CAPSULE: The late Andrzej Wajda, one of the most respected names in Polish cinema caps off his career with one final protest against the Stalinist suppression of intellectuals and artists in the early late 1940s and early 1950s. He may be filling it with what are probably autobiographical details. Wajda directs Boguslaw Linda as Wladyslaw Strzeminski. The Soviet indifference to art and people's lives is chilling. Some of the conflicts in the film are going to seem timelier than Wajda would have suspected. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
One of Europe's greatest filmmakers, Andrzej Wajda died in October of 2016. He was 90 years old and still making films. His final film was AFTERIMAGE, a look at the persecution and death of an artist. AFTERIMAGE is one great Polish artist's examining the Soviet persecution of another great Polish artist, Wladyslaw Strzeminski. Strzeminski was considered the most important Polish graphic artist of the twentieth century, usually dealing with brightly colored abstract painting.
Our director is Andrzej Wajda, himself considered one of the greatest film directors of Europe. Among his classics are KANAL (1956) and ASHES AND DIAMONDS (1958). He died in October 2016 with his final film being AFTERIMAGE (2016).
In the early 1950s Wladyslaw Strzeminski was one of the great living avant-garde painters. His style of bright abstracts was his own. But the Polish government was a puppet of the Soviet Union, which was in turn under the control of Joseph Stalin. Strzeminski had lost both an arm and a leg in World War II. Still, he taught art and his lectures on art held his classes spellbound. While the Nazi attitude toward great art had been to steal it, the Soviets, if it did not suit their ends, wanted to see it destroyed. Bright colored abstracts did not suit their ends. The Ministry of Culture and Art demanded that Strzeminski follow or at least respect the Socialist Realist style of art and the artist did neither.
What followed were a series of incidents of the artist losing some ingredient necessary for his art and finding himself struggling to survive. He loses his teaching position, then his room at the arts museum, and then his right to own paints. He would swallow his pride and take a less prestigious position or a piece of his own art only to have the ministry find him again and the cycle would continue until it would finally take his life.
It took Wajda two decades to get this film made. He orchestrates color in the film like he orchestrates acting. Most of the visuals of the film are suppressed to make Strzeminski's art stand out. The artist's color was vivid and gave a sharp contrast to the dismal gray-green color palette that is used for most of the film, particularly the later portions. The repetition of lost battles that Strzeminski fights makes the film downbeat and a little less engaging than AFTERIMAGE needed to be.
AFTERIMAGE is a dramatization of how even a very strong personality can be ground down between the stones of clashing political ideologies. The film slowly flows from a cry to a whimper. I rate AFTERIMAGE a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. It is currently playing in New York City and will open May 26 in Los Angeles.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5186236/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/afterimage_2017
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2017 Mark R. Leeper