The Surrealist Visions of Wojciech Has

Now this is more like it!

From October 1-25, London’s Barbican Cinema is mounting an ambitious retrospective of the work of Wojciech Jerzy Has (1925-2000) - or rather a partial retrospective, since it only features five films. But I shouldn’t complain, since it’s an excellent selection that comprises his feature debut Noose (Pętla, 1958), his two early studies of post-WWII emotional fallout, Farewells (Pożegnania, 1958), How To Be Loved (Jak być kochaną, 1963) and his two best-known films The Saragossa Manuscript (Rękopis znaleziony w Saragossie, 1965) and The Hourglass Sanatorium (Sanatorium Pod Klepsydrą, 1973). The latter is based on the Bruno Schulz story of the same name, which the Quay Brothers are currently developing as their third feature - and the Barbican has also commissioned a Has-related installation from the Quays which will be unveiled at the start of the season.

Of Poland’s undisputed cinema masters, Has has always been somewhat marginalised (certainly in Britain, where he’s mainly been regarded as a one-work man; less so in France), possibly because his florid and fantastical visions didn’t chime especially well with much Polish fiction cinema. His closest rival in the Polish film surrealism stakes, Walerian Borowczyk, decamped to France at a very early stage of his career, but Has remained loyal to Poland - even spending several years as the Dean of the renowned Łódź Film School. From the very start of his career, he showed a striking individuality - Noose was initially mischaracterised as a familiar study of an alcoholic in decline, and critically dismissed as a result, but in fact it’s a far more complex portrait of a psychologically tormented individual whose dependence on alcohol is merely one of a whole raft of issues that conspires to push him over the edge - and the first of many Has protagonists who would find themselves struggling to cope in a world that’s at least as much dreamscape as reality.

The best news is that the season apparently features newly-struck 35mm prints, courtesy of the Filmoteka Narodowa (Poland’s national film archive), which will later go on tour - and the season itself was organised by the Polish Cultural Institute with the support of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute as part of the ambitious Polska! Year project.

3 Responses to “The Surrealist Visions of Wojciech Has”

  1. michuk Says:

    I’m very happy to hear about this new diretrospective in BFI! Has is one of the masters of the Polish cinema and ius so much different than the other masters that are probably more widely known such as Wajda or Polanski or Holland or even Munk.

    BTW, a similar retrospective will take place on 10th Era New Horizons film festival in Wroclaw, Poland in July 2010, so if you not happen to live in London, you’ll still have a chance to see the collective works of Has next Summer.

  2. Michael Brooke Says:

    Actually, this has nothing to do with the BFI - the Barbican is hosting it. The only BFI connection is that I’ve been asked to give a short introduction on Thursday, but that’s in my capacity as a writer on Polish cinema, not a BFI representative.

    Thanks for highlighting the Era New Horizons retrospective - I did know about it (in fact, I may well be involved at some level), but I wasn’t sure if details had gone public yet. As far as I’m aware it will indeed be a complete retrospective - and there’s a lot to discover. Later today I’ll be publishing a survey of Has’s work on DVD: there’s a surprising amount available, but you need a good working knowledge of either Polish or French (thankfully not both) to sample everything.

  3. michuk Says:

    Oh thanks for correcting me. Sure it’s Barbican Centre. Even better as it’s a walking distance from where I live at the moment :)

    The retrospective at the Era festival has been made public at least on the festival forums. The other one will be a retrospective of Jean-Luc Godard. There will be two more but only the initials have been given so far (J.S., bQ) — the latter may refer to Brothers Quay but that’s just a guess. About the former we only know it’s someone from South America.

    Borys - film buffs community

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