Friday Editor’s Pick: The Devil (1972)

by on March 9, 2012Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Fri March 16 at 6:50, 9:15 at BAMcinématek [Program & Tix]

Another rarity (with live subtitle projections care of BAM and the Polish Cultural Institute) in BAM’s “Hysterical Excess: Discovering Andrzej Zulawski.” This one got him kicked out of Poland.

Dan Callahan entices in his feature for Alt Screen:

Zulawski’s second feature, The Devil (1972), follows a madman, Jakub (Leszek Teleszynski), on an increasingly bloody walking tour through the Polish countryside after the Prussian invasion of 1793. As an electric guitar wails on the soundtrack, Jakub sternly surveys many scenes of sexual excess, taking a straight razor to the throats of many a hysterical woman. He discovers his father’s dead body while a vindictive dwarf plays a kazoo nearby, and his sister confesses, “I’ve learned to take pleasure in beating,” after getting a bucketful of water flung in her face (the water wets the camera lens as well). The dwarf then throws a handful of dirt into Jakub’s face as he tries to bury his father, and this is followed by Jakub nearly sleeping with his own mother.


“That was an embarrassment of thrills,” says a man at one point in The Devil, carrying his caterwauling blond lover away from a ballroom orgy dominated by misplaced sexual urges and warped patriotism. By the end, it is suggested that The Devil himself is at the bottom of all this trouble, and this Devil is actually castrated on screen. For Zulawski, sexual self-indulgence appears to be at the root of most evil, but the authorities in Poland only saw the licentious surface and not the underlying moralizing, and so The Devil was banned and forced the director to leave his country to find work. It is the film of a conservative and very despairing man who (judging from his movies alone), has serious issues with sex, women and homosexuality.

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Wednesday Editor’s Pick: L’amour Braque (1985)

by on March 8, 2012Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Wed March 14 at 7:00 at BAMcinématek [Program & Tix]

Coverage of the “Hysterical Excess: Discovering Andrzej Zulawski” series at BAM thru March 20: J. Hoberman for the New York Times; Kristin M. Jones for The Wall Street Journal; Michał Oleszczyk for The House Next Door; plus our roundup on Possession. Stay tuned for an Alt Screen feature from Dan Callahan.

Subtitles are projected live care of BAM and the Polish Cultural Institute, so suffice to say, this is an all too rare opportunity to catch this one on the big screen.
Jeremiah Kipp provides further convincing, for The House Next Door:

Beautifully photographed in expressively vibrant hues by renowned French cinematographer Jean François Robin, using the visual style of Żuławski’s camera that pursues actors as they careen through streets, up winding staircases, and rushing through hallways into common spaces that they routinely demolish hand-over-fist, L’amour braque is one of the best kinds of entertainment: unclassifiable. Opening with a heist with the fluidity of a musical number timed to the choppy nervous rhythm of heavy breathing and adrenaline-infused panic, four men with guns, dressed in jumpsuits and Disney character masks, bash their way into an opulent bank. The handful of robberies and break-ins throughout the movie are punctuated by a purple haze of bombs going off, flamethrower carnage, and cackling verbal nonsense that’s a crazy mix of pidgin French, slang, poetry, pop culture references and allusions (some literary, some historic, some seemingly private jokes meant to throw us off).
The dialogue was written by Etienne Roda-Gil, a much revetred, audacious experimental songwriter taking his first stab at screenwriting. The resulting text moves beyond Dostoyevsky and is nowhere near the self-conscious cool of Beneix or Besson films. It seems to have been written in the spirit of radical, love-crazy joy and hot idealism, as well as a belief that we’re all damned in the end. Roda-Gil and Żuławski are an inspired team, both radical spirits willing to push for something beyond our narrow definitions of naturalism, and the sheer soaring reach of the script winds up getting much closer to the depths of the human heart.

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Andrzej Zulawski retro at BAM (Mar 07-20)

by on March 7, 2012Posted in: Essay

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Wednesday Editor’s Pick: The Third Part of the Night (1971)

by on February 27, 2012Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Wed March 7 at 7:30 at BAMcinématek [Program & Tix]

Fresh on the heels of the glowing reception to Polish polarizer Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession last year at Film Forum, BAM offers a chance to go deeper with “Hysterical Excess: Discovering Andrzej Zulawski“. Unfortunately, the director had to cancel his scheduled appearances due to health reasons, but there are still plenty of enticing rarities to be enjoyed – including a new 35mm of this, his debut feature, to kick off the series.

No better introduction than Alt Screen contributor Michael Atkinson, for Film Comment (Jan/Feb 2003):

In cultural terms, nobody becomes the haloed object of our fascination and devotion more quickly or surely than the artist-outlaw, he for whom aesthetic conventions are merely scrap meat for chop pie, and for whom transcendent vindication as a presence in the human throng is found in the all-or-nothing Fuck You, regardless of the penalties. Much of the fervent ardor of cinephiles is reserved for those who defy the orthodoxies of the world’s costliest and most cumbersome medium. Everyone will invoke their favorite martyr, but before them all I will pit Andrzej Zulawski. Few other filmmakers have maintained a voice, come hell or high water, as divisive, anarchic, and ludicrously overwrought. Saying Zulawski is an acquired taste is handling him with tongs; a filmgoer either has the flesh-in-the– teeth lust for his emotional, visual, and narrative pandemonium-or they do not. Naturally, Zulawski boosters are few but fierce; if an argument can be made for him, it would necessarily be in the form of a bludgeoning harangue. If he has a world cinema profile it is as a film festival scourge beloved for his violations. In the U.S., he is all but entirely unknown.
Zulawski debuted in 1971 with The Third Part of the Night, a wrenching nightmare about the Nazi occupation that is virtually divested of historical markers, instead focusing, in the director’s particular manner, on paranoid panic and Theater of Cruelty catharsis. In the first scene, the family of the tortured hero (Leszek Teleszynski) is butchered by the Gestapo, and from there the film’s a nonstop bolt through a clammy dys-Europa. In fact, the movie’s context is so abstracted and soaked with queasiness, so crowded with doppelgangers, raving lunacy, sudden corpses, secret signals, and intimations of plague, that the upshot is baldly Kafkaesque. Finally, the Resistance-bound hero becomes a startlingly horrible variety of collaborator, joining a lab-coated assembly line of self-vampirizing workers who systemically inject their own blood into the bowels of monstrous lice. If you’re going to make a mark on Euro-cinema, then or now, this is one way to do it.

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