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Film review: Afterimage – Andrzej Wajda’s final film a worthy manifesto on artistic freedom

The godfather of Polish cinema bowed out with this biopic of the avant-garde painter Wladyslaw Strzeminski, who was persecuted by the Communists for his visionary approach to the arts

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 June, 2017, 7:33am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 June, 2017, 7:33am

3.5/5 stars

During a formidable career that spanned seven decades, filmmaker Andrzej Wajda won an Academy Award and the Palme D’Or, and is widely acknowledged as the godfather of Polish cinema. Shortly before his death last October, at the grand old age of 90, Wajda saw his final film, Afterimage, screened at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Ostensibly a biopic of Polish avant-garde painter Wladyslaw Strzeminski, the film serves also as Wajda’s parting manifesto on artistic freedom. Despite losing an arm and a leg in the first world war, Strzeminski continued to paint throughout his life, as well as teach fine arts at the Higher School of Plastic Arts in Lodz, where he was revered by students.

Film world pays tribute to legendary Polish director Andrzej Wajda

A vocal supporter of artistic formalism and purity, Strzeminski suffered severe persecution from Poland’s pro-Communist coalition, as they forced a more literal, ideological doctrine on all means of artistic expression following the end of the second world war. Stripped of his position, privileges and power, Strzeminski fell into poverty and illness, ultimately succumbing to tuberculosis in 1952.

As Strzeminski, actor Boguslaw Linda gives a performance of incredible physicality and immense compassion, as he struggles to complete his thesis on “The Theory of Vision”, about the necessity for artistic formalism, while enduring ever-escalating persecution.

Flashback: Man of Iron – Andrzej Wajda’s 1981 film on the Polish Solidarity strike

Perhaps inevitably, the film falls short of Wajda’s earlier masterpieces – like Kanal, Ashes and Diamonds or Man of Iron – in terms of scale. Nevertheless, Afterimage exudes an energy and clarity that elevate it above its familiar cold war setting, to serve as a worthy statement from a true master of the cinematic arts.

Afterimage opens on June 8

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