Has, Wojciech Jerzy

   One of the most highly respected Polish film directors, known for his easily recognizable personal style and esteemed adaptations of well-known works of literature. Unlike the majority of Polish filmmakers, Has ignored history and politics, the fateful fascination of Polish cinema, did not take political stands, and trusted his own imagination. Although he never studied at the Łódź Film School, his name is associated with that establishment. He started teaching there in 1974, headed the school from 1990 to 1996, and was the founder and head of its production studio Indeks since 1990. In 2000 he received an honorary doctorate from the school.
   Has debuted with the medium-length film Harmony (Harmonia) in 1947, but his greatest films were made during the Polish School period and shortly afterward. In Noose (Pętla, 1958), he portrayed a single day in the life of an alcoholic young man (Gustaw Holoubek) focused on his destruction, ending in suicide. As in other films by Has, small objects, such as the clock and the black telephone, had important roles and virtually became characters in this film. In his other works made during the Polish School period, such as Farewells (Pożegnania 1958) and Shared Room (Wspólny pokój, 1960), Has did not introduce typical Polish romantic heroes but characters whose private worlds were built of their own dreams, fantasies, and fears. They lived as if outside of history and time, trapped in a surreal reality. How to Be Loved (Jak być kochaną, 1963), Has's classic film based on Kazimierz Brandys's story, was slightly different because it offered a female perspective on the war. The protagonist Felicja (Barbara Krafftówna) considered love more important than national duty and paid a heavy price for it.
   In the mid-1960s, Has changed his intimate style and moved to the realm of historical spectaculars based on great literary works. His 1965 black-and-white film, The Saragossa Manuscript (Rękopis znaleziony w Saragossie), was adapted from the novel published in 1813 by Count Jan Potocki. The film offers a complex, labyrinthlike narrative structure that leaves itself open to interpretation. The viewer follows Captain Alfons von Worden (Zbigniew Cybulski) and his surreal, improbable voyages across eighteenth-century Spain. The dreamlike dimension of this travel, the motif of a journey into one's past, and the appearances of characters that emerge from the realm of dreams or memories also characterized Hospital under the Hourglass (Sanatorium pod klepsydrą, 1973). In this adaptation of Bruno Schulz's prose, Has succeeded in representing the writer's moody evocation of the lost Jewish world. In 1968 Has produced one of his most popular films, an adaptation of Bolesław Prus's novel The Doll (Lalka). Set in the late nineteenth century, this love story between an impoverished, aristocratic young lady, Countess Izabela Łęcka (Beata Tyszkiewicz), and a rich merchant, Stanisław Wokulski (Mariusz Dmochowski), dealt with the conflict between the emerging Polish capitalism and the old Polish romantic tradition. The Doll proved to be Has's last acclaimed work. His later films, for example Uninteresting Story (Nieciekawa historia, 1982) and Personal Memoir of a Sinner, Written by Himself (Osobisty pamiętnik grzesznika przez niego samego spisany, 1986), received mixed reviews from critics and were ignored by audiences.
   Other films: Gold (Złoto 1961), Ciphers (Szyfry, 1966), The Scribbler (Pismak, 1985), The Unusual Journey of Baltazar Kober (Niezwykłapodróż Baltazara Kobera, 1988).
   Historical Dictionary of Polish Cinema by Marek Haltof

Guide to cinema. . 2011.

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