Jan Lenica - Writer

Animator and director. Nationality: French. Born: Poznan, Poland, 4 January 1928; became French citizen. Education: Educated in architectural engineering, Polytechnic, Warsaw, until 1952. Family: Married Merja Alanen, 1969, children: Anneli and Maia. Career: 1945—published humorous and satirical drawings; 1948—first one man show, Warsaw; 1950—began designing posters; 1957—began collaboration with Walerian Borowczyk; 1958—left Poland to work in France; 1960s—poster designs featured in numerous international exhibitions; 1963—left France for West Germany; 1990s—professor of graphic design, Hochschule der Künste, Berlin. Awards: Polish Film Critics Prize for Once upon a Time . . . , 1957; Golden Dragon, Cracow, and Polish Film Critics Prize, for New Janko the Musician , 1960; Golden Dragon, Cracow, for Labyrinth , 1962; Grand Prix, Oberhausen Festival, for A , 1964; Golden Lion, Venice Festival, for Woman the Flower , 1965.

Films as Director and Animator:


Był sobie raz . . . ( Once upon a Time . . . ) (with Walerian Borowczyk); Nagrodzone uczucie ( Love Required ) (with Borowczyk); Strip-Tease (with Borowczyk—under 3 min)


Dom ( The House ) (with Borowczyk); Sztandar młodych ( Banner of Youth ) (with Borowczyk—under 3 min)


Monsieur Tête ( Mr. Head ) (with Borowczyk)


Nowy Janko muzykant ( New Janko the Musician )


Italia 61 ( Italy 61 ) (with W. Zamecznik—under 3 min, film lost)


Labirynt ( Labyrinth )


Die Nashörner ( Rhinoceroses )




La Femme-Fleur ( Woman the Flower )


Weg zum Nachbarn (under 3 min; for Oberhausen Festival)


Adam II ( Adam 2 ); Stilleben ( Still Life )


Nature morte


Fantorro, le dernier justicier ( Fantorro, the Last Just Man )


Life Size (under 3 min)




Ubu Roi ( King Ubu )


Ubu et la Grande Gidouille ( Ubu and the Great Gidouille )

Films as Animator:



Cul-de-sac (Polanski)


Quatre Mouches de velours gris ; César et Rosalie (Sautet)


Le Petit Poucet (Boisrond)


Das kleine Fernsehspiel


By LENICA: books—

Plakat Tadeusza Trepkowskiego , Warsaw, 1958.

With Alfred Sauvy, Population Explosion , New York, 1962.

Monsieur Tête , text by Eugène Ionesco, Munich, 1970.

By LENICA: article—

Animafilm , April/June 1980.

On LENICA: books—

Kauzyński, Zygmunt, Jan Lenica , Warsaw, 1963.

Kristahn, Heinz-Jürgen, editor, Das polnische Plakat von 1892 bis heute , Berlin, 1981.

Kristahn, Heinz-Jürgen, editor, Jan Lenica , Berlin, 1981.

On LENICA: articles—

"Jan Lenica," in Film (London), Summer 1963.

"Animation Quartet," in International Film Guide (London), 1966.

"Artist and Animator," in Film (London), Spring 1972.

"Jan Lenica," in Polish Film Polonaise (Warsaw), no. 5, 1976.

Cornand, A., "Le Festival d'Annecy et les rencontres internationales du cinéma d'animation," in Image et Son (Paris), January 1977.

Bassan, R., "L'Enfer tranquille de Jan Lenica," in Image et Son (Paris), July-August 1980.

Film Quarterly , vol. 45, no. 4, 1992.

* * *

Jan Lenica's checkered career has encompassed excursions into music, architecture, poster-making, costume design, children's book illustration, and all aspects of filmmaking. It is, however, for his animation that he is best known, particularly his collage and "cutout" films, which have their roots in the art of Max Ernst and John Heartfield. The films have influenced the work of Jan Švankmajer and Terry Gilliam.

In the 1950s, his films with Walerian Borowczyk led an aesthetic revolution in Poland that sent reverberations all over the Eastern European animation scene. Before Lenica entered the scene, Polish animation consisted mainly of American-influenced character animation, over which the shadow of Walt Disney lugubriously hung, sometimes with vaguely political overtones on the fringe. Lenica and Borowczyk moved the avant-garde into the mainstream. They attempted to forge a new experimental cinema that would coalesce contemporary artistic practices such as abstraction, collage, and satirical surrealism without jettisoning commitment to the Marxist concepts of artistic integration of form and content and art for the masses. Often their films deal with alienation in a modern world, and the challenge of the detritus of history, figured in their use of old newspaper and postcards and the ironic confrontation with the "Great Masters" of painting which consume the protagonist of Once upon a Time . . . . In The House , a wide range of techniques illustrate a strange mechanical rite. The rough simplicity of their materials in these films conveys simultaneously the menace of an absurd disordered universe, and an affecting artlessness of execution.

The films Lenica made on his own, like Borowczyk's later work, are even more preoccupied with the grotesque, though Lenica's are more concerned with the confrontation of innocent Everymen and modern Candides, with a hellish world of threatening technology—violent, unpredictable, and self-referential. In this, they are reminiscent of the work of contemporaneous literary figures, such as Beckett, Ionesco, Jarry, and the newly rediscovered Kafka, and belie an interest in the Existentialism which was then all the rage in Paris, where Lenica moved in 1958. Monsieur Tête and Rhinoceroses are some of his most self-consciously literary works, though still in the style of The House . Labyrinth , with its butterfly-men and giant reptiles, depicts a nightmare world of misbegotten genetic experiments, yet the beauty of some of the surreal creations depicted in it suggest a visionary and fantastic view as much as that of a pessimistic dystopian. The triumph of the beleaguered office worker in Adam II (1969) pointed to a resurgent optimism in Lenica's work. It can be read also as an allegory of the artist under communism, a theme more ambiguously rendered by the Estonian animator, Pritt Pjarn, in his masterful Hotel E (1991). One troubling aspect of Lenica's work remains the presence of a certain latent misogyny, particularly evinced by Nature morte , that is somewhat reminiscent of his compatriot Roman Polanski, for whom he designed the British film posters for Repulsion and Cul-de-sac .

During the 1970s, Lenica's animated output was considerably reduced as he became more interested in teaching and costume and theater design. Ubu Roi , his adaptation of Jarry's play, marked a significant departure from the best-known work of his early career, with its hand-drawn images and more static quality. Jarry's text, however, was attractive to Lenica due to its emphasis on the grotesque and the satirical, which complemented Lenica's earliest interest in caricature. He said in an interview that, "The art of animation is stretched between two extremes. On the one side there is Walt Disney with his enormous popularity and resonance with viewers, and on the other there are quests, experiments, interesting as they are, but separated from audiences. I would like to bring these two extremes closer together, to find a golden mean for them, that is to win viewers on the one hand, while not losing anything of what is my own style. Ubu is precisely the outcome of this striving." The reconciliation of extremes is a concern which pervades his work as a whole.

—Leslie Felperin Sharman

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