Mirosław Kijowicz was a director, set designer, and screenwriter of animated films, as well as a painter. He was born in 1929 in Leningrad, and he died in 1999 in Wyszków.
Reżyser, scenograf i scenarzysta filmów animowanych, malarz.
Kijowicz’s family came to Poland in 1937. During the occupation, Mirosław Kijowicz was a soldier of the Grey Ranks. He fought in the Warsaw Uprising as one of the youngest soldiers of the ‘Parasol’ Battalion and received the Cross of Valour. In 1955, he graduated from the Faculty of Art History of the University of Warsaw, and in 1961, from Painting at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. Between 1956 and 59 he cooperated with cultural magazines as a critic, practised easel painting, and from 1958 he made amateur animated films together with Andrzej Jan Wróblewski, a sculptor and industrial designer. Together they made two etudes, and Kijowicz made his own cut-out Arlekin, a film awarded at the 1959 Amateur Film Festival in Katowice. From 1960 he was associated with the Animated Film Studio in Bielsko-Biała, from 1966 with the Studio of Film Miniatures in Warsaw, and for some time with the television studio in Poznań. His first professional film was 1960’s Arlekin (made one year after the amateur version). Mirosław Kijowicz was a member of the Polish Filmmakers Association, the Cinematography Committee and the World Association of Home Army Soldiers. Between 1976 and 1981 he was a lecturer at the National Film School in Łódź, from 1982 to 1984 he lectured at the Villanova University in the USA, and in the following years at he taught at the Film Faculty of the University of Silesia. He made many of his films with his wife Hanna Jagoszewska as screenwriter.
Mirosław Kijowicz won many awards for his work in the field of animated film at festivals in Kraków, Oberhausen, Mannheim, Varna, Locarno, and Mar del Plata. He is the winner of, among others, the Golden Dragon for the best children’s film at the Kraków Film Festival (The Fairy Tale about the Dragon, 1963) and the Grand Prix at the Annecy Film Festival for Cages (1967).
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Mirosław Kijowicz is said to be the main representative of the philosophical current in Polish animation, alongside Jan Lenica. Andrzej Kossakowski wrote in Polski Film Animowany 1945-1974 (Polish Animated Film 1945-1974, trans. MD):
Kijowicz’s films belong to the philosophical-reflective genre. The artist observes the surrounding world, ponders over the fate of an ordinary, ‘little’ man, seeks philosophical generalisations […]. Kijowicz’s sad irony is far from being cheerful, his peculiar humour does not serve carefree entertainment, and the difficult metaphors are thought-provoking.
In Kino (10/1980), Jerzy Giżycki called his films ‘philosophical grotesques’ and ‘intellectual jokes’. Kijowicz, in turn, described them (in the same conversation) as ‘aphorisms constructed as dramatic feature films’. In Film (17/1977), Mirosław Kijowicz shared the opinion that animated film:
[…] can successfully address issues of morality, psychology, customs. It is a huge […] very appealing area, opening the possibility of one’s reflection on man and his fate.
Despite his artistic education, he did not put as much attention to the visual side of his films as, for example, Witold Giersz. He emphasised that although he ‘consists’ of three people – set designer, director and screenwriter – the ‘screenwriter’s soul’ prevails in him. In an interview with Elżbieta Smoleń-Wasilewska (Film, 46/1965) he said:
If some, even perfect, formal technique was to weaken the effect of the film content, I wouldn’t hesitate to give it up. […] If I have something to say, it is through the content. […] I don’t make films to play with form […].
Jerzy Wójcik (Rzeczpospolita, 264/1999) wrote: ‘Drawn, cut-out, combined animations – Kijowicz’s metaphors delighted both festival jurors and ordinary viewers’. However, Kijowicz’s first films did not please the critics, later some even said that Kijowicz made unapproachable non-film films with no tempo. Kazimierz Żórawski wrote in Film (47/1972):
All of Kijowicz’s films, from Arlekin to The Mill, are clever, well-though-out, impeccable in terms of form. And yet, he wondered whether ‘the themes are not too clever, too deep for the animated film form.’
He named The Mill as an example of a film which, in his opinion, cannot be understood without re-watching – which is not possible in the cinema. The critics were also divided by Kijowicz’s other films. For example, Stanisław Janicki (Film 42/1965) was critical towards The Fairy Tale about the Dragon and Portraits. He accused the former of ‘poor anecdotal material’, and the latter of being too broad in scope, as if the story he was trying to tell was ‘meant for a much longer film’. Similarly, he considered The City – which was praised by other critics – to be only an exercise in form. However, he recognised the artist’s development and was truly enthusiastic about the renowned Banner. He appreciated the film’s colourfulness, wit and abundance of gags. He also noticed that it can be ‘perceived as a modern philosophical tale’.
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Smile and The Blue Ball also faced harsh critique. A well-thought-out visual concept was recognised but the poor anecdotal material was criticised. Kijowicz’s creative method was not understood in these cases – he makes the viewer focus primarily on the monotony of repetitions, as well as on the greyness and ordinariness of the protagonist – a schematic human being with no distinctive features. Music also played a huge role in his films, especially the jazz compositions by Krzysztof Komeda-Trzciński.
A. Kossakowski divided Kijowciz’s art into two categories: ‘epic’ and ‘spectacular-theatrical’. The former films are, in his opinion: ‘uniform stories with a philosophical punchline, whose action, unfolding very slowly, gives the viewer time to think’. There are no gags here, the story moves with a slow pace, without sudden turns. ‘The intended monotony of repeating themes serves to intensify the mood, and the drama is built not on the principle of tensions, but primarily by adding and multiplying similarities.’ This category includes The City, Portraits, Banner, Smile, Roundabout, Cages, Wicker Basket, The Blue Ball, Road and The Mill. The spectacular-theatrical category includes the musical ballet Arlekin, or rather its three versions (including the first amateurish one) and films which the director himself described as animated sketches, i.e. Cabaret, Laterna Magica, Miniatures and Panopticum.
This division, while acceptable, can be slightly modified, because among the films listed as epic what draws attention is the presence of images that are very modest in terms of form and, by definition, monotonous in terms of the plot, such as Smile, The Blue Ball or Road. Then there are films which have a rich anecdotal and visual layer (modelled after Borowczyk or Lenica), such as Banner or The City. Although this division is primarily formal, the director was very consistent in his pursuit of parable, philosophical generalisation and sociological, existential or political observation. Even in the utility film Variants, we are dealing with a parable about creative search, about civilisation and nature, and about a man who has to find some kind of modus vivendi on the intersection of the two. An author writing under the nickname ‘ep’ wrote in Magazyn Filmowy 19/1971 that Variants ‘are above all a beautiful poetic metaphor about man’s eternal quest for beauty and perfection’.
There is one important thing that needs to be stressed at this point. As in the case of Lenica, Kijowicz’s films were influenced by his biography. He could not accept a life in a cage – an existence in Poland under the communist regime, a country belonging to the so-called socialist bloc. The existential positions of the protagonists of his films result from the situation of both the creator and the viewers he addressed at the time. We will find almost nothing on this subject in film critique of the era, which spoke about involvement, stigmatisation of human flaws, etc., instead of emphasising the general theme of the work. This kind of language was the effect of political censorship. The director himself also did not pay attention to this layer of his films in his statements. Today, however, it must be emphasised that it was a defiant – though not ad hoc – form of art which spoke about an individual and the world with which that individual came into – most often unequal – contact. Kijowicz’s art spoke about a world which tried to change and subjugate it. It also spoke about the individual who tried to defend himself, like the protagonist of Cages, who tried to use elements he had access to for creating a composition of flowers growing in another world. On the website of Łódź Film School, we can read:
In his simple films, Mirosław Kijowicz consistently returned to one topic: the attitude of the individual towards the system. Sometimes he is a carefree participant in a political demonstration ('Banner'), sometimes a slave of his master ('The Mill'), and other times a puppet into which its creator breathed life ('Wicker Basket').
Cages were also interpreted similarly:
The film’s greatness was determined by […] the punchline, showing the illusory nature of any power. The one who thinks he wields it – is he really free?
Ivan Lakatos (Filmowy Serwis Prasowy 5/1965) called Banner a masterpiece. But the same can be said of several other films by Kijowicz. Kossakowski mentioned The City, Cages and Wicker Basket as the most valuable. One could also include the simple and modest Road among Kijowicz’s best works, as well as The Mill – completely different from the aforementioned because of its complex plot. Kazimierz Żórawski (Film 47/1972) named Kijowicz one of the most outstanding animated film directors – not only in Poland. He saw him as one of the main figures of the Polish animation school and a continuator of Borowczyk, Lenica, and Szczechura’s artistic ideas. In the catalogue issued on the occasion of a retrospective of Kijowicz’s films at the Kraków Film Festival in 2000, Jerzy Armata wrote that Mirosław Kijowicz proved with his films that ‘Visuals brought to life […] can be true art’.
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Author: Originally written in Polish by Jan Strękowski, October 2004, translated into English by P.Grabowski, April 2020
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