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