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Berlinale 2009: "The Dancing Hawk"

Was it so long ago when it seemed directors attacked cinema with their cameras?  Why is it I have to find artistic hunger and cinematic verve in a film festival's retrospective and not its main program? Grzegorz Królikiewicz's Tanczacy jastrzab (The Dancing Hawk, 1977), playing in the “Winter Adé” retrospective, has the energy and invention of a hundred Berlinale films.  This tale of totalitarian surrealism, of expressionism not as an exterior expression of the inner state of an individual but of an expression of a whole regime, an entire generation of young men, was made in a supposedly censored national cinema?  The Dancing Hawk is one of the freest films ever made, bullyingly insane as it practically hurtles at the audience its rank-climbing bureaucratic hero’s birth and childhood in a montage of cryptic flurry.  

Stomping feet (shot upside down), an axe placed on a woman's head, milk squirting from a breast, and an obscure image of genitalia—our hero is born in the strangest of circumstances (and by that I mean images and sound; each foley effect, exaggerated and humorous, is an event in the film).  His life, up to the jump start of his career when he rolls around an expensive carpet in orgasmic ecstasy with a woman whose father will give him a job, is The Dancing Hawks’ delirious highlight and surely thirty of the most handspringingly inventive minutes in cinema: handheld camera, cameras strapped to tree branches, to corpses, to the head of bulls, to the shoulders of dueling bicycle riders as they yell and approach each other head on, finally crashing twice-over in first-person cyclistic absurdity—the camera as, literally, the insane vision of a banal man's upbringing.  Dig up a frozen corpse (it's war), bypass your company director (it's peace), struggle to work, only for work, where everything, your wives (!), your sons (!!), your family, your war, your Party, young village, all are forgotten and the camera sees only how you've forgotten everything in the generic fervor of getting on in your job. It is a shocking surprise to see the dark, humorous post-expressionism on display here, which one can trace directly from Królikiewicz's film to those of David Lynch and Terry Gilliam.

Shot gratuitously, freewheelingly, erratically and ingeniously by the multi-talented Zbigniew Rybczynski, The Dancing Hawk sees in the collision of Poland's brutally informing, horrific, and raucous historical past and its bone-dry, and Lynch-surreal bureaucratic present the opportunity to create a cinematic tidal wave of virtuosity, energy, and high-on-life, high-on-cinema aggression.  The very personalness of subjective cinema rapidly expands to deliriously encompass the sheer baffling fact of living in Poland after all that came before 1977.

Recently I feel I’ve been watching too too many French films. This lively bit, DKaz, makes that feeling well up all the more…
Yeah, I feel that pain Ry. It’s a US distribution thing, films that do something in French can get shown, whereas doing the same thing in a different language and country suddenly the film has no audience. I think the NYTimes made that observation about Hong’s WOMAN ON THE BEACH, that if it were in French the movie would be a hit. This movie, by the way, is very awesome.
Sounds like it — “each foley effect, exaggerated and humorous, is an event in the film” !!

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