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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

AFTERIMAGE -- Blu-ray/DVD Review by Porfle

Yikes...and I thought EDEN LAKE and SECONDS were depressing.  Actually, EDEN LAKE still takes top honors as the bleakest and most disheartening movie I've ever seen, but as of now, famed Polish director Andrzej Wajda's devastating AFTERIMAGE (Film Movement, 2016)--a biopic of avant-garde painter Wladyslaw Strzeminski and his futile efforts to preserve his artistic integrity during Poland's social reformation in the late 40s--is firmly in the top five, maybe even top three.
The character of Strzeminski is missing an arm and a leg, as is actor Boguslaw Linda who so vividly portrays him, but this doesn't stop him from being a leading painter and teacher of his brilliant ideas and philosophies about art (including the "afterimage", which is what we hold in our mind's eye after physically observing an object). 

But although his eager students absorb these ideas like sponges and apply them to their own burgeoning creativity, the Stalinist state views any form of abstract expression that doesn't reflect rigid, "realistic" adherence to and espousal of party politics as a threat. 

Since Strezeminski has no intention of backing down or giving in to such creative repression, the rest of the film will depict his slow, systematic demise, both spiritually and physically, by a state that demands utter conformity. 

The story takes place over the course of four years, opening with a scene of pastoral beauty as the artist and his students paint landscapes in the sun, and then gradually becoming darker and more devoid of color as do his circumstances. 

Strezeminski's already spartan lifestyle descends into misery as his rights and ability to support himself are stripped away along with the support of his students, who will also suffer as a result of their loyalty.  It's a queasily disorienting descent into darkest despair that we experience with him every step of the way as he becomes, literally, a "starving artist."

The only bright spots for him and us include an endearing relationship between the crusty old painter and his young daughter Nika (Bronislawa Zamachowska), who lovingly chides him for smoking too much while bearing an adult's concern for his well-being.  We see in her the fleeting traces of free thought and expression inherited from her father and his estranged wife but, through his eyes, we also fear for her gradual assimilation into the orthodox lifestyle.

Director Wajda's photography is impeccable but bleak, with brown and black the dominant hues save for increasingly few instances in which a forbidden work of art or a fleeting display of humanity provide splashes of color.

I was reminded of director Michael Radford's 1984, which had a similar look and feel, although this film may be even more disturbing since it presents not a potential future dystopia but one which has already existed and continues to exist even now.

A scene in 1984 muses upon the destruction of words which might convey forbidden ideas.  AFTERIMAGE shows us the death of a free spirit through the destruction of his art and suppression of his artistic thought, by which he expresses all that makes his life worth living.  I yearned for even a slightly optimistic denouement after the fadeout, because Andrzej Wajda's brilliantly-rendered film succeeds all too well in making us mourn such a tragic loss.  

Tech Specs
Polish with English Subtitles
100 min
2.35: 1
Stereo 2.0 and 5.1 Surround Sound

Bonus Features:
Blu-ray--"Wajda by Wajda" 95-minute documentary
Blu-ray and DVD--Commentary by Professor Emeritus Stuart Liebman, CUNY Graduate Center, trailer

Order it from Film Movement


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