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Skolimowski, Jerzy (1938-)

Director, Actor, Producer

Main image of Skolimowski, Jerzy (1938-)

Jerzy Skolimowski was born on 5 May 1938 in Lodz, Poland. In 1963 he graduated from the Lodz Film School. By then he had already published poetry, played minor film parts and written scripts and dialogue for the films of his older colleagues, Andrzej Wajda and Roman Polanski. In 1964 he made his debut film, Rysopis (Identification Marks) which was followed by two movies with the same protagonist, Andrzej Leszczyc, a young man looking for a place in contemporary Poland, played by Skolimowski himself. The last one, Rece do góry (Hands Up!, Poland, 1967), was shelved due to its critical portrayal of Polish Stalinism, and precipitated Skolimowski's decision to leave Poland. Since then he has worked in several countries, including the UK. His films often concentrate on outsiders, people who are either literally or metaphorically displaced, which reflects Skolimowski's own position as an émigré artist.

In Britain, where he enjoyed his greatest successes in the 1970s and early 1980s, his best known films are The Shout (1978) and Moonlighting (1982). The first film, based on a novella by Robert Graves and featuring Alan Bates, Susannah York and John Hurt, depicts a madman, or perhaps genius, who has supernatural powers, including the ability to kill with his shout. It is a study in power and manipulation as well as a consideration of the subtle difference between truth and falsehood. Skolimowski shows here an ability to create a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere and convey a sense of place. The film opens with an archetypal English image of a cricket match played in an idyllic rural setting, but the match is against the inmates of a mental asylum.

Moonlighting was Skolimowski's quirky response to the introduction of martial law in his native Poland in December 1981. Jeremy Irons plays the leader of a group of Polish builders renovating the house of a rich Londoner. He keeps his fellow countrymen in the dark about the political situation in Poland, for reasons which are not completely clear to the audience. Although Moonlighting is ostensibly about Polish problems, it captures excellently the mood of Thatcherite Britain, with its stringent division between rich and poor. Of his later films, the most significant is 30 Door Key (1991), based on the novel Ferdydurke by the Polish émigré author Witold Gombrowicz, in which Skolimowski returns to his early fascination with the transition between adolescence and adulthood.

In recent years Skolimowski has occupied himself with painting, which he now regards as a greater passion than cinema. He also occasionally plays small roles in the films of other directors, including Mars Attacks! (US, d. Tim Burton, 1996) and Operacja Samum (Poland, d. Wladyslaw Pasikowski, 1999).

Powers, John, 'Under Western Eyes', American Film, Dec. 1986, pp. 38-42, 52
Strick, Philip, 'Skolimowski's Cricket Match', Sight and Sound, Summer 1978, pp. 146-147
Yakir, Dan, 'Polestar', Film Comment, Nov.-Dec. 1982, pp. 28-32

Ewa Mazierska, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

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Thumbnail image of Moonlighting (1982)Moonlighting (1982)

Jerzy Skolimowski's masterly study of Poles trapped in a strange country

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