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Afterimage Review

By David Kempler

Art Under Fire

Andrzej Witold Wajda is considered by some to be the greatest Polish director ever. His career included winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes, and being honored with a Golden Lion, Golden Bear, and an honorary Oscar. He also was nominated on four occasions for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

"Afterimage" is a biographical look at the famed artist and writer, Władysław Strzemiński, and it's Wajda's final film. He died at 90, not long after its completion. It's not a complete biography. It concentrates on his life after Poland fell under Soviet rule and how his career and life were destroyed by the Communist government, putting its thumb on free speech and artistry, in general. Watching it, it's difficult to not think of similar views held by those in power today.

The film opens in Poland in 1948. The Soviet influence on the country has caused the formation of a political office that arrests all perceived political opponents, including those involved in the arts. Strzemiński (Bogusław Linda) is now primarily a Fine Arts teacher who is beloved by his students. He is one of the few who continues to rail against the new Stalinist oppression of artists. To him, without freedom of speech, there can be no art. Government officials disagree. Their opinion is that art that does not advance their political agenda is dangerous. It's not hard to guess which side will win this dispute.

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As time passes, Strzeminski loses battle after battle with the government. He loses his contract as a lecturer at the school. His food stamps are taken from him because he has lost his job and under this regime, food is only for those who earn. Finally, the police shut down the museum where his artwork is on display and then physically destroy his work.

Left with almost nothing, he bounces from one small job to even smaller ones, with his health deteriorating rapidly. It's painful to watch a vivacious and talented human being slowly disintegrate due to these oppressive political forces. What makes it even more powerful is the outstanding job turned in by Bogusław Linda. There is never a moment where you can't feel his pain.

As I mentioned earlier, some are attempting to put similar cuffs on the arts today. No, of course, it's not nearly as dire a situation as what went on in Poland in 1948. Yet. But what Wajda has created can serve as a warning to what could easily come to pass if certain people in power have their way. "Afterimage" is a near-great film, and its message takes on more meaning when you realize just how easily a society can unravel, under the right (or wrong) circumstances.

What did you think?

Movie title Afterimage
Release year 2016
MPAA Rating NR
Our rating
Summary Polish director Andrzej Witold Wajda's final film is a very powerful look at how a government can destroy opposition opinion. It's especially timely now.
View all articles by David Kempler
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