Strong Man is a 1929 film directed by Henryk Szaro, based on a novel by Stanisław Przybyszewski. The film was lost during the Second World War; but it was resurrected in 1997 when a copy was found in Belgium. The National Film Archive’s digital reconstruction aroused interest and admiration both among audiences and film critics, and is widely acclaimed as one of the greatest accomplishments of Polish cinema before 1939.
The title refers to a novel written by Jerzy Górski (Artur Socha) but is also an ironic definition of the main protagonist, the unsuccessful writer Henryk Bielecki (the great Grigorij Chmara). To achieve the success he desires, Bielecki contributes to Górski’s death and steals Strong Man’s manuscript to profitably publicise it as his own one. Lacking talent, Bielecki happily plays the role of an accomplished writer and enjoys the fame that surrounds it: he shortly becomes a frequent visitor of high-class parties and starts a romantic relationship with the beautiful Nina (Maria Majdrowicz). The ‘strong man’s’ vivid career is threatened by his lover’s (Agnes Kuck) guilty conscience.
Following Przybyszewski’s novel, Henryk Szaro undertakes one of the literature of Young Poland's most highly admired threads – the Übermensch, a concept in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche that assumes the existence of ‘overmen’: prominent individuals who realize great aims situating themselves over law and morality. The irony of it is that Bielecki is a shadow of Nietzsche's Übermensch. An overconfident narcissist ready to make a pact with the devil in order to acquire fame is a distinctive figure not only for Young Poland’s novels but also for the European interwar cinema (especially German expressionism). Henryk Szaro noticed that the novel was potentially great film material and merged the two aforementioned traditions. Additionally, the book’s convention was also attractive: Przybyszewski tried to show modern motives in a popular form that is adjusted to the less-experienced readers’ tastes. This is the reason why the story is so vibrant. Great desires, fraud, betrayal, lust for fame – gathering all these dramatic threads assured the commercial success of the adaptation, but did not determine its artistic value. We should appreciate Szaro, who reshapes a banal story into a remarkable, autonomous film, all the more.
The story about the writer doomed by dark obsessions is a masterpiece of subjective film narration. The protagonist’s state of mind is shown with the use of diverse means: a one-point perspective, expressive montage, changing points of view and camera movement. Szaro, who practiced with the great Wsiewołod Meyerhold in Moscow, does not avoid experimentation in Strong Man and is able to use the achievements of avant-garde and German expressionism. Particularly impressive are shots of the vibrant ‘sin city’. The Warsaw of the late 1920s is filmed by Giovanni Vitrotti, an Italian cameraman who manages to create fascinating shots of a dangerous place which tempts with its numerous attractions and desires that are impossible to be fulfilled. The film’s psychologically dense, decadent and dark ambiance is its greatest asset. The hypnotic music composed by the Maleńczuk Tuta Rutkowski Super Trio on the occasion of the film’s re-premiere in 2006 strengthens the film’s impact.
Strong Man, Poland 1929. Dir.: Henryk Szaro. Script: Jerzy Braun, Henryk Szaro. Cinematography: Giovanni Vitrotti. Scenography: Hans Rouc. Cast: Grigorij Chmara (Henryk Bielecki), Agnes Kuck (Łucja), Maria Majdrowicz (Nina), Artur Socha (Jerzy Górski), Aleksander Zelwerowicz (publisher) and others.
Production: Gloria. Black and white. Silent. 78 min.
Author: Robert Birkholc, translated by Antoni Wiśniewski, February 2016