The month-long tribute to the gory flicks of art house director Andrzej Żuławski kicks off in Los Angeles with a full week run of Possession starring Isabelle Adjani, the Cannes Award winner for the role in 1981. His films are a cathartic explosion of violence, sexuality, despair and hysteria.
Still-frame of Possession, directed by Andrzej Żuławski. Source: BAM
The month-long tribute to the gory flicks of art house director Andrzej Żuławski kicks off in Los Angeles with a full week run of Possession starring Isabelle Adjani, the Cannes Award winner for the role in 1981
Andrzej Zuławski, director, screenwriter, novelist, essayist and actor, is one of the most radical visionaries of world cinema. He was born in 1940 in Lviv and in 1945 his family moved to France where he began studying at the prestigious Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques (IDHEC) in Paris and the Department of Philosophy at the Sorbonne. From his first films, The Third Part of the Night and The Devil, he immediately caught the attention of audiences with his extreme, passionate and gory style. He takes on history, philosophy, psychology, sociology and existential themes, flipping them inside out and purging them through a cathartic explosion of violence, sexuality, despair and hysteria. His art house style transferred over to the mainstream, with Isabelle Adjani cast in Possession, Romy Schneider in The Most Important Thing is to Love and Sophie Marceau in Blue Note. He has created characters who have played out the most intensely high-pitched emotions in cinema history.
He began his career assisting Andrzej Wajda on the set of Ashes (1965). His directorial debut were two short films - Pavoncello in 1967 and The Song of Triumphant Love in 1969, which paved the way for his feature debut The Third Part of the Night in1971. A story about the cruelty of war, the film was based on the experiences of his father who ran experiments on Typhoid Fever infections at the Weigel Institute in the occupied city of Lvov - then Polish territory. The film follows a fugitive who witnesses the murder of his family and enters a crazed world of traps, doubles, disease and death. In 1972, the director made The Devil, but was arrested by the authorities before the premiere and it was shown until1988. After he was released, he returned to France, where he shot such The Most Important Thing is to Love in 1975 - a passionate and sometimes trashy film on the tensions of a love triangle in an upscale Paris apartment. In 1976 he was drawn back to Poland to shoot he first Polish Science Fiction film, On the Silver Globe, which has been demmed a grandiloquent space journey of astronauts who found a strange civilisation on the moon. The screenplay was based on his granduncle's Trilogy Moon, also a director. The film was nearly finished in 1977, but Żuławski's work was once again suspended by the authorities and wasn't fully completed or screened until 1989. He lost the right to work in Poland and his marriage to Małgorzata Braunek fell apart. He went to New York with the aim of committing suicide, but Andy Warhol talked him out of it and within ten days Żuławski wrote the screenplay for Possession.
Possession is a turbulent, bloody film about the rift and pain of separation and divorce. With a score composed by Andrzej Korzyński and deft camera work by Bruno Nuytten, it's a diabolical spin on human nature and the explosion of emotion when two people are torn apart and their emotions spill forth in the most shockingly brutal ways. Isabelle Adjani received the award for Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival (1981) for her role in the film, as well as the Caesar in 1982. Andrzej Żuławski was named Best Director at the Sao Paulo International Film Festival in 1981.
The director has said he used his own experience for the film, calling it a spectacle of what audiences most want to see - love, not the way that anyone would experience it, but as a spectacle. He wanted to "stand back, put the camera and see how it looks. To the extent that some scenes, especially the kitchen scene, this is live dialogue taken from reality. Because what I was experiencing the moment, I wrote down so as not to forget what I said, not to forget that behaved like a jerk at the moment. It was written and dedicated to moments like that one" (Peter Kletowski, Piotr Marecki, Zulawski. Przewodnik Krytyki Politycznej, Warsaw 2008, p 271).
After Possession, the director staged many more films, such as The Public Woman in 1984 and Blue Note in 1991. He has authored 20 books. In 2001 he was awarded Poland's Commander's Cross of the Order of Rebirth and in 2002 the French Legion of Honour.
The retrospective of Andrzej Żuławski's works in New York and Los Angeles presents a full programme of his films, put together by the BAMcinematek, Cinefamily in Los Angeles and the Polish Cultural Institute in New York. The films have been remastered as brand-new 35mm prints for improved screening quality.
New York - BAMcinématek
7th - 20th March, 2012
Hysterical Excess: Discovering Andrzej Zulawski
See full programme
Los Angeles - Cinefamily
The Unbelievable Genius of Andrzej Żuławski in
9th March - 1st April, 2012
See full programme
Editor: Agnieszka Le Nart
Sources: Culture.pl, BAM, Cinefamily
See the New York Times article on the Andrzej Żuławski retrospective in New York: Food, Politics and Sex, Brought to a Boil