Film director, screenwriter, writer, born 14 June 1959 in Łódź.
Film director, screenwriter, writer. He made history in Polish filmmaking by creating one of the icons of Polish mass culture; Franz Mauer [Bogusław Linda], the main character of Psy.
Pasikowski says he was destined to become a filmmaker from his early years:
"My parents worked two different shifts. My mum finished work at 4 p.m. and my father started at 2 p.m., which left the two hours when they did not know what to do with me. As my father worked in a cinema's box office, he would take me there to watch films" (from one of Pasikowski's few interviews - he avoids them like the plague - given to "Film" no. 03, 1998.
In 1978-83 Pasikowski was a student of cultural studies with a focus on film studies at Łódź University. One of his fellow students there was Paweł Edelman, who would become the cameraman on all of his films. Pasikowski then went on to study directing at the Łódź Film School in 1983-88. Although he did not perform very well academically, his final work, Stasiek, made under the guidance of Filip Bajon, earnt him an A+. Pasikowski would later reminisce that he and his friend, the Macedonian Mitko Panov, analysed the student films and together they selected the most common motifs.
Pasikowski describes them as follows: "We concluded that it could not be a film about the Vietnamese - it had to be a thing about a simple man and there should be the hopeless wandering around a dirty town instead of a plot, and that the gloomy picture needed to have a poetic end."
After a stint as an assistant on Andrzej Konic's series Pogranicze w ogniu / The Burning Border, Pasikowski directed his first film, Kroll, for which he is grateful to Filip Bajon and Juliusz Machulski: to the former, because it was Bajon who "made me realize that I would leave the school shortly and would end up looking for a film topic. It is owing to him that I wrote some four scripts in my third and fourth years as a student, including 'Kroll' " ("Psy w kinie..."). Machulski, in turn, was the producer of both Kroll (which turned out the top Polish box office success of 1992) and of the subsequent Psy / Pigs, a picture which attracted what was at the time a staggering audience of 300,000. Incidentally, Pasikowski's Psy II: Ostatnia krew ["Pigs : The Last Blood"] had twice as many viewers, a record which none of his later films would be able to break. In 1998, his fans honoured Pasikowski with 1990s Best Director Award, saying that Pasikowski's films were primarily about love - as well as being about violence.
In 1993, Pasikowski published Ja, Gelerth, a science-fiction novel which was nominated for the Janusz A. Zajdel annual science-fiction award. His other achievements include the production of Who Is Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Warsaw's Teatr Powszechny in 2002.
Pasikowski will make history in Polish filmmaking as the creator of one of the icons of Polish mass culture, Franz Mauer [Bogusław Linda], the main character of Psy. So far the best film he has made, it further advanced Pasikowski's status as a macho filmmaking expert (which he had acquired with Kroll) as well as earning him the reputation of a provoker. After all, making a policeman who was a security service officer a positive hero in 1992, shortly after the political transformation, was a risky business, though, surprisingly for many, it hit the bullseye. "I asked the makers of the film, Władysław Pasikowski and Paweł Edelman, what had given them an idea to make heroes of people who were responsible for the dirty aspect of our past", reminisces Marek Kondrat, who appeared in Psy side by side with Linda. "They told me they just wanted to make a good, commercially successful film" ("Gazeta Wyborcza", 3-4 June 2006).
Even as a student, Pasikowski showed an interest in action films. This did not endear him to the professors of the Łódź School. "What films would you like to make?", asked Filip Bajon at a tutorial. "Ones like Spielberg makes", came the haughty answer. Pasikowski, who has often been compared to Quentin Tarantino because of the bloody scenes which take place in gangster circles and the gallows humour, names Sam Peckinpah, Martin Scorsese and Pierre Melville, the master of French police films evocative of Hollywood's 1940s and 1950s film noir, as his masters.
Pasikowski likes to be perceived as a filmmaking professional and an accomplished craftsman, stressing his lack of interest in conveying messages and his preference for telling 'fairytales for adults'. The strength of Kroll and Psy, however, lay not in them being stories for grown-up children or sheer thrillers. Both pinpointed the dark areas of Polish realities: bullying in the army (Kroll) and the state's impotence in dealing with organized crime. The busy amphetamine manufacturers, the bloody gangster fights and the mafia which led the police by the nose were not just an attractive scenery for an action film.
Having seen Psy, Andrzej Wajda repeated incredulously that Pasikowski knew something about the Polish viewers that Wajda had no idea about.
Pasikowski said to Maciej Pawlicki in an interview given after Psy 2:"Let me tell you what I know about the viewer of 'my' films. To me history is '56, but to him it is '81. He has twenty satellite channels on which the longest shot is six seconds' long. (...) His world is not divided into the East and the West, but into the bad and the good. He has his passport in his pocket and enough brains to learn English, but more than anything he has this terrible craving for the fundamental values of love, peace, honesty, family, justice." ("Film", April 1994)
Critics, however, were hard put to find these values in Pasikowski's films. "I had never thought I would ever, and definitely not so soon, see a convincing film about a likeable secret service agent", wrote Maciej Pawlicki ("Spsienie", "Film" no. 2, 17th January 1993)."How does it feel to invent bestial scenes? Do you feel the joy of creating?", asked Bożena Janicka ("Film" no. 9, 7th March 1993), referring to the tortures and the splashing blood in Psy.
This explosive mix of bluntness, brutality and beastliness combined with the world of values represented by Franz, a cynic who detaches himself from politics and religion and at the same time an idealist to whom honour and friendship are sacred things, was a novelty in Polish filmmaking. Psy has unleashed extreme emotions, leaving no-one indifferent. According to Juliusz Machulski, the aggression which had never been shown in Polish commercial productions "had a cleansing effect on the audience" (Machina, April 1998).
What happened to Pasikowski's later career as a filmmaker was the opposite of what happened with suspense in Alfred Hitchcock's films: instead of building up, it started to slacken. Although it attracted an audience of 700,000, Psy II: Ostatnia Krew was no more than a well-told story in which Franz's dilemmas rang a false note. Pasikowski's next picture, Słodko-gorzki / Bittersweet, showed the milieu of high-school students who were imitations of Pasikowski's favourite heroes: eighteen-year-olds pretended they were tough guys, their girlfriends impressed by boys with money. It was in such a bittersweet world that Mateusz, an idealist and bookworm trying to understand why his friend had committed suicide, had to find his place.
What made Pasikowski make a teenager picture after three very tough films?"A pile of scripts sits on my desk. I have chosen this one because it was the cheapest - and I still have no money to do the others", said Pasikowski at a press conference held on Słodko-gorzki's location.
Pasikowski's following films suffered not only from the lack of money but also of goods scripts and producers.
The plots of Demony wojny wg Goi / Demons of War by Goya (1998) and Operacja Samum / Operation Simoom (1999) are set abroad, in former Yugoslavia and in Israel, respectively. Neither made big waves; even the male/female themes left the audience unmoved, although previously Kazimiera Szczuka no less than called Pasikowski (in the magazine 'Kino') a 'prisoner' "of obsessive-compulsive, unflagging virility which leads to self-destruction and aggression towards all those who threaten to tear off the mask".
It obviously goes to Pasikowski's credit that there are times when he is able to stand back from his usually very serious approach to his characters.
The premiere of Reich (2001), a story of two hit men coming to Poland at the request of their German boss, left journalists confused. The audience could barely help laughing at the media show: has Pasikowski made a parody of his own films? If so, he did so unwittingly.
Pasikowski's future pictures will find it hard to catch up with Psy, of which Bogusław Linda has said:
"(...) it is one of the most important Polish films of the 1990s. ... going far beyond the craft of gangster films, introducing new aesthetics and a new type of a hero to Polish filmmaking. Of course, Pasikowski's subsequent pictures were just actions films, and may or may not have been made. But I put 'Psy' on a par with the films of the cinema of moral concern" ("Gazeta Wyborcza", 15th December 2000).
In 2003 Pasikowski, started his TV series director career shooting Glina, a dark story depicting the life of Warsaw cop Andrzej Gajewski. It was regarded as one of the best TV series in Polish television history. Psy’s director reached again for clichés from classical cinema of different genres and created a unique world woven from characteristic features of film noir and dirty social dramas. Gajewski – Glina’s main character – is a man of fifty, tired of life, resembling Kurt Wallander from Henning Mankell’s novel. This cynic, whose private life fell apart years ago, tries tirelessly to defend principles in a world where the border between good and bad has became blurred. The audience and critics warmly welcomed Pasikowski’s series, which resulted in the second season being produced in 2008.
Four years after finishing Glina Pasikowski made his return to fiction cinema. His Pokłosie was a bitter settlement with the painful history of Polish–Jewish relationships of the World War II period. Following in the footsteps of Tomasz Gross’s novels: Neigbours and The Golden Harvest, he revealed the story of crimes committed by Polish inhabitants of Jedwabne on their Jewish neighbours. In the interview for Gazeta Wyborcza, he said:
You would not find in Poland anti-Semitism on a scale comparable to the Nuremberg Laws or the Iranian threats addressed to Israel. But there is still this little, mean, crawling anti–Semitism, which has its reflection in an awful, yet common, expression, ‘żydki’ [a pejorative term for a Jewish person] The real trouble is that this seemingly harmless attitude can turn into something tragic and genocidal, as we experienced in Germany in the 1930s.
Pasikowski played therefore a difficult role as the 'morale conscience' of the Polish nation but still did it in his own peculiar way, flirting with American genre films. Pokłosie is not a psychological drama but a thriller instead. Its form gives an attractive facade to a very difficult and tragic subject. The film itself caused a huge controversy, including Pasikowski being blamed of anti-Polonism and falsifying history. Others, however, admired the film, finding it to be a courageous way of approaching the tragic and shameful history of Jedwabne. The film was also warmly received in the United States:
This stunning movie is based on an in-depth observation of social fabric – wrote New York Times columnist. Huffington Post compared Pokłosie to 12 Years A Slave by Steve McQueen. The film was awarded for its courage in saying ‘no to anti–Semitism’ by Yad Vashem and Jan Karski Foundation.
In 2014, Władysław Pasikowski again turned Polish history into popular cinema. Jack Strong is the story of Colonel Ryszard Kulkiński, a prominent soldier of the Polish Army, who started his clandestine cooperation with the CIA in 1972 and by that means became one of the most significant double agents of the Cold War period.
Instead of making a documental feature, Pasikowski developed one of the first spy films in Polish cinema history. He glossed over historical details and did not attempt to present a complete biography of his makn character. He chose only few parts of his life, concerning mostly his intelligence activities, in order to create an unpretentious thriller, where intrigue and action are much more important than moral side of his decisions.
- 1985 - Kałasznikow
- 1985 - Kartkowanie do tyłu
- 1986 - Światła
- 1988 - Stasiek
- 1991 - Kroll, writer and director. Kroll is the surname of the film's main character, a soldier who deserts the army upon learning that his wife is betraying him with his best friend. Another soldier serving in the same unit hangs himself, unable to stand the chicanery of the non-commissioned officers. As manoeuvres are approaching, the unit needs to be sorted out: the suicide needs to be covered up and the deserter found. Lieutenant Arek and Corporal Wiaderny set out after the fugitive. The script was (informally) co-written by a friend who, unlike Pasikowski, did military service and to whom the film allegedly owes utterances such as: "Because everything is simple in the army: the wives are at home, the hookers are across the fence and you need to be a man and not a rag."
Awards: 1991 - Polish Film Festival in Gdynia Special Jury Award, Directing Debut Award and Photography Award for Paweł Edelman; Polish Journalists' Association Warszawska Syrenka / Warsaw Mermaid Film Critics Feature Film Award; Polish Film Review in Włocławek Grand Fajans Award.
- 1992 - Psy / Pigs, writer and director. Poland has just gone through a transformation of its political system. Franz Maurer, a security service (UB) officer whose personal charm and curriculum vitae (a degree in law with honours) set him apart, passes a review. He says to the commission: "I will serve the Third Republic [the name sometimes used for post-communist Poland] until the very end. Hers or mine" - and is moved to CID. Shortly afterwards his colleagues, totally unprepared for this sort of activity, die in an anti-gangster operation. As the police of the early Third Republic were helpless against organized crime, Franz asks Olo, his ex-security service colleague, for help, considering him a friend. Olo, however, will betray him on two counts: job-wise (Olo being a mafia member) and love-wise (Franz's girlfriend will leave him for Olo). Franz, to whom honour and friendship are sacred, will mete out justice to Olo.
Awards: 1992 - Polish Film Festival in Gdynia Directing, Music (Michał Lorenc) and Editing (Zbigniew Niciński and Wanda Zeman) Awards; 1993 - Złota Kaczka / Golden Duck 'Film' Magazine Readers Best 1992 Polish Film Award; 1994 - Valenciennes Festival of Action and Adventure Films Best Director Award.
- 1994 - Psy II: Ostatnia krew / Pigs 2, writer and director. A sequel of Psy. Franz Mauer is free after four years, and former Yugoslavia is torn by war. Franz get caught up in arms dealing and brings 'Nowy' ["New"], an honest, though naïve, colleague from the police, into it. A moralist who says things worthy of Dostoevsky at the end of the film ("And if there is no God nor the immortal soul, then what sort of Satan are you"), Franz tries to disentangle himself from the shady deals and save face. The producers talked Pasikowski into adding a happy ending and so the film ends with a care-free Franz on a tropical island with Nadia, whom he had bought as a bargain for a bottle of whisky, by his side. Psy 2 did not stir up as much excitement as did its prequel, but was nevertheless a box office success.
Awards: 1994 - Polish Film Festival in Gdynia Editing Award (Wanda Zeman), Chairman of the Cinematography Committee Largest Audience Producer Award [Visa]; 1995 - Valenciennes Festival of Action and Adventure Films Best Director Award.
- 1996 - Słodko-gorzki / Bitter-sweet, writer and director, also actor (as a member of the group Brygada Kryzys). A tribute to the teenage audience who have fallen in love with Pasikowski for his well-made, star-studded suspense cinema. This time it is not celebrities but final year students of a Łódź high school who are in the foreground. One of them, Mateusz Hertz, tries to find out why his schoolmate Bąbel has committed suicide by hanging himself in the school sports grounds. Like Bąbel, Mateusz feels like an outsider. Self-effacing, he lives in the world of books. He is in love with the class beauty, Paulina, but finds out that pure feeling will not do to get her. Mateusz learns his first bitter lesson of adult life. " 'Bitter-sweet' aspires to being the Polish equivalent of George Lucas's 'American Graffiti' ", observed Jacek Szczerba in "Gazeta Wyborcza" (9th September 2001). And went on to ask: "Is this some other Pasikowski? Contrary to appearances, it is not. Whatever crew he uses, whether he pretends to be cynical or blasphemous, he always defends certain values, firmly standing by friendship, decency, astuteness and being true to oneself."
Awards: 1996 - Polish Film Festival in Gdynia Direction Award.
- 1998 - Demony wojny wg Goi / Demons of war by Goya, writer and director. In war-torn Yugoslavia, Major Keller commands a Polish unit which is part of NATO's international peace-keeping mission. Having implicated himself in local conflicts instead of peacemaking, Keller has fallen out of favour with his superiors. A prosecutor is on his way to conduct an investigation and so is Keller's successor, but the proud Major cannot sit still and decides to come to the rescue of a Norwegian plane which has sent an SOS. He and his unit enter the territory controlled by a Serbian bandit. The thriller theme (there is also the mystery of a video cassette) provides a background to showing "the disasters of war", to use the name given by Francisco Goya to his series of prints. "I enjoyed the first viewing. Unfortunately, what I noticed more than anything during the second viewing was the misery of sets: the actors are running across the Kraków-Częstochowa Upland which pretends to be Yugoslavia, and the shots strike you with their poverty", wrote Jacek Szczerba ("Magazyn Gazety Wyborczej", 31st July 1998).
- 1999 - Operacja Samum / Operation Simoom written by Maciej Dutkiewicz and Robert Brutter. Fact-based thriller. Polish intelligence managed to remove American agents from Iraq prior to the outbreak of the Persian Gulf war. There are also the personal problems of Józef Mayer, an ex-star of Polish intelligence, whose son, an engineer employed at an Iraqi construction site, has fallen into trouble by starting a love affair with a Mossad agent, and is now being held by the Iraqis. While Mayer is trying to free him, his colleagues Broński and Kosiński take advantage of the commotion and take the Americans away. Pasikowski was persuaded to use a script written by Marek Kondrat, the film's co-producer, and others. Eventually the two writers had their names removed from the credits.
- 2001 - Reich, writer, director and actor (model contest jury member). When an internet user wrote during a chat with Pasikowski: "I think 'Reich' is your best film", Pasikowski responded soberly: "Thank you, that makes two of us."Alex and André, two professional killers, work for a German boss who sends them to Poland to relax and do some shady business. They instantly fall in love: one (openly) with a model, the other (secretly) with the woman of Wiesiek, the boss of the Gdańsk mafia. Wiesiek's local guards are hard on Alex's and André's heels, and a bloodbath ensues. Said Pasikowski at a press conference: " 'Reich' is to my mind primarily a film about love. You are asking if it is an ambitious film. One thing is certain: it has fully satisfied my ambitions."
- 2003-2008 - Glina / The Cop, a television crime series, written by Maciej Maciejewski.The series was praised by critics and viewers alike, and each episode had a four-million audience. A sequel has been made. Michał Chaciński from the TV section of "Gazeta Wyborcza" has called Glina "the most pleasant surprise of the year 2004" and "the best Polish series of recent years". "This series is as laconic as this genre needs to be. Its main character, chief inspector Andrzej Gajewski (Jerzy Radziwiłowicz) is laconic, too. The personal motif - something that usually falls apart in crime films - is as good as the murder mysteries. Pasikowski directs as if he were doing it for the cinema and not for television", added Jacek Szczerba ("Gazeta Wyborcza", 22nd September 2006).
- 2012 - Pokłosie (Aftermath), director
- 2014 - Jack Strong, director
- Pasikowski has directed Edward Albee's Who Is Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Warsaw's Teatr Powszechny, starring Krystyną Janda as Martha and Marek Kondrat as George - a married couple whose emotions range from love to hatred. The premiere took place on 16th March 2002. He has also written the dialogues for Andrzej Wajda's 2007 film Katyń.
Author: Małgorzata Fiejdasz, December 2006, translation updated by W.O. 10.02