A film director born in Radomyśl Wielki in 1947.
He studied at the Silesian University of Technology in Gliwice. He graduated in psychology from Jagiellonian University in Kraków in 1975, after which he studied film directing in Łódź. He graduated in 1979, and received his degree in 1982. He was one of the founders of the K. Irzykowski Film Studio, and a vice-president of the Polish Filmmakers' Association after 1990.
He has received numerous awards, including the Andrzej Munk Award (1988) and the best directing debut award for Kornblumenblau at the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia in 1989, and the best director award for Rozdroże Café / Crossroads Café at the same festival in 2005.
Leszek Wosiewicz is a director of documentaries and feature films. Though his output is not huge, his work is recognizable, especially his feature films. A few of his documentaries are worth noting as well, to mention Przypadek Hermana Palacza / The Case Of Herman The Stoker (1986) which won the main prize at the Oberhausen festival in 1987, or Miłość w cieniu Big Brothera / Love Under The Shadow Of Big Brother (2003) about life in the shadow of the media, or even life created by the media. He himself has highlighted the importance of documentaries and the documentary method for his creativity in his early feature films (Smak wody / Taste Of Water 1980, Wigilia / Christmas Eve 1982), but also subsequent works, to mention Kornblumenblau.
As a feature director, Wosiewicz debuted in 1980 with the full-length Smak wody / Taste Of Water, about which he said years later that it was an artistic mistake, the greatest harm being done by extending a film devised as medium-length to a full-length feature. This was a psychological film touching on the quite banal issue of putting one's life in order in anticipation of the birth of a baby. This was exactly how critics evaluated it, as a half-hour film diluted to full length.
Smak wody / Taste Of Water provided as yet little information on the topics, style, creative method, and particularly the message of Leszek Wosiewicz's films. However his next production, Wigilia / Christmas Eve (1982), also intimate and lacking any dramatic plot (though it was dramatic because of the time it described - the early days of martial law), which was not released until six years later, said a lot about the director's interests and the method by which he presented his themes. It proved his interest in history (in this case, happening in the present), but seen from a very intimate, family, private perspective.
Years later, this is what the director himself said about the film at the Gdynia festival:
"This is a document of the time, history caught live in the aspect of the simplest human reactions. ... I didn't want to make a historical fresco, told as a narrative ... I wanted to achieve maximum privacy, to condense history into a little pill. By restricting the setting to one interior, I also wanted to re-create the sense of claustrophobia, literal and metaphorical, so characteristic of the time, because it applied to many moments in our history" (an interview for Manana Chyb, "Gazeta Festiwalowa", 13th Polish Film Festival in Gdańsk-Gdynia, 13 September 1988).
Some years later, his interest in this type of history was declared even more clearly in the famous Kroniki domowe / Home Chronicles (1997), a film based on a diary he found in the attic of his own house which he had written as a child, and the TV series Przeprowadzki / Moves (2000-2001) based on a script by Cezary Harasimowicz - warm family stories with grand History as the backdrop.
These films were popular with audiences, and critics spoke very well of them, too. The director himself admitted they were close to his heart. He even said his creative road should have run a completely different course. It should have progressed from family films, ideas for which he had long had in his mind, to films like Kornblumenblau (1988) or Cynga (1991) in which he abandoned the safe refuge of home for the ruthless, totalitarian world of concentration camps and gulags. It needs emphasizing, however, that this world is also present in the family-type films, because it is the focus of the protagonists even though it's not a world of camps (totalitarianism in its unique, utmost form) but the familiar, ordinary world of People's Poland (everyday totalitarianism).
In an interview for Tadeusz Lubelski ("Kino" 5/1998), Leszek Wosiewicz admitted that the particular order in which his films were made was accidental. When he was applying to enrol in film school, he submitted an excerpt from the script for Kroniki domowe / Home Chronicles, and this should have been his debut, while Smak wody / Taste Of Water should have remained just a school etude. Wigilia / Christmas Eve should have been his second film, followed by a project ultimately directed by Ignacy Gogolewski, a film about the life of Cyprian Norwid (Dom świętego Kazimierza / Saint Casimir House, 1983).
Things didn't work out that way, though. In fact his third full-length film, Kornblumenblau, was treated like a debut, to the extent that he received the Youth and Film prize for best directing debut at the Koszalin festival in 1989. The film and his own interest in a distant issue from the time of World War II surprised even himself, and was preceded by a documentary reaching back into those times, Przypadek Hermana Palacza / The Case Of Herman The Stoker (1986), the story of an ordinary man whose life became intertwined with that of one of the greatest criminals in world history and who, as Manana Chyb wrote (FSP 3/1989): "Devotedly served Adolf Hitler with his art of keeping the fireplaces going".
What distinguishes Kornblumenblau from other films about concentration camps? Critics pointed to the distance separating Kornblumenblau from such films portraying prisoners' heroism as Wanda Jakubowska's Ostatni etap / The Last Stage, or Andrzej Munk's Pasażerka / Passenger which was less one-dimensional in its treatment of the concentration camp issue. Kornblumenblau was compared to the prose of Tadeusz Borowski, who had noticed the ambiguity of the situation not just of a guard but also a prisoner who - in order to survive - in a way participates in the crime, doing so at the cost of others (though admittedly this situation makes him uncomfortable).
However, paradoxically Kornblumenblau can be treated as a film whose subject is not concentration camps. In fact it was sometimes interpreted as a parable, a fable, a story about Voltaire's Candide thrown into a world whose organization is totalitarian, absurd, and grotesque, but which is nonetheless organized, with it own rules which Candide learns and accepts, and where (also due to accident) he feels as if he were in the familiar world of home.
As Janusz Wróblewski wrote ("Kino" 11/1989): "Wosiewicz's film ... has the entire literary and film tradition devoted to concentration camp issues against it." Because, he continues, Wosiewicz rejects both the model of camp life familiar from most works on the subject and the one from Pasażerka / Passenger or Pożegnanie z Marią / Farewell to Maria in which "the executioner and the victim understand their roles despite everything". Contrary to Tadeusz Borowski, Wosiewicz has built his protagonist in such a way that the viewer never knows what really guides him, "the will to survive at all costs, ambition, or loyalty to professed values"? The hero, Tadeusz Wyczański, can be loyal and "one of us" both for his fellow prisoners and for the Nazis.
This stems from the director's metaphorical treatment of the concentration camp as a symbol of a totalitarian world to which the protagonist is able to adapt, and even to have a "career" within it. The "career" is one that matches the place and his own rather average technical skill. As Wróblewski wrote:
" 'Kornblumenblau' is a perfectly structured parable about small people, lucky people with some talent, not enough to become a genius but too much to let themselves be oppressed".
It's worth stopping to reflect on the issue of art, which allowed the hero in Kornblumenblau not only to survive the hell of Auschwitz, but also to "settle in". Obviously, making it into the camp orchestra helped him survive, but the problem of art is treated more broadly and in greater depth in Wosiewicz's film. Art helps people survive, but not every art - only art which the victors understand, which means a genuine virtuoso stands no chance but there's a chance for a good musician who, like the film's protagonist (a conformist, or maybe a pragmatist, brought up by his parents to have two professions - engineer and musician), can play anything. In Auschwitz he will play Kornblumenblau, the drinking song loved by Germans, and then when the Red Army comes he will win their favour by playing Kalinka.
Art also lends a different dimension to crime. As Mirosław Przylipiak wrote ("Kino" 3/1990), totalitarianism loved to aestheticize politics and life in general. Wosiewicz's film deals with aestheticization of crime which, as the filmmaker seems to say perversely, "placed within the framework of a show is slightly less of a crime, or maybe not one at all".
The film's audience also noted the method of narration Wosiewicz proposed - an unusual technique in which shots that are documentary or pretend to be documentary are mixed with pure invention, reality is mixed with the grotesque and absurd, images reminiscent of a silent movie with those of a music video.
"Not the anecdote, not the times, what counts is the way you tell the story, using what means. It's not until you use the proper means that it is revealed what this something you are telling is really like", said Leszek Wosiewicz (in an interview for Tadeusz Lubelski, "Kino" 5/98).
As the earlier-quoted Mirosław Przylipiak wrote ("Kino" 3/90), "Wosiewicz's film is proof that subject is nothing, and style is everything".
"Making a film about a concentration camp without guard towers and starved inmates on the brink of death, editing it in a way that shocks viewers used to classic film stories, Wosiewicz creates a new, fresh, and therefore all the more terrifying picture of the hell of the camps, and through this - a picture of consent, subservience, and compromises leading to crime" (Mirosław Przylipiak).
Wosiewicz's next film on camp life, this time life in Soviet gulags, Cynga (1991), was not as enthusiastically received as Kornblumenblau. The metaphor of the camp and a mental hospital did not seem convincing. Even the director admitted this was a "slip-up".
The return to the childhood world in Kroniki domowe / Home Chronicles (1997) may have marked a return to topics close to his heart, it may have been a form of therapy after several of his earlier films. This was a warm, nostalgic family comedy filled with funny stories, anecdotes and mysteries, just like the adult world can be mysterious to children, and also a story about People's Republic of Poland , ambiguous because the terror and inconveniences of that world were outbalanced by nostalgia for the times of childhood.
After making Kroniki domowe / Home Chronicles Wosiewicz declared he had really always been interested in telling "simple, amusing stories" about people he knew well, stories drawing on reality, but also on dreams ("Film" 8/97). Meanwhile in his two latest films, the documentary Miłość w cieniu Big Brothera / Love Under The Shadow Of Big Brother (2003) and the feature Rozdroże Café / Crossroads Café (2005), his focus is not on history, whether private or that written with a capital letter, but on the present. These films offer a portrait of today's society as it copes with the challenges posed by a civilization dominated by media and a desire for success. Wosiewicz's documentary Miłość w cieniu Big Brothera / Love Under The Shadow Of Big Brother shows that the media can create us. The feature film Rozdroże Café / Crossroads Café, designed to resemble a street ballad (featuring the well-known rapper Kazik Staszewski who comments the plot), says that the hunger for success released by the contemporary world can lead to crime.
"Wosiewicz is growing to be one of the most distinctive though not extremely original personalities of our cinema", wrote Tadeusz Lubelski after seeing Kroniki domowe / Home Chronicles ("Kino" 5/1998).
His subsequent films did not contradict this opinion. Leszek Wosiewicz is a restless, questing, and creative spirit.
Documentaries and short films:
Leszek Wosiewicz also wrote the script for the feature film Dom Świętego Kazimierza / Saint Casimir House (1983) directed by Ignacy Gogolewski.
Author: Jan Strękowski, December 2007; updated (filmography): December 2008
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