Dear Ambassador Tomasz Orlowski, Dear Chancellor of the Institute, Dear Gabriel de Broglie, Dear Members of the Institute, Dear Masters, Dear Minister of State, Dear Jack Lang, Dear President of the National Film and Image Centre, Dear Eric Garandeau, Councillor, Dear Camille Pascal, Dear Roman Polanski, Dear friends, First, I would like to remind our memories of a great figure in Polish theatre and television who died yesterday: Adam Hanuszkiewicz. In Polish and European cultural life, he represented the insubordination to the orthodoxy of staging. Adam Hanuszkiewicz, a man of theatre whose innovative and even provocative dramaturgy struck the most conservative, gave his place to theatre on the Polish small screen. Director of Polish television from 1956 to 1963, he had founded a theatre that broadcast weekly shows on Mondays. He was, dear Jerzy Skolimowski, one of your actors and accomplices of the virulent and censored Hands down! but also a remarkable theatre director: the composer Witold Lutoslawski said to him «You build your show like a symphony». I pay tribute this evening, in your presence, to the memory of this creator, this man of the theatre and the Polish audiovisual sector whose irreverence was matched only by his love of the theatre.
Dear Jerzy Skolimowski,
A petulant spirit, resistant to conformisms, a nomadic filmmaker, frenetic in the 1960s, if you are more contemplative today, your films always express a fury of life, a fiery revolt in a thousand places of weakness and desire. You are a man on the move, a man of rupture, intuitive and free, a European and transatlantic traveller, defending a cinema of acute perception, at the meeting of social film and pure poetry. With Andrzej Wajda and Milos Forman, you have embodied, in Europe that was still said «of the East», an avant-garde of which you will always be the magnificent outsider.
In the beginning, it was poetry that attracted you. Besides, it all started with it. A member of the Polish Writers' Union, you attended a seminar in a country residence not far from Warsaw. You spend fifteen days in the company of twenty authors among whom Andrzej Wajda, who was writing a scenario about youth.
You strongly criticize his script, he challenges you to write one yourself. The challenge is taken up, in the night you write 25 pages that will lead to his film The innocent charmers which will be shown tomorrow night at the cinema the harlequin as part of the Kinopolska festival. Then, on his advice, you push the door of the Łódź National Film School. Half bluff, half provocation, it is with this rebellious spirit that you will mark the European film landscape.
In Poland in the 1950s, you want to escape at all costs in the ordinary course of things. At night you listen to the clandestine jazz shows, you regularly attend underground clubs in Krakow, probably with your friend Roman Polanski who met you at film school. From this young friendship was born in three days and three nights the scenario of his first feature film, Le couteau dans l'eau, in 1962.
In the 1960s your cinema took part in the revival of Eastern cinema, in the wake of the French New Wave. One of the great figures of this movement, Godard, will have for you the most complimentary words: «don’t worry about the critics, you and I are the best filmmakers in the world» - just that! But among the «best filmmakers» in the world you admire Fellini, Orson Welles, you are also impressed by Robert Bresson’s Au hasard, Balthazar. It is at this time that you turn Rysopsis, Walkover and The Barrier, a trilogy of the adventures of an angry young man, Andrzej Leszczyc [pronounced Andrei Laihitz], who strikes with a formal writing on the nerves alive. Another singular feature of these early films is the use of metaphor.
In 1967, two films: Hands Up! , critic of Stalinism, which was censored by the regime until 1981, and which forced you to go west; and The Departure, with Jean-Pierre Léaud, which earned you the Golden Bear of the Berlin Festival. Two films with fists after the schizoid burns of Bergman’s Persona in 1966 or Polanski’s Repulsion - masterful observation of the gestation of madness behind closed doors in 1965 -, the first for his political office and the second because he represents a manifesto of confused and confused youth, revolted and incendiary, ready to scuttle everything, at full speed.
It was in England, in 1968, that you emigrated, with the firm intention of not turning again in Poland as long as Hands down! will remain forbidden. This is your second period, that of Brigadier Gérard’s Aventuriers and the magnificent Deep End, in which you stand up with a John Moulder-Brown burned with desire, against a backdrop of sexual misery and urban madness.
With the 1980s, it is mainly Moonlighting (Black Work) that marks the minds, with Jeremy Irons where fiction comes to double the documentary reality on the fate of Polish workers working clandestinely in England, at the time of the social disputes of Solidarnosc, a film with disturbing irony that received the Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1982, where you had won the Grand Jury Prize four years earlier for The Witch’s Cry.
To your filmography is added Le succès à tout prix, Le Bateau phare, an American production with the magnificent Robert Duvall and Klaus Maria Brandauer who won the Special Prize at the Venice Mostra in 1985, Les eaux printanières, before taking up the challenge of adapting one of the greatest novels of Polish literature to the screen: Ferdydurke de Gombrowicz. In the 1990s, you moved to California and devoted yourself to painting. Your paintings are exhibited in France, Canada, America, Poland, and we can see them in some scenes of Polanski’s Ghost Writer.
Recently it is Four nights with Anna and Essential Killing with Vincent Gallo that have earned you a great success and an even greater recognition of the profession, after more than fifteen years of voluntary interruption withdrawn from the world in Malibu. Once again you realize a real power stroke.
Last year, the Cinematheque of Brussels and the Cultural Service of the Polish Embassy pay tribute to you in a retrospective dedicated to your dazzling, graceful and incisive cinema – that of a boxer filmmaker who films as you climb into a ring, and who, like Kundera, chooses irony as a political weapon.
For your commitment and the courage of dissent, for your view of the tragedies of the collective as well as of the individual who contributes so much to renew the language of the 7th art, dear Jerzy Skolimowski, on behalf of the French Republic, we present you with the insignia of officer of the Order of Arts and Letters.