In their attempt to show the true face of loneliness and art, Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze created a work of art that nears perfection. Papusza is one of the most important Polish films of the last couple of years.
Paloma Mirga in Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze's "Papusza". Photo: Krzysztof Ptak, Wojciech Staroń.
“ Had I never learned to read, I would be a happy person”, Papusza, the Polish-Romani poet and singer famously told Jerzy Ficowski the poet, novelist, translator, scholar and propagator of Romani poetry and folklore. She was born in a Gypsy caravan in the first decade of the XXth century and was arranged to be married as a teenager to a man 25 years her senior. She met Ficowski (played by Antoni Pawlicki) after the war. The young poet, who was persecuted by the communist secret service for beating up a police (the then “milicja”) officer , joined the Gypsy caravan for two years. Thus began his friendship with Papusza (played by Jowita Budnik). He recognised her great talent, encouraged her to write down her work and made the release of the first volume of her poetry possible. Ficowski was also the cause of her tragedy – the Roma considered the book in which he described Gypsy customs a betrayal. Together with her husband (played by Zbigniew Waleryś), Papusza was cast out from the community. This caused mental disorders, and forced her into periodic psychiatric treatments.
Requiem for the perished world
In their attempt to tell Papusza’s story, Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze do away with the classical biographical approach. Their film has the structure of a white poem. They stay away from obvious rhymes and linear structures. Some scenes are pure poetry: clear, terse, meticulous. The film is a journey in time through the second decade of the XXth century, World War II to the People's Republic of Poland.
The directors present the pre-war Gypsy society, life in the caravans and small pre-war Jewish cities. They look upon these worlds with care and sensitivity. Papusza, the film, is not an ethnographic illustration, it's a requiem. Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze's creation is to the Gypsies what Jerzy Kawalerowicz's The Austeria (1982) is to the portrayal of Jewish villages - a record of a world that was forever destroyed. Caravans began to disappear after the war when communist authorities forced the Roma to settle in one place. The moving houses remained but a distant memory. The movie screen brings them back to live once again.
No shot in the film is random, no effect meaningless. Even the ostentatiously beautiful landscapes are more than a visual ornament. Forest paths, cormorants soaring off into the sky - the images are used to create the universe of the Roma, one in which the human is just as bound to nature as to other humans.
Trammeled by loneliness
"Poems come and go as they wish" - Papusza said to her "little brother" Ficowski in one of their chats. She wasn't aware of how talented she was and felt that poetry is simply something that just happened to happen to her, incidentally. It was one of many gifts of nature, one that had to be used.
In the story created by the Krauzes, words carry great meaning. When a young girl finds a crumpled up newspaper in the forest, an elder woman warns her not to read it because it is written by Poles and the "knowledge of spells brings with it great responsibility". Papusza discovers the controlling power of words soon enough. When her father gives her away to marry a much older man, her stepfather's brother, Papusza asks God to close her womb.Years later, her infertility turned into her curse, a malediction which stigmatises her in the Roma community.
Words, and right alongside it - art are one of the film's protagonists. Words are an expression of freedom. When the communist police arrest members of the caravan for playing without the necessary permits, locked in a constrained prison cell, the Gypsies begin to play their music. The rebellious artist's concert is one of the film's most beautiful scenes, a mini-tale about art as a manifestation of freedom sealed in one shot.
Clarity of tone
" We have many great, unknown actors, what we lack are directors who could see beyond the portfolio" Krzysztof Krauze said in an interview with Polityka magazine.
The creators of Saviour Square know how to look deeper. They are the ones who discovered Jowita Budnik, an underrated, fantastic actress, and they are the ones who cast Krystyna Feldman as the sickly, elderly, male primitivist painter Nikifor. In Papusza, one of the key roles is given to Zbigniew Waleryś, a theatrical actor who has rarely appeared on the big screen (well remember however for his part in Kawalerowicz's Quo Vadis).
As Papusza's husband in the film, Waleryś portrays a loving but cruel man, an unfulfilled artist and mythomaniac who set out to create his own legend. The Romani baron Münchhausen is full of contradictions - he can be barbarous, caring, understanding and petty. Waleryś is flawless at bringing him to life. His charisma validates every gesture and word, even the ones said in Romani, which the actor learned for the part.
Still from Joanna Kos-Krauze, Krzysztof Krauze's "Papusza", photo: Krzysztof Ptak/next-film
Janusz Morgenstern used to say that every film should have a scuff mark because imperfections are what make a work of art more real. Papusza is an exception that confirms the rule. It's a filmic crystal that lacks shortcomings, it's a poem recorded on celluloid tape. Reading into it and giving into it brings about cinematic thrills and emotions. Papusza's biographical story isn't about cheap emotions, it truly overwhelms with beauty and the whist tragedy of three intertwined biographies. Another overpowering aspect are the cinematographic painterly compositions of Krzysztof Ptak and Wojciech Staron, and the organically amalgamated music of Jan Kanty Pawluśkiewicz. Elżbieta Towarnicka's vibrating soprano in Papusza's Song gives the goosebumps.
When Jerzy Ficowski sent Julian Tuwim Papusza's poems at the end of the 1940s, the celebrated poet, author of children's rhymes said: "I haven't heard such clear tone for a long time". This same sentence applies today to Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze's outstanding film. Papusza is one of Poland's most important films of the last couple of years, a film that stands out from the others in Poland, and elsewhere.
- "Papusza", Script and directing: Joanna Kos-Krauze, Krzysztof Krauze. Cinematography: Krzysztof Ptak, Wojciech Staroń. Set design: Anna Wunderlich, Music: Jan Kanty Pawluśkiewicz, Sound: Mateusz Adamczyk, Jarosław Bajdowski, Sebastian Witkowski, Editing: Krzysztof Szpetmański, Cast: Jowita Budnik, Zbigniew Waleryś, Antoni Pawlicki, Sebastian Wesołowski, Andrzej Walden. Polish premiere: 15 listopada 2013 r.
Author: Bartosz Staszczyszyn, translated by MJ 13.11.2013