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BARRIER + HANDS UP! (DOUBLE BILL)

Director: JERZY SKOLIMOWSKI


BARRIER

FILM INFO: 77 minutes, Poland, 1966, Subtitled, Black and White, 35mm, Print courtesy of the Polish Film Archive

One of Skolimowski’s finest films and the one that established his high reputation with critics in the West, Barrier successfully combines elements of realism and surrealism to present a disenchanted picture of a 1960s’ Polish society haunted by the oppressive weight of past glories. Rebelling against values that appear frozen in the past is a medical student (Jan Nowicki) who chases a quizzical blonde tram driver (Joanna Szczerbic) he meets, loses and finally finds again. Skolimowski presents the now familiar conflict between the generations in a series of dazzling visual metaphors as his nonconformist protagonist sets off on his journey round a Warsaw thronged with identically attired commuters, religious ceremonies and menacing buildings of glass and concrete. As the critic Bruce Hodsdon has observed, Barrier’s ‘mosaic structure, with its recurring images of resurrection and rebirth, is movingly poetic and often ironic’.

HANDS UP!

FILM INFO: 79 minutes, Poland, 1981, Subtitled, Colour/Black and White, 35mm, Print courtesy of the Polish Film Archive

After making his first film abroad (Le Depart), Skolimowski returned to Poland in 1967 to complete the Andrzej Leszczyc trilogy. Hands Up! proved to be his most politically audacious work and was promptly banned. A psychodrama about the insidious effects of Stalinism on Skolimowski’s once rebellious generation, it focuses on a surreal gathering of ex-student friends (now doctors in the grip of middle-aged conformity) in a railway carriage as they mull over the oppressive control of the Communist regime. Skolimowski said he was ‘fully aware that he was digging a hole in the system’ and fled abroad after the film’s ban. In 1980, at the height of Solidarity, he was invited back to bring Hands Up! ‘more up to date.’ He removed about one third of the original footage and added new material filmed in London and Beirut (where he had been acting in Volker Schlondorff’s Circle of Deceit), which features him ruminating on the deceptive nature of art and politics.

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