Jerzy Skolimowski's comeback as a director after a break of nearly two decades threw many for a loop. The year was 2008, the venue was Cannes and the film was Four Nights with Anna. "Wait, what is this, exactly?" asked Daniel Kasman here in The Notebook. The answer Patrick Z McGavin settled on: "a small but crucial movie," and Skolimowski would follow it up with Essential Killing, which provoked far more resolute reactions, both positive and negative, when it premiered last fall in Venice.
Last month, Deep End (1970) emerged from legal limbo and, restored, it's currently touring the UK and sees a release on DVD in July. Now the full-blown retrospective The Cinema of Jerzy Skolimowski is on at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York through July 3 and, in Los Angeles, Cinefamily will be screening The Films of Jerzy Skolimowski from Thursday through Saturday.
"Perhaps most recognizable to contemporary audiences as Naomi Watts's racist Russian uncle in Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (or for his cameos in Mars Attacks! and Before Night Falls), Skolimowski was at one time numbered among the most important filmmakers of the Eastern European 'new waves,'" writes Leo Goldsmith, introducing a new feature at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Jerzy Skolimowski: Eros & Exile. "A graduate of Lodz film school (where he shot his first feature Rysopis on the sly while he was supposed to have been making shorts), the young director gained entry into the iconoclastic cinema scene of fellow countrymen Andrzej Wajda and Roman Polanski. (He wrote the dialogue for the latter's Knife in Water.) But with several highly accomplished and increasingly satirical films made in his home country… Skolimowski was shut out by official censors and forced to make his way abroad. This began his long career as a journeyman director."
"The first six feature films that Jerzy Skolimowski directed from his own original scripts form the most consistent part of a career that bears many hallmarks of inconsistency," writes Chris Fujiwara at Moving Image Source. "Made during a period of sustained productivity for the director, the six include his first four Polish films — Rysopis (Identification Marks: None) (1964), Walkover (1965), Barrier (1966), and Hands Up! (1967) — and two films made at or near the start of his filmmaking peregrinations away from his native country: Le Départ (Belgium, 1967) and Deep End (West Germany/UK, 1971). All six deal with young men and portray youth as a borderline, transitional state — above all, a utopian state, characterized by a sense of placelessness in which pure escape is possible for as long as a movement can still be invented. Utopian, not euphoric. Loss, anxiety, and futility harass the protagonists of all six films."
For Dan Callahan, writing at Alt Screen (which has a very fine roundup on Deep End), "there is a barely-there surrealism in play that keeps his films excitingly unsteady, as if the goal posts were being moved from scene to scene…. [T]here is always a sense that something is not quite right; each moment is pregnant with a humorously deadpan, sometimes slaphappy, but still menacing possibility…. He has a liking for eccentric literary adaptation, as evidenced by King, Queen, Knave (1972), his lightheaded take on Nabokov, and 30 Door Key (1991), a Crispin Glover-headlined riff on Witold Gombrowicz's absurdist novel Ferdydurke. Skolimowski's shy, almost hidden visual surrealism can be felt especially in his blackly comic Moonlighting (1982), a London-set fable about illegally employed Polish laborers where every scene seems to be hovering around the idea of science fiction or escape into fantasy."
"Skolimowksi's films have always been about cornering psychologically fractured men, blurring their rationale, and sending them to hell," writes Glenn Heath Jr at Not Coming. "The reasons behind their continued suffering may vary: repression (Mike in Deep End), weakness (Anthony in The Shout), arrogance (Nowak in Moonlighting), and pride (Capt Miller in The Lightship), yet the end result always succumbs to tragedy. The Insurgent at the center of Essential Killing is a perfect deconstruction of all these other men."
"It's a film designed to be noticed," adds Michael Atkinson at Moving Image Source, "a film about the Afghanistan war that doggedly, even perversely, resists overt politics; an on-location survival saga shot with a recognizable American-indie star (Vincent Gallo) who has not a word of dialogue; a physically rough ordeal that's meticulously staged and framed on the razor's edge between pulp excitement and arty poeticism but never quite tumbles into either camp."
Earlier: Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. On Wednesday, David Cairns wrote here that he finds Torrents of Spring (1989) "dazzling to the eye and rather enchantingly mysterious." Join the discussion of Skolimowski, or simply read it and watch the terrific clips, in the Forum. More viewing (8'06"): Head to the Garage to watch the Critics' Week interview with Skolimowski.
IN OTHER NEWS
For IFC, Stephen Saito talks with Helena Bonham Carter about her role in SJ Clarkson's Toast, which opens the six-film series From Britain With Love tonight at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The series runs through July 9.
Iván Fund and Santiago Loza's The Lips opens tomorrow at Maysles Cinema. Ben Mercer in the Voice: "With a decaying former hospital as their base of operations, three social workers survey an unnamed Argentinean backwater, tallying cases of malnutrition and how many children sleep to a room…. With a minimum of dialogue and backstory, the lead actresses ([Victoria Raposo, Eva Bianco and Adela Sanchez,] winners of a single special prize at Cannes 2010) movingly portray the depth of these colleagues' compassion, and their struggle to maintain a front of data-gathering objectivity."
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