Jerzy Kawalerowicz - Director

Nationality: Polish. Born: Gwózda (Gwozdziec), now part of Soviet Ukraine, 19 January 1922. Education: Film Institute, Cracow. Family: Married actress Lucyna Winnicka. Career: Assistant director and scriptwriter, 1946–51; co-directed first feature with Kazimierz Sumerski, 1952; head of Studia Kadr, from 1955. Awards: Premio Evrotecnica, Venice Festival, for Night Train , 1959; Silver Palm, Cannes Festival, for Mother Joanna of the Angels , 1961; Silver Bear, Berlin Festival, for The President's Death , 1977.

Films as Director:


Gromada ( The Village Mill ; Commune ) (co-d)


Celuloza ( Cellulose ) (+ co-sc); Pod gwiazda frygijska ( Under the Phrygian Star ) in two parts (+ co-sc)


Cién ( The Shadow )


Prawdziwy koniec wielkiej wojny ( The Real End of the Great War ) (+ co-sc)


Pociag ( Night Train ; Baltic Express ) (+ co-sc)


Matka Joanna od Aniolów ( Mother Joanna of the Angels ) (+ co-sc)


Faraon ( The Pharaoh ) (+ co-sc)


Gra ( The Game ) (+ sc)




Śmierś Prezydenta ( Death of a President ) (+ co-sc)


Spotkanie na Atlantyku ( Meeting on the Atlantic ) (+ co-sc)


Austeria (+ co-sc)


Jeniec Europy


Bronsteins Kinder (+ sc)


Za chto? ( Why? ) (+ sc)

Other Films:


Jutro premiera ( Morning Premiere ) (asst d)


Zakazane piosenki ( Forbidden Songs ) (asst d); Ostatni etap ( The Last Stage ) (asst d)


Stalowe serca ( Steel Hearts ) (asst d); Czarci źleb ( The Devil's Pass ) (asst d)


By KAWALEROWICZ: articles—

"Historia i forma," interview with K. Zórawski, in Kino (Warsaw), September 1977.

Interview with M. Dipont, in Kino (Warsaw), October 1980.

Interview, in Filmowy serwis prasowy (Warsaw), no. 2, 1983.

Interview with G. Delmas, in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), May/June 1987.

Interview with D. Heinrich, "La Pologne par le coeur," in Cinéma 72 , 10 February 1988.

Interview with Peter von Bagh, in Filmihullu (Helsinki), no. 4, 1993.


Grzelecki, Stanislaw, Twenty Years of Polish Cinema , Warsaw, 1969.

Michalek, Boleslaw, Film—sztuka w ewolucji , Warsaw, 1975.

Kuszewski, Stanislaw, Contemporary Polish Film , Warsaw, 1978.

Coates, Paul, The Story of the Lost Reflection: The Alienation of the Image in Western and Polish Cinema , New York, 1985.

On KAWALEROWICZ: articles—

Kornatowska, M., "Jerzy Kawalerowicz czyli milosć do geometrii," in Kino (Warsaw), February 1978.

Modrzejewska, E., in Kino (Warsaw), April 1985.

"Jerzy Kawalerowicz," in Film Dope (London), March 1984.

Heinrich, D., "La Pologne par le coeur," in Cinéma (Paris), 10 February 1988.

Manceau, Jean-Louis, "Visitez l'oeuvre de Kawalerowicz," in Cinema 72 , June 1990.

Tabêcki, Jacek, "Jerzy Kawalerowicz," in Iluzjion , no. 3–4, 1993.

Helman, Alicja, "Mistrz psychologicznej gry," in Kino (Warsaw), March 1997.

* * *

It is no simple matter to give a precise characterization of Jerzy Kawalerowicz. His work is full of twists and turns, strange shifts, and new experiments. The films of Kawalerowicz are uneven; it is as though the filmmaker, after momentary triumphs and outstanding artistic achievements, would lapse into a crisis that prepared him for yet another masterpiece. His films are long in preparation. Between individual works come lengthy pauses in which the director carefully absorbs raw material from a wide range of disciplines in order to personally work it into film form. Only in a very few directors' works do we find such range, from the realistic film to the profound psychological drama, from the historical epic to the political drama.

Kawalerowicz has always gone his own way, and it has not been an easy path, especially when we realize that he has never turned back, never given a particular theme further development. Although he began at the same time as Wajda and Munk, he never created a work that belonged to the "Polish school of film." After his first independent film, Celuloza (Cellulose) , both a realistic portrayal and a literary adaptation, he never came back to this subject or form. In his next creative period he quickly turned out several films that are unusual analytic studies of human relationships, earnest pyschological examinations of lonely people marked by war (The Real End of the Great War) , isolated while travelling on an overnight express (Night) , or within the walls of a cloister (Mother Joanna of the Angels). Kawalerowicz demonstrates his creative mastery with these films. In fact, they initiated an entire trend of intimate dramas, popular with other directors several years later.

The historical epic Faraon (Pharaoh) , adapted from the celebrated novel by Boleslaw Prus, is once again unusual in composition. It is a film on a grand scale, a monumental fresco, but at the same time an unusual psychological film with political and philosophical elements. In this drama of a struggle for power in ancient Egypt, the director finds room for an account of human qualities, motives, and feelings.

Emotions are the leitmotif of Kawalerowicz's work. After the grand epic Faraon , the filmmaker attempted a return to the intimate, psychologically-oriented film. A crisis sets in. His subsequent work fails to attain the level of his earlier pieces. There is a kind of break, a respite that will bear fruit in the later, purely political film and documentary drama Death of a President. The approach taken by Kawalerowicz in this film, which is the chronicle of an actual event—the assassination of President Gabriel Natutowicz in the 1930s—served as the director's credo. "When we studied the documents and the testimony and compiled the chronology of events, we ascertained that the drama of history, the drama of real events, is far more persuasive than what we ourselves could invent." Captivated by the facts, Kawalerowicz relates not only a real-life event but also a common human story that is timeless. After this film, critics expected the director to continue in this same genre, in which he had shown such mastery. But once again Kawalerowicz was experimenting with new genres and forms, though outstanding literary works and actual political or historical events, shaped into provocative dramas, remain the foundation of his creative work.

—Vacláv Merhaut

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