Andrzej Wajda, the giant of post-war Polish cinema, who worked up until the very end, has just died at the age of 90. Working under the most constricting set of circumstances, Wajda managed to keep making films, films about life for his countrymen and women, films about politics and history, dangerous films considering the times in which he lived. His films made waves internationally, providing glimpses behind the Iron Curtain. Some of his films are so radical you wonder how he was allowed to make them. Consider what he saw and experienced in his lifetime: the Nazi invasion of Poland, the terrifying German occupation, the concentration camps established across the country, so-called liberation from the Germans only to find themselves entrapped by their totalitarian liberators … an entrapment that lasted for nearly half a century. Wajda’s father was one of the Polish officers killed by the Russians in Katyn forest (and, as we all know, the Russians denied killing those 4,000 officers and blamed it on the Germans up until only a couple of years ago when they admitted they did it. But officially, and for half a century, it was forbidden in Poland to ask questions about what happened because The Germans Did It. In 2007, Wajda made Katyn, a film about this horrifying travesty and what it did to the family members trying to understand what happened, facing a government wall of silence. An extremely angry film, it is also a powerful act of long-delayed public mourning for his father who died in that massacre.) A couple of years ago, Wajda made a film about Lech Walesa. Up until the very end, he was devoted to the story of his country, its struggles and torments, its symbols and heroes.
The New York Times obituary for Wajda is extremely informative.
I’ve only written about a couple of Wajda’s films on my site because I’ve only seen a couple. Many of his films are hard to find, some are entirely unavailable. I highly recommend Ashes and Diamonds. Here are a couple of the things I’ve written:
Here is the tribute to Wajda when he won a Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 2000: