306 Great Directors: Andrzej Zulawski

“I still am, because the only thing that I cannot sustain in cinema is boredom, this terrible boredom which assails European cinemas now, and these terrible festivals. Go to Cannes, you’ll die. You went there?”


Why This Director?
: I knew that my local cinema was showing four of his films for Halloween after he sadly passed away, so it was just a matter of time.

My Last Experience Was…: No.

What Did I Watch: Third Part of the Night, The Devil, Possession, and On the Silver Globe.

Where Does He Fit: First up in the Zulawski series was his debut feature, The Third Part of the Night, which opens with an attack on a home that is already pretty surreal thanks to the horses and the leading lady going straight into the camera covered in blood, a shot that will absolutely linger forever. Everything about this movie is designed to be a gut punch, ranging from the constant beatings to the delirious Vertigo plot for the wife and a woman our hero later meets. Reality and fiction converge and the only thing we are sure of is that there was death early on. The lice feedings, the Vampyr homage, the constant running around to avoid the Nazis…everything hurts. The mundanity of the men reading their books while lice feed on their blood to make vaccine is a great, effective balance and the sort of debut that is pretty radical even if it feels incredibly placid if you happen to do what I did and watch another later work of his immediately afterwards. And those closing credits with the bugs crawling around are totally punk even if the story itself has only become more unclear. What a hallucinatory start, sure to never be topped, right?

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Well, see, I’m not sure The Devil is a better movie than the other three that I saw, and I can’t even say that I loved it the most, but the first hour or so basically serves as a dry run for the (justly) more famous Possession, and I think it will linger the longest in some ways just by the mood it conjures up, a medieval landscape where a man basically gets freed by the devil (who also takes along a nun) and is thrown into a rampage of temptation, with everything he steamrollers through serving to obliterate him. If the movie had ended at the part where his sister asks him to catch her, or better yet, had been two movies of sorts with the rest continuing separately, I would have declared that a masterpiece. This is not to take away from what comes later, which is very similar in mood but has eerie echoes and reflections of what happened early on. It’s supposedly an allegory for Polish student protestors being self destructive, and it’s noticeable by the end, but it’s really more of a broad and fucking insane allegory about human pettiness destroying everything in its path in my eyes. Who knows for sure, though? All I know is that seeing this on the big screen was one of the best experiences of the year for me and it rarely ceased to be electrifying in how goddamn punk it was. Blu-Ray, please.

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Possession might not make me conjure up QUITE the same level of enthusiasm as The Devil in terms of “what is this fuckery and why isn’t every movie like this?”, but it is damn near objectively the best thing Zulawski ever did, a divorce film that turns into something else in that last half hour thanks to returning to old, seemingly discarded plot points and getting some mileage just by lighting an all time great piece of puppetry in a way where it is never clear just what it is, exactly, beyond something squidlike and erect. As a statement on what we look for in love, it’s pretty damn horrifying yet so romantic it feels searing, especially with shit like the sudden cut to Isabelle Adjani snotting blood everywhere in those glasses, or the scene in the kitchen with the electric knife. She rightly got all the attention (nothing is creepier than the miscarriage in the train station when you’re in a movie theater, with the echoes seeming as if they are genuinely happening right in that room because her howls are so loud), but Sam Neill…well, he comes awfully close in his brand of reactions, and serves as a fascinating mouthpiece for Zulawski’s deep terror of sexuality.

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Finally, we come to On the Silver Globe, which he called a murdered masterpiece and I think I understand what he meant even if I don’t understand the film…but it undoubtedly moved me. The sequence where Zulawski rushes his camera through a modern day concert hall and describes a beautiful song and scene that takes place in a similar venue, before we cut to the protagonist running outside of said theater, is one of the most poignantly frustrating things I can ever recall seeing in a movie, just a devastating example of the ways that censorship is poison to a complete artistic vision…although how this got adapted in the first place is genuinely shocking, it’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a screen adaptation of Samuel Delany’s bugfuck masterpiece novel Dhalgren except with a very different sensibility. I had seen some screencaps beforehand and I was shocked by how, well, silvery the restoration came across. I sort of liked the muddier look better for some scenes, in its own odd way, but the clarity of the image is worth the trade off for when we get a great view of the paints across the people’s screaming mad faces as they act for the found footage. Indescribable.

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Most Valuable Asset: Lovecraft for the screen. Also, his photography style for Diabel/Possession on the big screen: holy shit. It’s like being dragged by the hair.
Most Excited For: Szamanka or La Femme Publique.

Coming Up Next: Abderrahmane Sissako, Africa’s forefront modern director.

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