Jerzy Skolimowski—An Existential Quest for Liberty

In a letter, J [...]

In a letter, Jean-Luc Godard famously described two figures as the greatest directors in the world: himself, and Jerzy Skolimowski.

While Skolimowski claimed he had not seen any of Godard’s films at the time he began his career as a director, his approach to filmmaking can be easily drawn parallels with the French New Wave giant: they both experiment with cinematic forms and reinvent new sets of film language. The near-miraculous combination of revolutionary aesthetics, meticulous mise-en-scene and instinctive improvisation found in Identification Marks: None, Walkover and Barrier displays the same creative impulse and independent spirit as Breathless and Band of Outsiders, though their deliverables are totally different.

Living under the communist regime, Skolimowski emerged as one of the most original voices of the Polish New Wave. Before entering Łódź Film School, he was enlisted by Andrzej Wajda to tweak the script of Innocent Sorcerers, and later collaborated with Roman Polanski on his 1962 debut feature Knife in the Water. Refusing to conform to the mainstream and censorship, he channeled his prodigious talents – as an actor, playwright, poet, painter, jazz drummer and even boxer – into a series of visually imaginative and poetically structured films that capture the ambiguous, restless and flailing vibes of the postwar generation, exemplified in his Andrzej Leszczyc trilogy. More than self-contemplation, these disillusioned portraits offer a wider reflection of the absurd reality at large, enshrouding political allegory and incisive social critique under surreal imagery.

The censorship and controversy surrounding Hands Up! in 1967 prompted Skolimowski to leave Poland and be exiled to Britain. His work became more diverse under the free rein, helming iconic films such as Deep End and Moonlighting which won high international acclaim. After a 17-year hiatus working as a professional painter in the 1990s, he made an incredible return to cinema with the extolled Four Nights with Anna. Together with Essential Killing, Skolimowski creates wildly daring portrayals of victims of circumstances, delving into the depths of the soul through wry yet poignant tales about obsession and survival. His meditative study of man and the world reaches new heights with EO, a masterful blend of fascination, empathy and violence that transcends a donkey’s suffering into aching beauty.

This year, the late Godard realised his longstanding ambition in Trailer of the Film That Will Never Exist: Phony Wars; it’s a fair prediction that Skolimowski will continue to stun us with his enduring passion for cinema.

Programme Partner