How to Be Loved, a 1962 film directed by Wojciech Jerzy Has, was based on a novella by Kazimierz Brandys. This intimate drama, untypical of the Polish Film School, shows the German occupation from the individual perspective of a woman.
How to Be Loved opens with the image of a woman gazing in a mirror applying lipstick. This symbolic image, which also closes the story, foreshadows the fact that the film will be about the theatre of everyday life and about looking into oneself. From the very beginning, the events are accompanied by the inner monologue of Felicia (Barbara Kraftówna) – an actress and the story’s protagonist – who recounts her life and reminisces about the occupation during a flight to Paris. While her distinguished neighbour during the flight, a former RAF pilot played by Wieńczysław Gliński, followed the war from a bird’s eye view, the woman learned the hard truth about everyday life during the occupation. We learn Felicia’s tragic story from a series of retrospectives taking place during the war and in the first years afterwards. She says that she is ‘the sister of the lonely and the wife of the widowed’.
These traumatic memories are connected to the character of a famous actor, Wiktor Rawicz (Zbigniew Cybulski). During the occupation, Felicia develops one-sided feelings for him as she prepares for the role of Ophelia. After Rawicz becomes wanted by the Gestapo due to one of his garish excesses, the woman shelters him at her home. To ensure his security, Felicia is prepared to make the greatest sacrifices, even if it means abandoning her honour. However, will Rawicz return the feelings of a woman so devoted to him? The actor, bereft of his audience and stripped of his masculinity, feels disgraced and reified – Felicia’s home becomes his prison. Wojciech Jerzy Has focuses on the tragedy of a woman who desires to ‘be loved’ no matter the cost, but he also includes the viewpoints of other characters in the story – almost every character in the film bears some kind of inner drama. As it turns out, even the well-mannered and level-headed pilot from the flight who seemingly has no clue about true suffering was affected by a personal tragedy.
‘We’re the unknown soldiers of this war’, Rawicz says during one scene. Indeed, in How to Be Loved we encounter characters who rarely appear in other productions of the Polish School of Film. Has argues with the typical Polish films of this movement and echoes an iconic scene of setting shots of spirits on fire in Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds. When, during a sequence which takes place after the war, Felicia approaches a bar and extinguishes a matchstick, we can hear Czerwone Maki na Monte Casino (‘Red Poppies on Monte Cassino’) in the background – a song which also features in Wajda’s film. A moment later, the woman meets Rawicz, who does not compare to Ashes and Diamonds’ Maciek Chełmicki in terms of dignity – while drunk, he boasts in front of his friends and tells imagined stories about his supposedly heroic past. By playing the role of a coward worn down by life, Cybulski also plays a game of self-parody with his own role from Ashes and Diamonds.
wojciech jerzy has
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However, demythologisation is not the director’s main aim. First and foremost, he attempts to depict the drama of normal people and the ambiguity of times of war. In How to Be Loved, a frustrated mythomaniac and a woman accused of collaboration are deeply humane characters. Wojciech Jerzy Has is not interested in the themes of heroism, moral obligations, and devotion to one’s motherland but in the intimate viewpoint of civilians who suffer their own big and small tragedies every day. Remarkably, the director does not depict the violence of the war through battle sequences but with a rape scene – one which is moving, but also tranquil, portrayed with toned down means of expression. One has to mention that Barbara Kraftówna’s part is a great asset of the film – Felicia in How to Be Loved is the best role of her career.
How to Be Loved might be a surprise for viewers who have seen only the later, ‘baroque-style’ films by Wojciech Jerzy Has. Unlike, for example, The Hourglass Sanatorium, it is an intimate, visually modest story focused on psychological introspection. However, that does not change the fact that the adaptation of Brandys’ novella is also rich in form. Has subjectivises the narrative and masterfully combines different time periods to depict how Felicia’s memory works. How to be Loved is considered to be one of the greatest achievements of Wojciech Jerzy Has and is often named as the final masterpiece of the Polish School of Film.
- How to be Loved, 1962. Director: Wojciech Jerzy Has. Screenplay: Kazimierz Brandys. Cinematography: Stefan Matyjaszkiewicz. Scenography: Anatol Radzinowicz. Music: Lucjan Kaszycki. Cast: Barbara Krafftówna (Felicia), Zbigniew Cybulski (Wiktor Rawicz), Artur Młodnicki (Tomasz), Wieńczysław Gliński (bacteriologist in the airplane), Wiesław Gołas (German soldier), Wiesława Kwaśniewska (photo journalist), Zdzisław Maklakiewicz, (journalist) and others. Production: Zespół Filmowy Kamera. Running time: 97 minut.
Originally written in Polish by Robert Birkholc, translated by Patryk Grabowski, April 2019