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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