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.