Andrzej Wajda’s film from 1969 is an homage to his friend Zbigniew Cybulski, who died tragically. It’s probably the most famous Polish ‘film about film’.
When confronted with Wajda’s other works, the film can be surprising, because Canal’s director usually concentrated on how human fate is tangled in history and rarely started any self-referencing cogitation on the medium of film itself. One could say that Wajda made a calculating film, since it was a trend in Western cinema in the 1960s, symbolized by the famous 8 1/2. Even though inspiration from Fellini’s film is obvious, the Polish director’s self-portrait is very personal and multi-layered.
Most of all, Everything for Sale is an homage to Zbigniew Cybulski. His tragic death in 1967 touched Wajda deeply and was the direct impulse for creating the film. The director regretted he couldn’t fully explore the actor’s potential and didn’t give him another role as important as his from Ashes and Diamonds.
Everything for Sale was supposed to be an expression of nostalgia, a story about Cybulski, but – what’s important – without Cybulski. Wajda decided he wouldn’t make a documentary filled with archival materials, but a feature, only referencing the deceased actor. The protagonists of the story are a crew looking for a lost actor, who, as it turns out, died in a train accident. As Cybulski, this star was a deeply contradictory person, a genius, but a habitual liar at the same time. How can one trespass the aura of mystery that surrounded the actor? What was real and what was only a legend? The ‘investigation’ led by the crew does not give any satisfactory answers, and borders between the facts and the myths seem fluent and unclear. Just as in Zbigniew Cybulski’s case.
But Everything for Sale is a self-referencing story about the relationship between cinema and reality. Truth and fiction interwind, creating multi-layered constructions. Relations between the director Andrzej (Andrzej Łapicki), the Actor and the actresses Elżbieta (Elżbieta Czyżewska) and Beata (Beata Tyszkiewicz) are reflected in the film realized by the crew. Sometimes it’s hard to establish on which level the action takes place: whether we see fragments of the ‘film in a film’ created by Andrzej, or private scenes from the artists’ lives.
The situation is complicated by the fact, that Everything for Sale also references reality from outside the film. Many actors use their real names and the director Andrzej (!) played by Łapicki, is obviously Wajda’s porte parole. It’s easy to lose oneself in the chaos of these relations: are we watching a story about Wajda and Cybulski? About the director Andrzej and the absent Actor? Or maybe only scenes from Andrzej’s film? Mixing different narrative layers, Wajda shows, how hard it is to separate life from cinema and the real world from the world of fiction.
Thirdly, Everything for Sale is a film about veteran of Polish Film School Andrzej Wajda’s dilemmas. He asks the question about what modern art should be. Mise an abyme, lose, essay form and a characteristic visual style (Witold Sobociński was the director of photography), place Andrzej Wajda’s film in the poetics of New Wave. At the same time the director keeps his distrust for modern culture, which is free and authentic only seemingly. It can be seen in the ironic vision of the film industry: Wajda mocks parties, snobbish trends and the general hypocrisy. The protagonists of Everything for Sale, are false and mannered, they lost their sincerity and authenticity somewhere.
What’s characteristic, director Andrzej only finds shelter from this overwhelming emptiness in an art gallery. It’s not a coincidence, that Andrzej Wróblewski’s work is displayed there – he was Wajda’s friend who died prematurely, and the creator of a shocking seires of paintings showing the horrors of war. Remembering the past, a sense of mission and a need of looking for truth are features of the old model of art, never forgotten by the director of Everything for Sale. Tadeusz Lubelski thinks that Wajda, taking in some elements of New Wave cinema, steps on a different path, set by artists such as Wróblewski, and remains faithful to the foundations of the Polish Film School.
It must be clearly stated though, that the director of the Polish 8 ½ neither formulates an artistic programme, nor decides on what the final truths are, but only presents his cogitations and doubts. Andrzej, Wajda’s alter-ego, is not without fault, but seems an artistic vampire who wants to create an epitaph for his friend but finally makes a movie about himself. According to the legend, the title Everything for Sale was inspired by the sight of an Indian beggar, who was selling everything he had on the street. Just as Wajda, he put his whole life on display, without hiding anything from the public. The value of the film is not limited to its autobiographical character: the creator of Ashes and Diamonds can turn a series of personal cogitations and experiences in a story about the complicated relationship between art and reality.
Wszystko na sprzedaż / All for Sale, Poland 1969. Directed by: Andrzej Wajda. Written by: Andrzej Wajda. Cinematography: Witold Sobociński. Music: Andrzej Korzyński. Set design: Wiesław Śniadecki. Starring: Andrzej Łapicki (Andrzej), Beata Tyszkiewicz (Beata), Elżbieta Czyżewska (Ela), Daniel Olbrychski (Daniel), Bogumił Kobiela (Bobek) and others.
Produced by: Zespół Filmowy Kamera. Colour, 94 min.