Close Up

8 - 14 April 2019: Kinoteka: Witold Sobociński


Cinema is nothing without its cinematographers, those women and men who work at the magical intersection of art and technology. Late last year, Poland sadly lost one of its early, influential cinematographers. Witold Sobociński graduated from the National Film School in Łódź, before going on to work alongside such exceptional directors as Andrzej Wajda, Roman Polański and Krzysztof Zanussi. From the 1980s onwards, he also lectured at the National Film School, where he remained a much respected and inspirational professor until his death.

During his studies in the 1950s, Sobociński was a drummer in Poland’s pioneering first jazz band Melomani. The percussive instincts of jazz drumming clearly stuck with a man whose cinematography maintains a rhythmic sense of mood, as well as an improvisational approach in organising light and colour. Much of this is evident in the dark, transformational space of the freight train in Sobociński’s first film, Hands Up! (Jerzy Skolimowski); likewise, his murky rendering of the central house in Family Life (Krzysztof Zanussi) serves to accentuate the opaque characters who live inside. In The Third Part of the Night (Andrzej Żuławski), Sobociński’s handheld camera dances around the screen, emphasising the fractured psychosis of on-screen events. For many, The Hourglass Sanatorium (Wojciech Has) is a particular highlight of Sobociński’s career, presenting a near-perfect visualisation of Bruno Schulz’s surrealism – the literary basis for the film.

A week after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Camerimage International Film Festival in 2018, Sobociński passed away at the age of 89. In partnership with Kinoteka, we celebrate his life and legacy with a selection of screenings from some of his most iconic films.

Family Life
Krzysztof Zanussi, 1971, 88 min
Polish with English subtitles

Wit (Daniel Olbrychski) reluctantly returns to his family home when he is asked to take care of his gravely-ill father (Jan Kreczmar). Upon entering the dark confines of a house that he has not visited in six years, Wit is again exposed to the idiosyncratic pathologies of his father, sister and aunt. Family Life is a reflection on the emotional claustrophobia of familial bonds and the seeming inability for us to escape our pasts, no matter how hard we try. read more

Hands Up!
Jerzy Skolimowski, 1981, 76 min
Polish with English subtitles

A group of former university friends reunite in the cattle truck of a freight train, where they reminisce about the brutal realities of Stalinism during their student days (and reflect on what’s become of them). Banned by Communist censors upon its original completion in 1967, Hands Up! was finally released in 1981 with an additional metatextual prologue that riffs on the film’s troubled history. read more

The Hourglass Sanatorium
Wojciech Has, 1973, 119 min
Polish with English subtitles

Józef travels to the sanatorium where his father is staying. Upon arrival, he discovers a ruinous wonderland, where time slowly drips away and the borders between dreams, memories and fantasies are never quite clear. Inspired by the literature of Bruno Schulz, The Hourglass Sanatorium captures the mystical poetics of an author characterised by labyrinthine surrealism. read more

The Third Part of the Night
Andrzej Żuławski, 1971, 101 min
Polish with English subtitles

During the Nazi occupation of Poland, German soldiers kill Michał’s wife, son and mother. After an attempt to join the resistance goes awry, Michał meets a pregnant widow who bears an uncanny resemblance to his murdered wife. A guilt-ridden stab at atonement leads Michał to become a lice feeder in order to support the widow and her newborn. read more