giovedì 7 luglio 2011

Jerzy Skolimowski, Essential Filming

In these days in Paris there is a great film-festival, the Festival Paris Cinéma, that takes place at the beginning of July every year since 2002. I love it: the offer of movies is simply AMAZING! The program foresees an international competition, various premières, complete retrospectives of few authors and a bunch of guests of honour as well as a country of honour (Mexico, in this case). One of this year’s special guests is the Polish film-maker Jerzy Skolimowski, whose cinema has always intrigued me. On Tuesday night, Skolimoswki was at the Nouveau Latina for a meeting with the public and your indefatigable cinema blogger was there!
Skolimowski (born in Lodz in 1938) looks like a cool, clever and ironic guy: very elegant, a pair of dark sunglasses to cover his eyes, he talked to the audience for more than one hour about his cinema. He doesn’t speak French, so there was a translator ready to let us understand his ideas and thoughts. Skolimowski started his career by co-writing Roman Polanski’s first feature-length, the incredible Knife in the water (a must-seen of cinema history) while still attending the prestigious Lodz National Film School. Between 1964 and 1984, he completed six semi-autobiographical features in which he sometimes played the main role (because, he confessed, when he was young he didn’t have the money to hire a professional actor). As a matter of fact, he kept playing in movies, and you can maybe remember him in LA without a map by Mika Kaurismaki, Before Night Falls by Julian Schnabel or in Eastern Promises by David Cronenberg. After a series of movies based upon novels that he made "for money" and that didn’t contain any “personal element” (by his own admission), Skolimowski stopped making films at the end of the 80s. Luckily enough, he made a coming back in 2008 with the great Four Nights with Anna and then last year with Essential Killing. The movie won the Special Jury Prize at the 2010 Venice Film Festival and Vincent Gallo the Best Actor's award for his incredible interpretation of this Taliban escaping from justice through the cold, snowy and lonely Polish mountains.  
Traumatised by the Second World War (his father was killed by the Nazis), Skolimowski had troubles also with the Polish censorship and was obliged to quit his country (he then lived in London and in LA for many years). While presenting one of his movies in NY in the late 60s, he received a letter from Jean-Luc Godard in which the French film-maker tried to cheer him up towards bad critics: “Don’t worry about what the American critics are writing on your cinema... you and I, we are the best directors in the world!”.

The meeting with the public was followed by the screening of a real gem: Moonlighting, a movie that Skolimowski filmed in London in 1981. I was personally LONGING to see this picture again: I saw it just once in the 80s and I had the most wonderful memory of it. And now I better understand why.
Moonlighting tells the story of four Polish workers arriving in London to renovate their boss apartment. Only one of them, Novak, is able to speak English, and becomes the intermediary between the other three and their new reality. Being illegal workers, they are obliged to stay hidden in the apartment: they are lonely, away from their country and their families, and short on money. Worst of all, when Novak finds out that in Polland the martial law has been declared after a military putsch, he decides not to give the news to his mates. Will they be able to complete the work they came in England for? Will they be able to go back to their country?  
Outstanding and intense social drama, Moonlighting is Skolimowski’s cinema at its best: the style is essential, almost dry, the scenes are constructed to build up a sense of instability, doubt, anguish and alienation. The progressive distance between Novak and the other workers is subtly and masterfully composed. It is almost a thriller, where the suspense is created by unexpected and uneasy events. A story of survival (as it is often the case in Skolimowski’s cinema) and of loss of innocence (the corrupt and capitalistic Western part of Europe vs the innocent and communist Eastern part but also the dramatic drift of the communism). With just few dialogues and a powerful composition of key-scenes, Skolimowski delivered us a true masterpiece. Easy task, I have to say, when you can count on Jeremy Irons to play Novak. Irons, 33 years old at the time, was known until then for his roles in Brideshead Revisited and The French Lieutenant’s Woman. In Moonlighting, he shows what he is able to do: MERAVIGLIE! (oh, and in Polish, of course).   
An essential actor in an essential movie.

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