"Pleograf. Kwartalnik Akademii Polskiego Filmu", nr 5/2019

Mirrors and Networks. Interlacing Narratives and Narrative Planes in “Everything for Sale” and “Sweet Rush” by Andrzej Wajda - pleograf.pl

When Andrzej Wajda made Everything for Sale (Wszystko na sprzedaż) in 1968, he yet again found himself embroiled in a debate about cinema’s transformation and new paths for its development (which, for that matter, he ironically commented on in his deeply self-reflexive[2] film). Made a few years after the boom of self-reflexive new-wave films, after Federico Fellini’s Eight and a Half (Otto e mezzo, 1961) and Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt (Le Mépris, 1963), but before François Truffaut’s Day for Night (La Nuit américaine, 1973) or Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore (Warnung von einen heiligen Nutte, 1971), Wajda’s film is one of the most fascinating examples of cinematic self-reflexivity of the modernist era in filmmaking. On one hand, it is a personal statement from the director about his own works, on the other, perhaps most importantly, it is an attempt to question the boundaries of cinematic representation and the identity of cinema at this particular stage in its development.

Andrzej Wajda i Andrzej Łapicki na planie filmu Wszystko na sprzedaż. fot. Renata Pajchel, źródło: Fototeka FN

Andrzej Wajda and Andrzej Łapicki on set of Everything for Sale, fot. Renata Pajchel, source: Fototeka FINA

Similar themes can be traced in another of Wajda’s films – Sweet Rush (Tatarak) from 2009. The film won the director, then in his eighties, the Alfred Bauer Prize awarded at the Berlin International Film Festival to directors who open new perspectives on cinematic art[3]. This contributes towards a reading of the film – which makes obvious references to Everything for Sale as an act of settling accounts with cinema and its possibilities. This is the line of reasoning I would like to follow here, asking yet again about the issue of self-reflexivity in cinema in its new, contemporary version. The films that I am interested in are 40 years apart – within that time, cinema saw significant changes in technology and media, which have strongly impacted practices of both creation and reception. Despite similar themes and artistic strategies, the conclusions reached by Andrzej Wajda are different in both films.

Reflexive moments, visual narrations thrown into the main plot from a different plane, are not unusual in Wajda’s films. Sometimes, they can be so subtle that viewers fail to notice them while focusing on the main storyline: this is the case of The Maids of Wilko (Panny z Wilka, 1979), where Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, the author of the literary source (a short story written in 1932), can be seen on screen in three scenes. Within the diegesis, these are only circumstantial meetings between the protagonist Wiktor (portrayed by Daniel Olbrychski) and an anonymous elderly man, but, given the identity of the writer and the fact that he is looking straight at the camera, the viewer can interpret it completely differently. It is possible to miss Iwaszkiewicz’s appearance in the film, but in realizing it, we are made aware of the camera’s presence and the process of creating art (making a film on the basis of a literary piece), of the mechanisms of film adaptation, which makes literary characters physically present right in front of the eyes of their creators.

The same artistic device is used – although on a wider scale and in a way which ties it more strongly to the main plot – in Wajda’s later film A Chronicle of Amorous Accidents (Kronika wypadków miłosnych, 1986), where the protagonist Witek (Piotr Wawrzyńczak) engages in conversation with the writer Tadeusz Konwicki, who wrote the novel which served as the basis for the film’s screenplay. In The Maids of Wilko and A Chronicle of Amorous Accidents alike, writers are depicted as custodians of a long-lost world that no longer exists: either on an individual level (the childhood and youth that will never come back) or on a generational and historical level (as witnesses to the destruction of a social reality caused by the outbreak of the Second World War and its consequences). In both cases, their presence adds a very special dimension to the films. Robert Stam, who wrote about reflexivity in cinema and literature, proposes to distinguish it from a different tendency – illusionism. He claims that: Illusionism pretends to be something more than mere artistic production; it presents its characters as real people, its sequence of words or images as real time, and its representations as substantiated facts. Reflexivity, on the other hand, points to its own mask and invites the public to examine its design and texture. Reflexive works break with art as enchantment and call attention to their own factitiousness as textual constructs. This tension between the two tendencies characterizes all art, even the most “primitive”[4]. Although some of Stam’s claims seem correct, the aforementioned examples from Wajda’s films demonstrate that self-reflexivity does not necessarily have to mean an emphasis on fictitiousness; perhaps, this emphasis adds seriousness and a documentary dimension to fictitious messages, especially rooting them in a reality external to the film, which in itself points to the creator’s big ambition. When drawing attention to Iwaszkiewicz’s presence in The Maids of Wilko, Ewelina Nurczyńska-Fidelska writes that what the director achieves in doing this is making concrete the coexistence of the viewer and the process […] of adaptation as well as enhancing the awareness of the existence of a literary original of the story[5]. The writers who appear in these films are “real”. Their identity and physical presence testify to a special quality of the aforementioned films, which reaches beyond the limits of fictitiousness.

A film made by Wajda that Robert Stam lists as an example of self-reflexive cinema is Man of Marble (Człowiek z marmuru, 1976). During the structural analysis of the film about a young student, Agnieszka (Krystyna Janda), who is making a film about a former model worker Mateusz Birkut (Jerzy Radziwiłowicz), Stam emphazises its mirror-like structure: while calling Wajda’s work a compilation film about the making of a compilation film[6], he also states as follows: If Agnieszka mirrors Birkut [in her fight against the unjust system], her film-in-the-making mirrors Man of Marble itself[7]. The mirror metaphor will prove useful later down the line in my discussion.

Krystyna Janda (Agnieszka) w filmie Człowiek z marmuru. fot. Renata Pajchel, źródło: Fototeka FN

Krystyna Janda as Agnieszka in Man of Marble, fot. Renata Pajchel, source: Fototeka FINA

Both Everything for Sale and Sweet Rush alike are concerned with making films (more specifically, with the process of making Sweet Rush and Everything for Sale, even though the game of mirrors here does not presume full mirroring). Moreover, the central theme of both is the issue of loss, emptiness and death. In both, death can be understood in general terms – as an aesthetic problem, a problem of representation – but, at the same time, in terms of specific individuals – in the first case, it is about the death of an actor, Zbigniew Cybulski, in the second, the late cinematographer, Edward Kłosiński, the husband of Krystyna Janda who plays the main part in Sweet Rush.

Everything for Sale refers to the tragic accident involving Zbigniew Cybulski – the star of one of Wajda’s most important films, Ashes and Diamonds (Popiół i diament. 1958) – who died in January 1967 at a railway station in Wrocław while attempting to board a moving train. Wajda’s film tells the story of a film crew who are faced with the news of the disappearance, and later, the death of an important actor. Filming is interrupted and the director Andrzej (Andrzej Łapicki) is wondering what to do with the incomplete film. However, as the story unfolds, we discover that the plot of the film within a film resembled the reality outside the set: the story told concerned an actor who goes missing and is later found tragically dead, which results in a mise-en-abyme structure in Everything for Sale, repeating the central theme of absence. Therefore, the film within a film reflects a cinematic meta-narrative, while both narratives – the main film and the film within a film – reflect the external, “actual” reality, even though their role as a mirror of reality, in the case of the film from 1968, has been questioned.

When speaking about the death of his actor, the director yet again raises the issue of generational loss, as in Ashes and Diamonds Cybulski portrays a young member of the Polish underground Home Army who is filling the void – even if only temporarily and symbolically – left after all those who died in the war[8]. In Everything for Sale, the theme of emptiness recurs; from the very beginning, Zbigniew Cybulski is absent from the screen (only once can you see a film still with his face on a poster) and it is that very absence at the heart of the visual narrative which becomes one of its driving forces. Cinema has often acted as a medium which could mak[e] the dead and gone get up and walk[9] through archival, “animated” photography. However, in Everything for Sale, rather than overcoming the problem of absence, it is presented as something impossible to overcome. Thus, the film speaks against the myths and paints a harrowing picture of impossibility – wrote one critic right after the film’s premiere in 1969[10]. A depiction of emptiness, of what is not there and what constitutes a painful gap in the landscape of reality seems much more complex visually than the therapeutic act of “filling in” all the empty spaces[11].

One of the principal attempts at “showing” absence, which is the underlying tendency of the entire film, is the sequence involving Andrzej Wróblewski’s paintings. The director of the film goes to an art exhibit of the work of Wróblewski – a painter whose main artistic interest was focused on war experience and the circumstance of “living among the dead”, which the survivors went through. The exhibition is held in the gallery of Dom Artysty Plastyka, which still bears the marks of war damage. There is a plaque attached to the wall commemorating it as the site where the Nazis shot and killed 40 Poles. We watch Andrzej wandering among the paintings mainly from the perspective of his wife Beata (Beata Tyszkiewicz, Andrzej Wajda’s actual wife at the time) who is waiting outside the gallery. Later, when the director and his wife are driving across the city in silence, the sun setting over the horizon makes it look as if the Old Town is on fire and what we see are Wróblewski’s famous paintings – works from the Execution series (Rozstrzelania, 1948-1949), Mother and Dead Son (Matka z zabitym dzieckiem, 1949) – appearing one after another in the frame as if they were quotes. As soon as the car takes a road among the trees, a shot of Andrzej’s face lit up by the moon reveals that we have been looking through his eyes. Beata is the first to break the silence: We no longer know how to see – she says.

Andrzej Wróblewski, Rozstrzelanie VIII (surrealistyczne), 1949 r. źródło: Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie

Andrzej Wróblewski, Rozstrzelanie VIII (surrealistyczne), 1949, source: National Museum in Warsaw

Wajda spoke about Wróblewski’s paintings: A long time ago, I took part in a Macumba ceremony, a peculiar religious tradition during which the living fulfill the wishes of their dead relatives to help them cross to the other side. Andrzej took on the same role by painting with the hands of the dead, the dead who demanded that he – as the one who remained alive – performed that service for them[12]. Wróblewski’s works confront the absent presence of the dead, the void that they leave in the material world with the material existence of the living. Indeed, there are “empty spaces” in these paintings, voids with which we cannot come to terms, which are “metaphysical scandals”, as this is precisely what death is to Wajda: a loss for the world, but also “a loss of the world”, a loss of corporeal presence, as well as a whole universe of memory and individual gaze.

In the beforementioned sequence, as Andrzej and Beata continue driving, the car suddenly hits against something while on the dark forest road and Beata orders her husband to stop and turn back. A dead body seems to be lying in the middle of the road – but, as it soon turns out, it is but a mannequin, a dummy that was placed there for the purpose of a bizarre police experiment. In that sequence, Wajda contrasts the fact of a “fake” death with the fear of an actual death – he shows characters who foolishly believed in the staged accident and, at the same time, juxtaposes typical film props (a dummy acting as a dead body) with Wróblewski’s series of paintings from a few moments before. In self-reflexive films, especially ones that show the film crew, the initial surprise of the spectator is often linked to the assertion that what we are looking at is not a “reality” but a staging thereof, a film within a film. This is the case with Truffaut’s aforementioned Day for Night, with The State of Things (Stand der Dinge, dir. Wim Wenders, 1981) and, finally, with Everything for Sale. In the opening scene, we can see a man at a railway station who has clearly just got off the bus seen driving away in the distance and he is trying to catch a leaving train. He is running after the train’s moving carriage for a while, but as he fails to jump on, he falls between the train and the platform. Some women run over from the same direction and watch the accident with terror (or perhaps with disgust?). The train slows down, people start gathering, then we hear a scream. However, this narrative is abruptly interrupted. The lighting changes allowing us to see the edge of the platform very clearly. A man’s head emerges from below the train. How was it? – he asks. Great! – an off-screen voice responds to who we now learn is the film’s director.

This classical situation of revealing a film within a film is usually meant to bring about a Brechtian distancing effect – in that moment, the spectator forgets about the cinematic illusion, or rather, becomes aware of its existence. There are many other moments such as this one in Wajda’s film. But the connection between the different layers of variously defined fiction and reality is so strong that after some time there is no reason to differentiate between them – the viewer gets drawn into an ongoing game, in which everything is (and can potentially be) fake and real at the same time. It is a game of mirrors, in which we can never be quite sure whether what we see is a reflection, a partial reflection, a deformed image or perhaps even the “thing itself”. Let us take a closer look at this plexus: In the first scene, we see the shooting of a film in which the character dies while trying to board a moving train. As we learn soon after, the actor who was meant to play that part did not make it onto set, so the director himself acts in his stead. Later, we are informed that the missing actor will in fact never show up, because… he died trying to get off a train going at full speed. Thus, the opening scene becomes oddly “real”, or, at least, symbolic within the framework of the film’s “reality” (the initial meta-level). However, viewers who are familiar with the story behind Cybulski’s fatal accident will know that he too died while jumping onto a train at a train station, just as it was depicted in the opening scene of the film. This makes the inner story in the film become more “real” than its meta-level. At the same time, of course, none of them are truly real, as what we are watching is nothing but “cinematic fiction”. The fact that Wajda does not use Cybulski’s name even once (not even in the opening or closing credits), emphasizes the “anti-documentary” status of the film. All the clues point not towards the outside world, but rather inwards at the film itself[13].

The linking of different narrative layers playfully engages the viewer into interpreting the allusions and distinguishing between the various levels of fiction, but it can also inspire to search for some foundation – an image that can get us out of the game of mirrors and allows us to regain the possibility of an authentic gaze. For many, this is what the film’s finale achieves[14]. One of the actors, Daniel (Daniel Olbrychski), appointed as Cybulski’s successor, instead of playing the part given to him, flees from the set and runs into a nearby paddock with galloping horses. The young assistant director, Witek (Witold Holz), instantly tells the cameraman to follow him with a camera. Everything for Sale ends with the image of Daniel running cheerfully among horses. Even though the image that closes the film could be perceived as a manifesto of artistic authenticity, it can also represent artificiality at its peak, where the artist’s every activity is “for sale”, it turns into an aesthetic moment as soon as it occurs. A similar conclusion was drawn by Tadeusz Szczepański, who wrote in his classical interpretation of Wajda’s film that the reality in Everything for Sale, to which Wajda is seeking to attach the status of authenticity is, in its essence, staged for the film and is determined by the same actors’ behaviors that Wajda rejects as authentic in the same film[15]. However, according to Szczepański, Wajda’s film (which he, moreover, compares to a “mirrored booth”, referring to the mirror metaphor, which is what first comes to mind[16]) “questions” its own purpose – the scholar’s stance is generally quite critical[17]. But I believe that it is the very sense of helplessness against the game of mirrors and the impossibility (or maybe the reluctance?) to escape it which can be read as more than just an unintentional pose – it can be perceived as a commentary on the mechanisms of representation and as abandonment of certain ambitions. This seems analogous to Deleuze’s crystal-image, in which the real and the imaginary, the present and the past, as well as the actual and the virtual are indiscernible[18]. Deleuze also uses the mirror metaphor when writing that the mirror-image is virtual in relation to the actual character that the mirror catches, but it is actual in the mirror, which now leaves the character with only a virtuality and pushes him back out-of-field[19]. The main point of this analogy is not so much to apply Deleuze’s reception of Bergson to Wajda’s film as to point out the significance of the mirror game of images that takes place within it. Everything for Sale also proves to be utterly self-reflexive, because each image points at itself and at all other images at the same time, so, as a whole, it can be seen as a commentary on the “virtual” character of representation. Perhaps it is yet again death – both individual and collective – which is what is imminent and goes beyond the boundaries of fiction[20]. For it is death that constitutes the liminal moment which freezes the action, the moment which cannot be adequately shown and that despite numerous attempts at being represented, defies all representation.

Paweł Szajda (Boguś) i Krystyna Janda (Marta) w filmie Tatarak fot. Piotr Bujnowicz/Fabryka Obrazu, źródło: Akson Studio

Paweł Szajda as Boguś and Krystyna Janda as Marta in Sweet Rush, fot. Piotr Bujnowicz/Fabryka Obrazu, source: Akson Studio

All these issues: interlacing narratives, the role and status of the artist and finally, death and its representation come to the forefront again forty years later in Sweet Rush. For Wajda, this film is a comeback on many levels: Krystyna Janda, one of his favorite actresses, appears in his film once again after previously starring as Agnieszka in his own Man of Marble and the director himself takes on another short story by Iwaszkiewicz, to which the film owes its title. The protagonist is Marta (Janda), an aging woman and wife of a wealthy provincial doctor. The story is set in a small, riverside town in the 1950s. Death is a recurring subject: Marta’s two sons died in the Warsaw Uprising, which has made her “ashamed” of life ever since, and especially of youth, so “shameless” in the face of death. Marta is terminally ill herself – the summer described by Iwaszkiewicz that we see in Wajda’s film is expected to be her last. It is then that she meets Boguś (Paweł Szajda), a twenty-something whom she starts mothering and seducing at the same time, fascinated with his youth. However, death strikes again: Boguś drowns while swimming in the river. In Iwaszkiewicz’s short story, it is this last scene which evokes the ambivalent symbolism of youth and death, represented by the titular metaphor of sweet rush or calamus (pol. tatarak), a waterside plant used to decorate houses for the celebration of Green Week. For Iwaszkiewicz, as the plant is used in the joyful celebration of the beginning of summer, it is a symbol of life. And yet, we also read in the story: The sweet rush herb gives off two different aromas. If you rub its ribbon-like, partly-creased leaves in your fingers, you will smell the subtle aroma of “water shaded by willows” […]. But once you pound it […], next to the fragrance of incense, you will smell clay, rotting fish scales and mud[21]. Later, the author writes: Since my early life, this smell has always brought about visions of sudden death[22] – referring to his personal childhood memory, when he witnessed his friend drown.

Wajda had planned to film Sweet Rush for a long time and he truly wanted to work on it with Krystyna Janda. But when the film was finally ready to be shot, Janda could not take part in it – her husband, Edward Kłosiński, a well-known cinematographer and a close collaborator of Wajda, was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer and the actress decided to stay by his side[23]. Kłosiński died in January 2008. In the summer of that year the long-overdue filming of Sweet Rush began, but Wajda decided to base his film on several other texts aside from Iwaszkiewicz’s story. Firstly, he chose a short story by Sándor Márai, which tells the tale of a doctor who conceals from his wife the fact that she is fatally ill. Moreover, during the shoot, Krystyna Janda suggested he read Zapiski ostatnie [eng. Final Notes], a text which was somewhat of a memoir of Edward Kłosiński which kept during his illness, depicting the process of dying. Wajda decided to include his notes in his film by staging them as a monologue which Janda delivers into a still camera inside a hotel room with its set decorations inspired by Edward Hopper’s paintings.

Therefore, the film’s viewers must navigate between all the layers of the film: apart from the “main” plot based on Iwaszkiewicz’s short story intertwined with the excerpts from Márai and Janda’s monologues, there is also a mediating narrative revealing Sweet Rush’s film crew at work, showing the actors and the director reading parts of the short story, rehearsing their roles and finally, shooting some of the film’s scenes. As a result, the “main” adaptation of the literary original takes up merely half of the film’s runtime and is often interlaced with other narrative layers.

It may appear that the structure of the 2009 film is similar to the one in Everything for Sale, which was described previously. However, while in the earlier film the individual narratives and narrative layers merged into a coherent whole, in Sweet Rush they all fall apart and clash with one another much more radically. A superb example is the climax scene of the film within the film, when Boguś drowns while swimming to retrieve some sweet rush, as well as the final fifteen minutes of the film that follow the sequence[24].

In this scene, Marta rushes over to help the drowning young man, dives (which is filmed from under the water) and finally resurfaces. She stays above water for a moment trying to catch her breath. Hey, what’s up, what’s going on? – asks Wajda, who suddenly appears on screen as he sits in front of a monitor displaying the image from the camera placed underwater. Krystyna Janda swims across the river and walks out onto the opposite shore; Paweł Szajda, portraying Boguś, also resurfaces followed by two professional scuba divers. Come on, swim over! – someone urges through a loudspeaker towards the film crew standing on the shore. Meanwhile, on the opposite riverbank, instead of waiting for the car which the crew had sent for her, Janda runs to the nearby bridge, where she stops a car (the driver recognizes the famous actress). A storm breaks out. Janda huddles up on the back seat wrapped up in the driver’s jacket. We can hear her off-screen voice continuing the monologue that clearly belongs to the narrative of the Hopper-like hotel room – she talks about the illness and death of Edward Kłosiński, but this time, in the context of the making of Sweet Rush, the delay in shooting and how she cannot ignore the strong link between the film and her husband’s illness. In the scene that follows, we see the film crew still struggling to locate Janda, while packing up all their equipment into cars. The scene cuts to the hotel room (as we can see through the window, it is also raining). This is where Janda delivers her final monologue, in which she describes the moment of her husband’s death and mentions the fact that she performed on stage the same night without upsetting her previous arrangements. Next, we are back to the scene of Boguś’s death: we witness Marta’s failed attempts at pulling him out of the water, some boys then come to the rescue and finally, the image of the woman kissing and cuddling a dead body. At some point, the image is replaced with the view of an empty hotel room. A caption appears, reading: “To Edward Kłosiński”, followed by end credits.

Paweł Szajda as Boguś and Krystyna Janda as Marta in Tatarak, fot. Piotr Bujnowicz/Fabryka Obrazu, source: Akson Studio

Paweł Szajda as Boguś and Krystyna Janda as Marta in Sweet Rush, fot. Piotr Bujnowicz/Fabryka Obrazu, source: Akson Studio

All of these measures can be seen as an attempt to merge all separate narratives into one whole – through the double role of Janda-Marta (as an actress and a character in the story), by including the biographical context as well as the story behind the making of the film, and finally, through the exploration of the main theme of death and loneliness of the ones left behind. However, what distinguishes Sweet Rush from Everything for Sale is the very disintegration of the respective narrative layers which form somewhat of a network (all of the stories have some intersection points with the other narratives, at the same time being distinctly separated) rather than a complex system of mirror reflections. One of the themes recurring in numerous texts discussing Sweet Rush is the major significance of the impressive acting on part of Krystyna Janda for whom the film is, after all, ultimately personal, given her husband’s death[25]. What is emphasized then is the recurring theme of the artist “selling” their life for art’s sake. However, unlike in Everything for Sale, there is no irony in the way this situation is depicted. It is not art that makes life less authentic; it is life that makes art seem real, which, as claimed by Ewelina Nurczyńska-Fidelska, makes the viewers experience a certain shock, as the film by Andrzej Wajda and Krystyna Janda shatters their cultural experience. In fiction films, death and its representations are the artists’ imagination, not a fact – facts are recorded in documentary cinema. Krystyna Janda’s monologue in Sweet Rush is somewhere on the border between those two cinematic realities[26]. In consequence, it makes the viewer believe in the possibility of an adequate representation of death, mourning and emptiness, in the truthfulness of the events presented on screen, and, what is more, in the truth of “art” capable of showing authentic emotions.

Moreover, contrary to the 1968 film, here art presents itself as therapeutic[27], on a general, as well as a personal level. Janda’s personal involvement, which does not have an equivalent in Everything for Sale, makes us perceive the film as a tool for preserving the past and relieving the tension of the sudden absence of a loved one, rather than an attempt to represent this absence, as hard as it is to bear. Janda’s monologue entitled Zapiski ostatnie brings back Kłosiński in an intimate, indirect way; the actress also speaks about the photographs that she took of her dying husband. I kept taking photographs. Just in case. He would let me do it. He was even glad I did. I was thinking about how our profession determines our way of thinking. As a cameraman, he knew the significance of capturing facial expressions, images, moments. In an interview printed in an album which accompanied the film, she states: The film has been made. It is finished. Regardless of the reception it gets, I do not regret anything. Something that was the most precious thing for me has been recorded forever. Forever[28]. Again, such an understanding of Sweet Rush, especially of its quasi-documentary narrative layers, makes it less of an aesthetic object; instead it becomes a record of facts and emotions connected to a reality external to the film, to which the viewer is referred.

In Sweet Rush, unlike in Everything for Sale, the theme is not the “impossibility” of depicting death; on the contrary, it is the very potential of cinema to represent dying and the despair of the living. As well as the potential of bringing back the dead to say our goodbyes, the work of grieving which with time allows us to fill the unbearable void. In Everything for Sale, the “cadaver” turned out to be fake and the blood was just paint. The dramatic scene with the dead body of Boguś, the last scene of the film involving actors, makes the viewer believe in the authenticity of the deadness of his body, of the actress’ grief, which is at the same time performed and very much real – this “truth” is achieved through her authentic grief over the death of her husband, toned down in the monologue sequences, but shouted out loud – in keeping with the script – in the final scene by the water, which is “fake”, but nonetheless provides an outlet for real emotions.

Artur Sandauer, a literary scholar and the founder of the Polish equivalent of the concept of self-reflexivity – ‘autotematyzm’ – sees self-reflexive works as entirely autonomous, since they are meant to serve as both the story and the commentary thereof, a perfect and self-sufficient closed circuit[29]. Although Everything for Sale is also an intertextual piece due to the presence of, for example, Andrzej Wróblewski’s paintings, quotes from Wajda’s previous films (Ashes and Diamonds) or references to other works and facts (often strongly coded in the collective consciousness of the time), its looped or mirror-like structure fits Sandauer’s definition perfectly. Sweet Rush seems to be different though. Firstly, its personal and documentary character plays a much bigger role. Moreover, due to the heterogeneity of the particular narrative layers, the viewer is encouraged to divert their attention and to go beyond the film’s script to search for other narratives connected with it, which seems to be in accordance with contemporary modes of film reception.

The viewers of Sweet Rush, doomed to navigate without any certainty between the narrative layers, are keen to refer to their non-film knowledge. This need is partly satisfied by the DVD edition of the film, which, characteristically, includes, among others, the making-of footage (entitled Spotkanie po latach. Iwaszkiewicz i Janda w filmie “Tatarak”, directed by Mateusz Wajda), as well as interviews with Andrzej Wajda and Krystyna Janda, which provide information on the origins of Janda’s monologue, the truth about the illness and death of her husband, the difficulties in producing the film and the artists’ intentions. Thus, Wajda’s new film seems to be submerged in the practices typical to the digital reception of cinema, in which the act of watching the film in the movie theatre is only one of the possibilities and by no means the most privileged one. As part of such practices, the film as a “product” becomes surrounded by numerous paratexts (to use the term from literary theory introduced by Gerard Genette[30] and applied in contemporary film studies), such as additional materials accompanying the film on the DVD. In that way, even the very title of the film explicitly refers not to a specific cultural object whose reception is pre-determined (a film that is known to be an adaptation of a short story), but rather to a network of objects, which includes Wajda’s film and Iwaszkiewicz’s story, as well as Hopper’s paintings, Janda’s memoirs and the private and professional lives of the film’s authors. They are all grouped under the same themes and “key words”, such as ‘death’, ‘loneliness’, or ‘youth’, to which each narrative refers in a different manner. However, the viewer notices (or ignores) the relationships between them: it is no longer Deleuze’s crystal-image, but a database, as described, among others, by Lev Manovich[31].

One of the dominant trends in contemporary popular culture is transparency, which is grounded in the expansion of the field of perception, in the elimination of obstacles standing in the way of experiencing expanding domains of life – writes Blanka Brzozowska in the context of such cinema paratexts as making-of films or interviews with the filmmakers[32]. Later, she quotes Marek Krajewski: the contemporary viewer is not satisfied with just watching films and works of art, he needs to be provided with films about making films, with biographies of authors that document the process of writing or documentary films presenting the artist at work and the process of creating an artistic piece[33]. To a certain extent, such a change had already been signaled by the earlier self-reflexive films, such as Everything for Sale, but their attempts to emphasize fictionality, their closed structure and lack of such a wide array of other texts resulted in their utterly different reception. Nowadays, viewers are even encouraged to see Sweet Rush as “a text amongst other texts”.

Also, the peculiar composition of Wajda’s film and the accompanying materials complicate the question of authorship. The caption on the film’s poster and DVD cover says: Krystyna Janda in Andrzej Wajda’s “Sweet Rush” [Tatarak]; while on the cover of the album, it says: Krystyna Janda in Andrzej Wajda’s “Sweet Rush. A Farewell to Love” [Tatarak. Pożegnanie miłości] based on Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz’s short story. It is impossible to underestimate Janda’s contribution: to a certain extent, Wajda hands the film over to her[34]. It is the characters of Janda the actress, Janda the widow and Janda as Marta that hold the incongruous narratives together in the most unambiguous fashion, which, in consequence, brings to the forefront the issue of the actor’s work. In her own autonarration recited in Sweet Rush, Janda performed on stage the very night her husband died (and despite his death), just as she now stars in the film which for her will always be directly connected with Edward Kłosiński’s fatal illness. And yet, her confessions somehow “colonize” Wajda’s film, making it very much “Janda’s film”.

Krystyna Janda as Marta in Tatarak, fot. Piotr Bujnowicz/Fabryka Obrazu, source: Akson Studio

Krystyna Janda as Marta in Sweet Rush, fot. Piotr Bujnowicz/Fabryka Obrazu, source: Akson Studio

The third key author behind Sweet Rush is, of course, Jarsoław Iwaszkiewicz. In the narrative showing the making of the film within a film, the text of the literary original appears. It does so literally when Wajda hands over to Janda his own copy of Iwaszkiewicz’s book containing Sweet Rush (a copy filled with his own notes and highlights), and later, when the actress reads out the first paragraph about the smell of the “sweet rush herb”, which has crucial interpretative significance. In this context, the scenes that are filmed adaptations of Iwaszkiewicz’s story become a sort of illustration of the text, a “filmed text”, archetypical in the New Wave understanding of the relationship between the text and the image. In The Maids of Wilko, despite Iwaszkiewicz’s discreet presence, the viewer did not even have to realize the existence of a literary original (not taking into account the information in the credits, of course, but that can be easily forgotten). In Sweet Rush, however, the viewer might as well feel encouraged to read the short story. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the short story was printed in the aforementioned album Sweet Rush. A Farewell to Love (Tatarak. Pożegnanie miłości), which was published the same year as the film premiered, with the same cover photograph, one that was also reproduced on the film’s poster and later, on the DVD cover. Inside the album, next to Iwaszkiewicz’s story, there are, among others, numerous stills from the film set, interviews with the filmmakers and finally, Andrzej Gronczewski’s analysis of the film.

The “palpable” presence of the text within the film, as well as reprinting the story in the album (which, it is worth noting, does not have an author – it is promoted with the names of Janda, Wajda and Iwaszkiewicz) makes it cease to be merely a literary original, and instead become a text “parallel” to the film. Seeing as Iwaszkiewicz died almost thirty years before the making of Sweet Rush, his involvement in Wajda’s project is taken over by his daughter, Maria: she speaks about her father and his works in an interview About Father and His Works (O ojcu i jego twórczości ) included in the album, illustrated with private photographs taken from the Iwaszkiewicz family archive[35]. It is difficult to find a better example of the strategy of “transparency” described above, while the project as a whole suggests a breakdown in the traditionally understood notion of film authorship. A famous director serves as a name author of his work (series of works), but, at the same time, all the additional materials emphasize the motif of an “encounter” as the main creative method of working on the film. In the album, next to the aforementioned behind the scenes documentary (Spotkanie po latach), which refers to the (renewed) collaboration between Wajda, Janda and Iwaszkiewicz (the latter obviously only in a mediated way), there is a short commentary from the producer Michał Kwieciński, entitled Every film is an encounter (Każdy film jest spotkaniem), in which he speaks about the emotional polyphony[36], that lead to the film’s creation.

Of course, Wajda’s film follows in the tradition of the auteur cinema movement: after all, it is Wajda who is still the most important out of the series of “objects” promoting Sweet Rush and it is him as the director who is responsible for the entire concept, or, to put it differently, it is him who creates the space for the encounters that contributed to the creation of the film. Yet, the intersecting narratives of Sweet Rush – with their uncertain connections and references that instead of pointing inwards, go beyond the film and point towards other works of art, as well as, mostly, towards the private lives of the film’s creators – force us to look differently at the latest self-referential film made by the Polish director.

It seems that Andrzej Wajda was always interested in the intersections between different narratives and narrative layers, which interlace in one work of art, providing the spectators with a complex and ambiguous experience. However, in Sweet Rush, the two equal and competing narratives are laid out “on the same level”, as it were, and, at the same time, are clearly separate, which undermines the effect of the “game of mirrors”, so characteristic of Everything for Sale. The open structure of Sweet Rush, the smooth, indifferent to contrasts, way in which he connects the films layers – the film within a film narrative with the adaptation of Iwaszkiewicz and Márai’s literary pieces, as well as Krystyna Janda’s monologue – makes him part of the contemporary discourse on cinema and cinematic experience. The latter is no longer understood as an enclosed, complete whole, but rather as something inconsistent and fragmented, which provides momentary exhilaration, but keeps demanding more. At the same time, with the camera reaching into the most private spaces, cinema seems to be a tool closer to reality, which is constantly mediated and shared through omnipresent mediatic devices.

Translated by Małgorzata Szubartowska

[1] The following article is based on a paper entitled Mirrors and Networks – Interlacing narratives and narrative layers in the self-reflexive films of Andrzej which was presented during Le Petit Récit Visuel symphosium at Institut National d’historie de l’art in Paris in November 2010. [back]

[2] In this article, I will use the terms reflexivity and self-reflexivity, commonly used in English-speaking texts as equivalents of the Polish word autotematyzm, which translates into mise en abyme’ [back]

[3] Online news report Berlinale: Wajda z nagrodą im. Alferda Bauera, at http://www.tvp.info/333461/berlinale-wajda-z-nagroda-im-alfreda-bauera [accessed: 9.04.2016]. [back]

[4] R. Stam, Reflexivity in Film and Literature. From Don Quixote to Jean-Luc Godard, Columbia University Press, New York 1992, p. 1. [back]

[5] E. Nurczyńska-Fidelska, Panny z Wilka – sérénité, [in:] E. Nurczyńska-Fidelska, Polska klasyka literacka według Andrzeja Wajdy, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego, Łódź 2010, p. 306. The scholar also mentions the presence of Iwaszkiewicz in Panny z Wilka and of Konwicki in Kronika wypadków miłosnych in the context of Wajda’s role in Sweet Rush; see: E. Nurczyńska-Fidelska, Tatarak – między żiem a sztuką, [in:] idem, Polska klasyka literacka…, op.cit., p. 317. [back]

[6] R. Stam, Reflexivity in Film and Literature, op.cit, p. 116. [back]

[7] Ibid. [back]

[8] See T. Szczepański, Kino autotematyczne (na przykładzie filmu Andrzeja Wajdy „Wszystko na sprzedaż”), “Teksty” 1972, no. 3, p. 152. [back]

[9] B. Matuszewski, A New Source of History, trans. L. U. Marks, D. Koszarski, “Film History”, Vol. 7, No. 3 (1995), p. 323. [back]

[10] B. Jaworska, “Artystyczny labirynt Wajdy,” Tygodnik Demokratyczny 1969, nr 5 (February 2). [back]

[11] See Andrzej Wajda’s view expressed in S. Janicki, Wywiad z Andrzejem Wajdą, “Kino” 1969, no. 3, p. 16. [back]

[12] A. Wajda, Kino i reszta świata, Znak, Kraków 2000, p. 55. [back]

[13] See: the structure of a self-reflexive work of art as described by Artur Sandauer and the analysis of the very structure of Everything for Sale by Tadeusz Szczepański in T. Szczepański, Kino autotematyczne…, op.cit. p. 148. [back]

[14] See for example B. Mruklik, Andrzej Wajda, Wydawnictwa Artystyczne i Filmowe, Warszawa 1969, pp. 9091. [back]

[15] T. Szczepański, Kino autotematyczne… op.cit., p. 156. [back]

[16] Ibid. p. 148. [back]

[17] Ibid. p. 156. [back]

[18] G. Deleuze, Cinema 2. The Time-Image, trans. H. Tomlinson, R. Galeta, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis 2008, p. 76. I already mentioned the possibility of reading Wajda’s film through Deleuze in my book W stronę wirtualności. Praktyki artystyczne kina współczesnego, Wydawnictwo IBL PAN, Warszawa 2015, pp. 114, 243, 246. [back]

[19] Ibid. p. 297. [back]

[20] The implication of death being a moment of “regaining actuality” also appears in Deleuze’s work (ibid., p. 297). [back]

[21] J. Iwaszkiewicz, Tatarak, [in:] Tatarak. Pożegnanie miłości, an anthology, Prószyński i Media, Warszawa 2009, p. 67. This excerpt is also read out loud in Wajda’s film. [back]

[22] Ibid. [back]

[23] This and the following information about the production of Sweet Rush come from: A. Wajda, Jak spotyka się dojrzałość z młodością, jak się z nią mija, [in:] Tatarak. Pożegnanie miłości, op.cit., pp. 3–18. [back]

[24] This sequence and the events that follow it in the storyline are also analysed by Wojciech Otto in his article Zapach śmierci, epilepsja i portret papieża. „Tatarak” Andrzeja Wajdy i „Bracia Karamazow” Petera Zelenki, “Images” 13–14 (2009), pp. 128–129. [back]

[25] Ibid., pp. 136–137. See also: E. Nurczyńska-Fidelska, Tatarak – pomiędzy życiem a sztuką, [in:] E. Nurczyńska-Fidelska, Polska klasyka literacka… op.cit., pp. 319–326. [back]

[26] E. Nurczyńska-Fidelska, Tatarak – pomiędzy życiem a sztuką, op.cit., p. 320. [back]

[27] W. Otto, Zapach śmierci…, op.cit, p. 137. [back]

[28] K. Janda, Krystyna Janda o „Tataraku”, [in:] Tatarak. Pożegnanie miłości, op.cit., p. 25. [back]

[29] A. Sandauer, Konstruktywny nihilizm, [in:] M. Głowiński Porządek, chaos, znaczenie. Szkice o powieści współczesnej, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, Warszawa 1968, p. 71; as cited in: T. Szczepański, op.cit., p. 148. [back]

[30] It is done very thoroughly by the authors of the anthology Pogranicza audiowizualności. Parateksty kina, telewizji i nowych mediów, ed. A. Gwóźdź, Universitas, Kraków 2010. [back]

[31] Por. L. Manovich, “Database as Symbolic Form,” [in:] Database Aesthetics, Art in the Age of Information Overflow, ed. V. Vesna, Electronic Mediations, vol. 20, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis 2007. [back]

[32] B. Brzozowska, Paratekst jako oszust i demistyfikator? [in:] Pogranicza audiowizualności… op.cit., p. 63. [back]

[33] Ibid. [back]

[34] A slightly less radical comment about Janda’s role (one that still emphasizes the main role of Wajda’s decisions as author) was made by E. Nurczyńska-Fidelska in Tatarak – pomiędzy życiem a sztuką, op.cit., p. 323. [back]

[35] A conversation with Maria Iwaszkiewicz about her father and his work: O ojcu i jego twórczości. Z Marią Iwaszkiewicz rozmawia Alicja Albrecht, [in:] Tatarak. Pożegnanie miłości, op.cit., pp. 106–115. [back]

[36] M. Kwieciński, Każdy film jest spotkaniem, [in:] Tatarak. Pożegnanie miłości, op.cit., p. 62. [back]

Mirrors and Networks. Interlacing narratives and narrative planes in Everything for Sale and Sweet Rush by Andrzej Wajda

The article discusses two self-reflexive films by Andrzej Wajda, Everything for Sale from 1968 and Sweet Rush, made forty-one years later. Acknowledging the similarities between them (such as intrinsic structure of „a movie about making a movie”, or the recurrent motive of loss and death), it simultaneously focuses on the differences visible in both films, which result, among others, from different ways of thinking about cinema, its meaning and the way it is created.

Keywords: Andrzej Wajda, Everything for SaleSweet Rush, self-reflexivity, death in culture, film authorship, paratexts of cinema

Matylda Szewczyk – cultural studies scholar, associate professor in the Department of Film and Visual Studies in the Institute for Polish Culture at the University of Warsaw. Her research focuses on cinema, new media and the circulation of medical images (especially, visualizations of pregnancy and the fetus) in different registers of visual culture. She analyses the ways in which images contribute towards and reflect cultural changes. She is interested in liminal moments in visual culture: technological changes, media experiments, as well as the search for new forms of expression. She authored an academic publication entitled W stronę wirtualności. Praktyki artystyczne kina współczesnego (2015).

8 kwietnia 2020