AfterImage (2016) [Powidoki]
Cast includes: Boguslaw Linda (Blind Chance), Zofia Wichlacz (Warsaw ‘44), Bronislawa Zamachowska (Persona Non Grata)
Director: Andrzej Wajda (Katyn, Man of Iron, The Promised Land)
Genre: Drama | History | Biography (98 minutes) Polish with subtitles
It’s not just any art class with painters scattered over the hilly landscape. The Lodz School of Fine Art’s most esteemed professor, Wladyslaw Strzeminski, attracts the most dedicated young artists. This is Hania’s first time meeting the professor, who holds his crutches tight and rolls down the hill to meet her… inspiring the whole class to roll down the hill, too. (No one ever asks how he lost his leg and arm.) In addition to being a beloved professor, Strzeminski is one of Poland’s most important artists. However, the year is 1948, and the Polish government is cracking down on artists who do not play a role in “uniting the Polish masses behind the Socialism movement.” Strzeminski focuses on his original vision and inspiring his students to see differently. He explains his theory of vision… using the impression one sees after looking at something for a while… a concept he will later spell out in greater detail in his book, “Theory of Vision.” Based on actual events, AfterImage will dramatize the tragedy of Wladyslaw Strzeminski, one of Poland’s most important yet least known artists of the mid 20th century.
By 1948, Strzeminski had already been instrumental in creating a museum of modern art, the 2nd anywhere in the world, and he designed the Lotz Museum of Art’s Neo-Visual Room, donating a large collection of his own works in the process. But the film shows us the period of his life after these major successes. The new socialist government is not only strong-arming artist to produce works to serve the movement, they take vindictive actions against those who don’t fall in line. Strzeminski’s popularity makes him a priority target. Losing his teaching position is only the first of many punitive actions against the one-legged, one-armed artist.
As the last film from Academy Award-winning Polish director Andrzej Wajda, this is a poignant end to a notable career. While AfterImage shows us a poignant end to another notable career, Wladyslaw Strzeminski and his cultural impact were very nearly “liquidated” from history by heavy-handed Soviet-era tactics. Spanning movements from realism, cubism to avant-garde constructionism, Strzeminski may have been the most influential artist of early modernism in Poland. In part because of his serious physical limitations, he devoted much effort in inspiring students to stretch their way of seeing. Boguslaw Linda as the artist is completely credible in this challenging role, even though the handicaps are done as special effects. The film also reminds us why basic freedoms are so important and just how dark things can get without basic freedoms. The Soviets use a relentless barrage of propaganda and coercion… “What the party promises always comes true,” they tell us… “Because what the party promises is always right.” Had Strzeminski not had so many devoted followers, we never would have known about him.
3 popped kernels
Actual story of an important Polish artist crushed by the Soviet-era Polish government
Gender Style: Neutral
Distribution: Art House
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished Realism
Nutshell: Artistic censorship and Soviet oppression
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Informative & Thought Provoking