On 9th October 2016 we said goodbye to a remarkable artist, renowned film director and guardian of Polish cinematography, Andrzej Wajda. His passing was a great loss not only for Polish film, but for Polish art in general. Artists who have had the honour of working with him call him a master. For more than 70 years Wajda taught us important lessons about culture and tradition, and was not afraid of dealing with complicated issues from Polish history. His works are a must-see for every Polish intellectual. Read our pick of 12 films by Andrzej Wajda you need to watch.

1. A Generation (Pokolenie, 1955)

An impressive debut from Zbigniew Cybulski, Roman Polański and Andrzej Wajda. The film tells the story of a thief who tries to survive the German occupation of Poland during World War II. The picture presents complex relations between various resistance movements, including the Home Army and the Union of Youth Struggle. At the outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the characters set out to help the insurgents.

2. Sewer (Kanał, 1957)

The director’s first international success, which was awarded the Cannes Silver Palm. The film is based on a short story by Jerzy Stawiński and gives an account of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The message of the work is very grim, but so was the fate of those who fought for their lives in the uprising – the heroic struggle of the characters ends in death.

3. Ashes and Diamonds (Popiół i diament, 1958)

The film is set in 1945 and shows the dilemmas of a young Home Army soldier who is wondering if the fight against communism in Poland still makes sense. In this motion picture, Wajda shows a problem faced by an entire generation. The main character, Marek Chełmicki, is played by Zbigniew Cybulski.

4. The Ashes (Popioły, 1965)

A film adaptation of a novel by Stefan Żeromski and the acting debut of Rafał Olbrychski, who Wajda called “brilliant”, particularly considering other actors, like Beata Tyszkiewicz and Pola Raksy, whose performances – in the director’s opinion – were not as impressive. The Ashes take us back to the time of the Napoleonic Wars and touch upon the issue of national liberation. Despite the fact that communist authorities were strongly involved in the production of this film, it remains to be one of Wajda’s best works.

5. Everything for Sale (Wszystko na sprzedaż, 1968)

It is a film about filmmaking and about the master himself. It is full of autobiographical elements and the director’s reflections. The story starts when an actor doesn’t show up to a film set. Shortly after, his loved ones learn of his death. The film pays homage to the late actor Zbigniew Cybulski, who often worked with the director.

6. The Wedding (Wesele, 1972)

Can adapting school required readings be art? When it comes to combining the genius of Stanisław Wyspiański and Wajda’s artistry, it undoubtedly is. The Wedding provides a unique interpretation of the strange, mysterious and – above all else – symbolic message of Wyspiański’s play of the same name. The cast is just icing on the cake and includes Rafał Olbrychski, Ewa Ziętek and Andrzej Łapiński.

7. The Promised Land (Ziemia obiecana, 1974)

The screen adaptation of Władysław Reymont’s novel directed by Wajda was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1976, but didn’t win because of it’s alleged anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, in 2014 Martin Scorsese described the work as a masterpiece of Polish cinema. The titular promise land is the industrial city of Łódź, where the three main characters – a Pole, a German and a Jew – come to make their dreams come true. With time, however, they abandon noble ideals for the sake of profit.

8. Man of Marble (Człowiek z marmuru, 1976)

It is important to understand that creating this film under communist rule was not easy. The film was a critique of the Stakhanovite Movement, which originated in Russia. A young film school student played by Krystyna Janda is making a graduation film about Mateusz Birkut, a ‘model worker’ who became the symbol of social realism. However, during production, she reveals facts which expose the harsh reality of communist rule. Because of the subject matter, the distribution of the film in Poland was strictly limited by censorship, but it was shown at the Cannes Festival.

9. Man of Iron (Człowiek z żelaza, 1981)

The film is a continuation of the story of the Birkut family, starring Krystyna Janda and Jerzy Radziwiłłowicz. It is set in Gdańsk in the midst of the events of 1980 (very recent at the time) which marked the beginning of the fall of communism in Poland. The titular man of iron is Maciek Tomczyk, a shipyard worker and strike committee activist. A journalist named Winkel is sent to Gdańsk to discredit Tomczyk in the public eye. The film is said to document the birth of the Solidarity movement.

10. Walesa. Man of Hope (Wałęsa – człowiek z nadziei, 2013)

The final instalment of the trilogy, following the two films mentioned above. The director decided that the story of Lech Wałęsa, the charismatic electrician who became the leader of the Solidarity movement, will be the perfect conclusion to a series of films about the history of Polish workers and their fight against the Polish People's Republic. Man of Hope – a title with which many would agree – puts the events of 1980 in a broader context. The titular character was played by the brilliant Robert Więckiewicz.

11. Katyń (2007)

No other director could deal with a matter so difficult for Poland and international politics. Katyń is a war drama which depicts the 1940 massacre of Polish POW officers ordered by the Soviet authorities and the subsequent suppression of truth about the event under communist rule. The film caused international controversy and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but didn’t win. The film premiered on 17th September 2007, the anniversary of the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland.

12. Afterimage (Powidoki, 2016)

The artist’s last work premiered on 13 January 2017, shortly after his death. Afterimage tells the story of a Polish artist, Władysław Strzemiński, whose works and beliefs don’t agree with the cultural and political programme of the Polish United Workers' Party. The Oscar-nominated film has earned international recognition.

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