Four Nights with Jerzy

By John Riley

four-nights-with-anna-jerzy-skolimowski.jpgFour Nights with Anna, 2008

After writing for Wajda and co-writing Knife in the Water Jerzy Skolimowski moved into directing. Identification Marks: None (1964), Walkover (1965) and Barrier (1966) formed a loosely autobiographical trilogy whose hero, Andrzej, is played by Skolimowski himself. But Hands Up!, an absurdist psychodrama reflecting on Poland’s Stalinist past was deemed unacceptable. In a meeting with the Culture Minister Skolimowski played a desperate last card: “if you don’t let me make the film as I wish I can’t make any more films in Poland.” The minister didn’t bother to wish the director good luck in his foreign career.

But if they hoped he’d wither, he didn’t, though it was certainly an uneven career. But successes like Deep End (1971, sadly, currently enmeshed in a hideous rights debacle), The Shout (1978) and Moonlighting (1982) were outnumbered by unsatisfying misfires. After 1991’s barely-distributed Ferdydurke, Skolimowski decided to take a couple of years out.

Eventually that couple of years turned into seventeen, filled with occasional acting roles and a career as a painter. Now he’s back with Four Nights With Anna, which premiered in the UK at Kinoteka, the 7th Polish Film Festival. It was accompanied by interviews at the BFI South Bank and on Resonance 104.4fm.

deep-end-jerzy-skolimowski.jpgDeep End, 1970 

It is very Skolimowskian, even in some ways a re-imagining of Deep End. But that wasn’t his intention – the similarity to Kieslowski’s Short Film About Love is also accidental, as it was inspired by a newspaper story. It’s a slow, quiet film about a shy loner in a remote village overwhelmed by his obsession with a not-at-all-distant beloved.

But we began by talking about Skolimowski’s acting career. Memory and the reinterpretation and rewriting of history are recurring themes in his work, so is “life” a “performance”?

“Sometimes it is: you can’t help it, when you’re recognisable it forces you to behave in a certain way, that’s a bit of acting. When I look back at my early roles I almost identify with Andrzej: I never really incorporated aspects of other people into him – I didn’t have the acting tools. I had to do acting classes at Lodz [film school] and I was quite good, but I only had about ten lessons and I was never tempted to give up directing. And anyway, my acting career has been only sporadic - I don’t chase roles.”

four-nights-with-anna-jerzy-skolimowski-2.jpgFour Nights with Anna, 2008 

So what was he doing during those seventeen years and why come back now?

“Even during that long break, I looked at film projects, but either I was too lazy or just resting or I was focusing on becoming a serious painter. The process of painting feeds my needs now. You concentrate on doing something exactly as you want. With film-making there are always compromises, you can’t do exactly as you would wish, you’re not even trying to do that. But Four Nights With Anna is as close as I’ve ever got to making exactly the film I wanted – maybe not 100% but the high 90s. It was a small budget but I insisted on doing things exactly as I wanted.”

“Film-making is really hard work, physically hard work, so I can’t say I enjoy it, but to create art one has to suffer! But, to my surprise, I feel ready to make another film: I have a great subject, I can see how to do it; I’m working on a script and have about half the money for my next project. So the prospects are good!”

The Skoloimowski season plays as part of the 7th Kinoteka Festiwal.

An interview with Skolimowski appears on I’m Ready for My Close Up on Resonance FM on Friday March 27th at 5pm.

John Riley is a writer and broadcaster.