Theatres National Festival of Polish Radio and Television Theatre, Sopot, Stefan Treugutt Special Prize for a Television Theatre director).
- 2002 - Wizyta starszej pani / The Visit, play by Friedrich Dürrenmatt.
- 2002 - Transfer / The Transfer, play by Stanisław Bieniasz.
- 2003 - Dobry adres / A Good Address, play by Władysław Zawistowski.
- 2005 - Małe piwo / Feelgood, director, play by Alistair Beaton.
- 2006 - Norymberga / Nuremberg, director, play by Wojciech Tomczyk (Awards: 2007 - Two Theatres National Festival of Polish Radio and Television Theatre, Sopot, Grand Prize).
- 2007 - Ballada o kluczu / The Ballad Of The Key, director, play by Adam Drabik.
Waldemar Krzystek also collaborated on Piotr Łazarkiewicz's documentaries Fala / Wave (1986) and Wielka woda / Flood (1997). He played a bit part in Piotr Łazarkiewicz's feature film Kocham kino / I Love Cinema (1987).
For theatre, Krzystek has directed Woody Allen's Play It Again, Sam (1995) at the Helena Modrzejewska Theatre in Legnica, Jerzy Łukosz's Hauptmann (2001) at the Cyprian Norwid Theatre in Jelenia Góra, Sergi Bebel's After The Rain (2003) at the drama school (PWST) in Wrocław, and Niskie Łąki / Low Meadows (2004), an adaptation of the novel by Piotr Siemion, at Wrocław's Teatr Współczesny.
Author: Ewa Nawój, April 2008.