A short excerpt from the booklet essay by Michael Brooke.
Glancing over a snapshot of the state of Polish filmmaking at the
end of 1981, when martial law brought about the end of one of its
second great creative periods (the first being the one that followed
the 1956 cultural thaw), one would have to be wilfully blind not to single out Wojciech Marczewski as one of his country's most promising prospects, along with his near-contemporaries Krzysztof
Kieślowski and Agnieszka Holland. All had had impressive and prolific creative apprenticeships in the 1970s via television and (in Kieślowski's case) documentary, and all had made outstanding big-screen work at the turn of the 1980s - respectively, Marczewski's Nightmares (Zmory, 1978) and Shivers (Dreszcze, 1981), Kieślowski's Camera Buff (Amator, 1979) and Blind Chance (Przypadek, 1981), and Holland's Fever (Gorączka, 1980) and A Woman Alone (Kobieta samotna, 1981). With increasing
international attention being paid to their work, all three carried the future hopes of Polish cinema on their shoulders.
And yet while Kieślowski went on to become the darling of the early 1990s European arthouse cinema scene and Holland became the most internationally successful Polish film-directing export since Roman Polanski two decades earlier, Marczewski seemed to retreat into creative silence. His post-1981 filmography contains just three features (one made for television), and it stops ltogether
Marczewski was born on 28 February 1944 in Łódź, and his formative years were marked by both his father's arrest and his own indoctrination in a Stalinist summer camp, experiences that he later dramatised in his second feature Shivers. Although he enrolled at Łódź's famous film school in 1962, his studies were interrupted twice, firstly in 1964 by a break to study philosophy and history at the University of Łódź, which was paralleled with a job as an assistant at the Se-Ma-For Studio (Studio Malych Form Filmowych, or Studio of Small Film Forms), where he made a five-minute experimental short, The Anatomy Lesson (Lekcja anatomii, 1968) that combined live action and animation. He later dismissed it, saying that his real experimental period began when he first started working with actors and thinking about how to tell stories.
His major breakthrough was his debut feature Nightmares in
1978. It was a challenging project, since Emil Zegadłowicz's 1935
source novel was already notorious for its anticlericalism and frank
eroticism, little of which Marczewski soft-pedalled. One of the most critically acclaimed Polish films of its era, it pushed Marczewski to the front rank of the then burgeoning 'cinema of moral anxiety' movement in Polish cinema.
Marczewski's second feature Shivers more than confirmed the promise of Nightmares. Based partly on Marczewski's own experiences, it offered a riveting analysis of the process of Stalinist indoctrination, a subject only permissible in a Polish film in the first place thanks to a general relaxation of film censorship in 1980-81. The film premiered in Poland on 23 November 1981, and was unveiled internationally in competition at the Berlin Film Festival in early 1982, winning the Silver Bear for "the most ingenious contribution to the festival". (It is now also available in Second Run's Polish Cinema Classics Volume III Box Set).
But between its domestic and international premieres, martial law
was declared in Poland, bringing back censorship and widespread
cultural repression, and forcing the more politically-engaged Polish
filmmakers to choose from a limited range of unappetising options. Some, like Wajda and Holland, ended up working abroad. Others, like Kieślowski, continued to work within the system, but at the price of lengthy suppression (Blind Chance) and restricted distribution (No End). Marczewski's response was more drastic: he gave up directing films altogether for nearly a decade. He later denied that this was a consciously planned boycott, but claimed that he was unable to make films because of a general feeling of anger, disgust and helplessness with what he saw around him.
Premiered almost exactly nine years after Shivers, Escape from the 'Liberty' Cinema was his triumphant comeback, and seemed to
herald a new beginning for a filmmaker who had clearly lost none of
his highly distinctive touch. But the 1990s proved to be Polish
cinema's worst decade since the 1940s, the ravages of war being
replaced here by the equally destructive forces of consumer
capitalism, the invasion of hitherto forbidden and/or censored
Hollywood films, and widespread uncertainty within the Polish film
industry about how best to respond. As a result, adventurous,
engaged cinema of a kind that Marczewski represented was almost impossible to fund without artistic compromises that he was not prepared to make.
Michael Brooke's complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the DVD of Escape from the 'Liberty' Cinema.
A short excerpt from the booklet
CineVue by Ben Nicholson
MovieMail by James Oliver
Bright Lights Film Journal by Gordon Thomas
Sight & Sound
by David Jenkins
MovieMail by Michael Brooke
The Arts Shelf by Adam Gonet
by Steve Morrissey
DVD Beaver by Eric Cotenas
CineVue by Daniel Green
idFilm by Michael Pattison
Digital Fix by Clydefro Jones
The Observer by Philip French
by Nathaniel Thompson
East European Film Bulletin
(i) Master Class: Wojciech Marczewski at the Wajda School
(ii) The 'Cinema of Moral Anxiety' - an extract from the book Cinema of the Other Europe by Dina Iordanova
(iii) The Breakthrough: Polish elections in June 1989
(iv) Polish Cultural Institute