AF­TER­IM­AGE, biopic, not rated, in Pol­ish with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 3.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

The year is 1948, and Władys­law Strzemin´ ski, an ac­com­plished artist and dis­abled vet­eran of the Great War, is teach­ing his ador­ing stu­dents at the Łódz´ School of Fine Arts when an an­nounce­ment comes over the PA. The rul­ing Com­mu­nist party’s min­is­ter of cul­ture is pay­ing a visit. He de­liv­ers a podium-pounder of a speech, an­nounc­ing that hence­forth art will meet the needs of the peo­ple, and what the peo­ple need is “en­thu­si­asm, be­lief in vic­tory — not to apotheo­size de­pres­sion.” It’s hard to imag­ine how the sam­ples of Strzemin´ ski’s work in Af­ter­im­age — many of them bold geo­met­ric paint­ings that in­cor­po­rate pri­mary col­ors — could in­spire de­pres­sion, but the same can­not be said for the movie it­self, which is pow­er­ful and af­fect­ing but not a happy tale. It is the fi­nal film to be com­pleted by An­drzej Wa­jda, a towering and pro­lific fig­ure in Pol­ish cin­ema and the­ater who was in his twen­ties dur­ing the pe­riod rep­re­sented here, when his coun­try was lib­er­ated from the Nazis and promptly be­came a Soviet satel­lite. Af­ter­im­age was pre­miered at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val last Septem­ber; Wa­jda died in War­saw a month later.

Bo­gusław Linda plays Strzemin´ ski as a chain-smok­ing re­al­ist who has strong opin­ions about artis­tic vi­sion but is de­cid­edly more world-weary than the young men and women who at­tend his classes and draw in­spi­ra­tion from him. Yes, he took part in the fight for Pol­ish in­de­pen­dence af­ter the First World War, but the en­su­ing Sa­na­tion pe­riod, dur­ing which democ­racy ef­fec­tively de­parted the coun­try, soured him on new regimes with hy­per­bolic prom­ises.

Wa­jda’s pro­duc­tion is vis­ually el­e­gant, with a seam­less pe­riod aes­thetic and muted light evoca­tive of the gloom that de­scends on Strzemin´ ski as he falls from fa­vor with the rul­ing party. Of note in the sup­port­ing cast is Bro­nisława Za­ma­chowska as Nika, the daugh­ter of the artist and his es­tranged wife, sculp­tor Kar­tarzyna Ko­bro (Alek­san­dra Justa). Nika is tough — she takes care of her father and tries to pro­tect her par­ents’ art­works (and rep­u­ta­tions) — but in pri­vate she breaks down, serv­ing as a con­duit to the world of emo­tions that her father strug­gles to sup­press.

Through­out the movie, we hear snip­pets of Strzemin´ ski’s the­ory of vi­sion, which gets banned by the Com­mu­nists (his stu­dents smug­gle a typewriter out of the school in an ef­fort to record it). The movie’s ti­tle is drawn from these dis­cus­sions. Like­wise, Wa­jda’s film leaves a re­cur­ring im­pres­sion, of the per­sis­tent fric­tion be­tween artists and those in power. — Jeff Acker

You have noth­ing to lose but your paints: Bo­gusław Linda

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