Increased social unrest following the deposition of Gierek in September 1980 led to the imposition of martial law under General Wojciech Jaruzelski in October 1981 and the subsequent arrest of Solidarity leaders, including Lech Wałȩsa. The country's grave economic problems, including food shortages, remained unresolved. Enthusiasm for the election of Archbishop Karol Wojtyla as pope in 1978 followed by his visits to his native country in 1979 and 1983 also helped to undermine the legitimacy of the secular authorities. Several controversial films were banned—most notoriously Ryszard Bugajski's (b. 1943) Przesĺuchanie ( Interrogation , 1982), which attacked the police-state mentality that seemed to be returning to the country—and screenings of films from the West declined sharply. Meanwhile, television and video, together with overtly commercial films such as Sexmisja ( Sexmission , Juliusz Machulski, 1984), were beginning to drain audiences from serious attempts to understand the country's problems. Nevertheless, Zanussi, Holland, and Kieslowski continued to act as the country's moral conscience in films that examined themes of conformism, corruption, cynicism, and cronyism. Zanussi and Holland, along with Wajda, made important co-productions in France and Germany (Zanussi's Rok Spokojnego Slonca [ The Year of the Quiet Sun , 1984], Holland and Wajda's Danton  and Eine Liebe in Deutschland [ A Love in Germany , 1983]). Zanussi also had a brief and unhappy experience working in the United States. Kieślowski emerged as an internationally acclaimed figure with his masterly Dekalog ( Decalogue , 1988), originally made as ten hour-long films for television, though they were subsequently released for cinema screenings as well. Taken together, these emerged as a comprehensive study of contemporary Polish society, examined with acute psychological insight into moral flaws and weaknesses, and also occasional triumphs.
By 1989, the failure of both the Communist experiment and martial law itself had become too obvious to ignore any longer; free elections in 1989 swept Jaruzelski from power, replacing him with a government under the control of Solidarity. The film industry, which had begun its own reorganization in 1987 with a new film law, was now removed from state control completely, forcing filmmakers to receive only minimal state subsidies and to rely increasingly on private financing and commercial success for survival. Previously banned, or "shelved," films such as Bugajski's Interrogation , Jerzy Domaradzki's (b. 1943) Wielki Bieg ( The Big Race , 1981), and Holland's Kobieta Samotna ( A Woman Alone , 1981)—controversial, courageous depictions of the events and conditions prevailing in Communist Poland—were released, and Poland witnessed the formation of many independent studios in place of the old film units. Some of the most important studios at the time were Filip Bajon's Dom, Jerzy Kawalerowicz's Kadr, Tadeusz Chmielewski's Oko, Janusz Morgenstern's Perspektywa, Bohdan Porȩba's Profil, Krzysztof Zanussi's Tor, Janusz Machulski's Zebra, Jerzy Hoffman's Zodiak, and the Karol Irzykowski Film Studio. As in other countries of the former Soviet bloc, however, audiences seemed to have opted for escapism and sensationalism rather than intellectual and political challenges, and the results of these changes have been, at best, mixed.
Andrzej Wajda remains first among equals in a remarkable pantheon of Polish directors working since World War II, contributing more than any other director to Polish national cinema. Director of more than forty-five films and forty theater productions in Poland and worldwide, he received an Oscar ® for lifetime achievement in 2000, characteristically and modestly accepting it as a tribute to all of Polish cinema.
Wajda's early career was deeply affected by his experience of the Polish Holocaust as it affected both Poles and Polish Jews during is youth. He studied painting at Kraków's Academy of Fine Art until 1949 and then joined the L̃ ódź Film School, graduating in 1953. Wajda became assistant to Aleksander Ford on Piątka z Ulicy Barskiej ( Five Boys from Barska Street , 1954), made during the dying phase of Socialist Realism. In 1955, he directed the first part of his famous war trilogy, Pokolenie ( A Generation ), followed by Kanal (1957) and his early masterpiece, Popiól i diament ( Ashes and Diamonds , 1958). Until 1989, Wajda had to negotiate the propagandistic demands of the state censorship and funding system even as his Polish audience looked to him for information about its latest imprisonment, having lost its independence for many of the previous two hundred years. He accomplished this through a stylistic hybridity that at the time was seen by some as eclectic and baroque. For instance, in the film Lotna (1959), aesthetics overshadowed the film's meaning. This honest film about the brutality of the first day of World War II in Poland turned into a stunning portrayal of Polish cavalry attacking German tanks.
His next great period began with Wszystko na sprzedaż ( Everything for Sale ) in 1969, a requiem for his work with iconic actor Zbigniew Cybulski and a reflexive meditation on film. Krajobraz po bitwie ( Landscape After the Battle ) in 1970 continued his career-long attempt to grapple with Holocaust representation. His adaptation of Stanis l aw Wyspianski's Wesele ( The Wedding ) in 1973 continued his engagement with the Polish literary canon. This period concluded with the diptych of Czlowiek z marmuru ( Man of Marble ) in 1977 and Człowiek z żelaza ( Man of Iron ) in 1981. Both films described the corruption of the Socialist system and the rise to power of the political opposition in Poland.
After the revolution of 1989, Wajda became a senator until 1991, confirming his place at the interface of politics and culture in Poland. In 1990, he made Korczak , one of his finest but perhaps most controversial films. Further work includes his elegiac reading of the national epic poem Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz (1999) and another adaptation of a Polish classic, Zemsta ( Revenge , 2002), a comedy starring Roman Polański.
Pokolenie ( A Generation , 1955), Kanal (1957), Popióli diament ( Ashes and Diamonds , 1958), Wszystko na sprzedaż ( Everything for Sale , 1969), Brzezina ( The Birchwood , 1970), Ziemia obiecana ( Promised Land , 1975), Czlowiek z marmuru ( Man of Marble , 1977), Panny z Wilka ( The Young Ladies of Wilko , 1979), Czlowiek z żelaza ( Man of Iron , 1981), Danton (1983)
Andrzejewski, Jerzy. Three Films: "Ashes and Diamonds"; "Kanal"; "A Generation." London: Lorrimer, 1973.
Falkowska, Janina. The Political Films of Andrzej Wajda: Dialogism in "Man of Marble," "Man of Iron," and "Danton." New York: Berghahn Books, 1996.
Michalek, Boleslaw. The Cinema of Andrzej Wajda . Translated by Edward Rothert. South Brunswick, NJ: A. S. Barnes, 1973.
Orr, John and Elzbieta Ostrowska. The Cinema of Andrzej Wajda . London: Wallflower Press, 2003.