Before becoming an Art-house favorite while working in France, with his two classics That Most Important Thing: Love (1975) and Possession (1981), Andrzej Zulawski left his mark in his native Poland (when born, in 1940, the territory was in fact part of Ukraine). Time to rediscover three rather unconventional films.
1 Third Part of the Night (Trzecia Czesc Nocy – 1971)
Andrzej Zulawski’s first feature as a director, after working as assistant director to Oscar winner Andrzej Wajda, is set during World War II German occupation.
A Young man who’s wife, mother and son were slaughtered by German soldiers tries to join the resistance. Upon falling in love again, he finds work as a guinea pig for lice in a research facility.
What is to come in Zulawski’s subsequent works is already present in Trzecia Czesc Nocy. It is not as excessive yet and it still bares some Wajda classicism here and there. It could be seen as a link between polish traditions of film making he’s learned from the masters (movements, lots of dialogues) and a sign of what’s coming to us next with his own style of explosive situations, grotesque violence, excessive experimental theater -like acting and puzzling situations.
Zulawski has a peculiar way of playing with time and space, Within an overall nightmarish ambiance. It is made of fragments of memory, fragments of imagination playing with truth and what can be accepted as the truth. He adds a forceful and ironic allegory with these intellectual feeding lice in these difficult times of humans feeding on each others blood.
But here it is, the sense of frenetic movements like ballet, the framing (great cinematography by Witold Sobocinski) the duality of situations with demanding flashback frenetically edited by Halina Prugar-Ketling (Knife in the Water, Man of Marble, Danton)and an effective score by Korzinski. everything is put in shape for Zulawski’s future.
2 DIABEL (The Devil – 1972)
Originally released in 1972, but banned by the Communists until the mid 80’s.
During the 1793 Prussian invasion of Poland, a young nobleman (Leszek Teleszynski) is saved from death in what seems like a forced pact with the Diabel. Totally demented in a world gone mad he goes on a killing spree.
Even more than with the preceding Trzecia czesc nocy (1971), Andrzej Zulawski is putting his act together with Diabel (for what will come later in his French career) with his actors playing like possessed people in an open air asylum. As the Diabel, gifted Wojciech Pszoniak (of Andrzej Wajda’s fame) delivers an enigmatic and enjoyable performance. The director displays an atmosphere of cruelty and depravity probably close to the reality he depicts even if it is in a theatrical way.
Zulawski’s trademark of chaotic choreography is on display with a sense for disturbing eerie and violent images. He goes from the baroque to complete experimental minimalism and combines historical drama with horror.
In Diabel, Zulawski seems to point out we should stop worrying about the Devil since it is already Hell on Earth…
3 On the Silver Globe (1977-1987)
A small group of cosmonauts lands on a deserted setting with no hope to turn back. Eventually only one of the original crew is left alive, leading a new civilization revert to a primitive culture, waiting for a messiah.
from the book by Jerzy Zulawski (Andrzej granduncle) with Andrzej Seweryn, Jerzy Trela and Grazyna Dylag.
With the success of L’important C’est d’aimer (France-1975) Andrzej Zulawski was brought back to Poland to direct a project of his choice. With 80% of the shooting completed, the Polish Ministry of Culture stopped production of On the Silver Globe in 1977, seeing the film as an allegory of the Polish people VS totalitarianism. His crew saved what they could of the material. Zulawski went to France and made Possession (1981) with Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani. Following the democratization of Poland, a decade later, he released the film with an added voice-over narration to fill in for the missing pieces of the puzzle.
Relying on philosophical concepts rather than special effects, On the Silver Globe is an uneasy, excessive, odd experimental piece of film making. A metaphorical symphony of Chaos, it brings visceral reaction from some viewers not prepared for a savage, unrealistic and (at times) confusing poetry that suits the eclectic style of its maker.
On the Silver Globe may leave some audiences with mixed feelings, but we get an (almost) three hours nightmare of pagan rituals and insane Zulawski/70’s style striking imagery.