Sunday, March 6, 2016

#22: Farewells and One-Room Tenants: the Stanislaw Dygat - Wojciech Has partnership

After spending some time watching and researching the prose-to-screen adaptations directed by Wojciech Has, I decided to write about Has’s collaborations with author Stanislaw Dygat: 1958’s Farewells (Partings, Lydia Ate the Apple, Pożegnania) and 1959’s One-Room Tenants (Wspólny pokój). I’ll also compare these adaptations with another adaptation of Dygat’s work: the 1967 Janusz Morgenstern film Jowita. These titles are all studies of society under pressure, defined by spaces and a particular time.

What characterized Stanislaw Dygat as a writer? According to Czesław Miłosz, Dygat’s first novel Lake of Constance “was directed at puncturing all the national clichés and the search for authenticity.” The novel fictionalizes Dygat’s own internment under the Nazis, who sent him to a low-security camp due to his French citizenship. “Dygat, with his humorous detachment, is no exception among Polish writers of the postwar years. They approach even the most hideous reality with a typically Polish mixture of the jocular and the macabre.” [18] Along with his short stories, novels, and plays, Dygat adapted several other works for other films.  Like Wojciech Has, Dygat refused to express affiliation with any party, but still voiced criticism of the status quo. Dygat, however, did so after joining and then resigning from the Communist party.
Dygat adapted his 1948 novel Pożegnania for Has. Its title has been translated into English as Farewells, Goodbye to the Past, and Lydia Ate the Apple. As the film begins, a young man named Pawel is spying on a kissing couple on the street from his upper-floor window. They leave by carriage before Pawel’s attention is called back into the room, toward reality and his duties. It is early 1939. Pawel, a student from an aristocratic family, is verbally reminded to follow through on his family’s plans for his studies and career. After this stern warning, Pawel heads for a nightclub. Romance develops between Pawel and the club escort Lidka. One time in the nightclub, the song “Pamiętasz, była jesień (Do you remember, it was fall)” plays, a popular song that happens to mention the film’s title, “Pożegnania,” in the second stanza:

Odszedłeś potem nagle, drzwi otwarte
Liść powiewem wiatru padł mi do nóg
I wtedy zrozumiałam: to się kończy
Pożegnania czas już przekroczyć próg

Then you left suddenly, the door ajar
A wind-blown leaf fell at my feet
And then I understood: here it ends
It is time to cross the threshold of parting

They soon escape to the countryside. Pawel’s father catches the couple in an inn, and pays Lidka to lead a more respectable life elsewhere. Lidka leaves on a train, and the screen fades to Pawel lying in bed. 

Gone is his clean-shaven, in-a-suit look; he is clad in a black turtleneck, with stubble on his face. Pawel rises in a room unfamiliar to the viewer. Details of the new setting seep in: cramped and makeshift living conditions, soldiers patrolling outside the window. It is early 1945. The city is under German control, with heavy forces to come. Pawel has escaped from Auschwitz. When he reconnects with his family, he discovers that Lidka married his cousin, and that the couple plans to escape from Poland. 

Only the abstract of Wojciech Świdziński’s 2007 Kwartalnik Filmowy essay “Farewells-What does Wojciech J. Has did [bid] Adieu to?” is translated into English. Yet even this paragraph offers worthwhile points to consider:
“Wojciech Jerzy Has began to reflect on the structure of time with his film 'Farewells'. The director was having a poetic dialogue, lined with irony, with the national tradition and prose of Stanisław Dygat when he made a film that entered the canon of the Polish school [author’s note: referring to the “Polish Film School” movement, discussed later in this piece], but at the same time stayed on the sidelines. Has was more interested in searching for lost time and observing how people, places and things had vanished than in History. The love affair of the film heroine and hero, Lidka and Paweł, is almost literally run over by the column of Soviet tanks in the closing scenes of the film. What mattered more was the game the pair was playing when they met each other and parted – it’s almost a sophisticated waste of new chances.” [23]

The two times are set in contrast. Yet even before the war, the characters are trapped by society and circumstance in one building or another, the nightclub or a family home. Lidka and Pawel’s room at an inn only served as refuge for a single night before they were discovered. In 1945, Pawel’s remaining extended family has gathered in the same mansion, and even non-related refugees are sleeping in the parlor. If those outside the landed class had to consider money in all matters –including romance– before the war, the war exacerbates the situation. Everyone becomes connected to the black market, and even aristocrats must concern themselves with the grubby business of basic survival. Conversations only occur when people need someone to talk with, or talk at; with growing reluctance to touch on the dreams and distractions of years before. 

Mieczyslaw Jahoda’s camera work captures baroque touches inthe looming paintings and sculptures. Key moments are often shot through windows, or with a foreground character looking towards the background. Compositions settle into Has’ typical tight diagonals and odd triangles or triangular spirals. The soft diffused light and hushed grace, however, differ from much of the deep-focus dark drama of Has’ other work, even from Jahoda’s extraordinary transitions from realism to heightened reality on Has’s feature debut The Noose, or the theatrical visual shifts Jahoda and Has employ in The Saragossa Manuscript

While reportedly not too strict in adapting the story, allowing Has’ images their strength, Dygat incorporates lengthy full quotes from his novel into the script. This quotation technique occurs in other Has adaptations before and after his collaborations with Dygat, regardless if Has or another person wrote the screenplay. For example, “…in Farewells the main characters stand at a bar and hold a conversation by quoting verses from Slowacki at one another.” [25] This instance of quotation-reference also gives some context to the themes Has and Dygat explored.  Juliusz Słowacki was a Lithuanian-born 19th-century poet and dramatist of the Polish Romantic movement, which reacted to collapsing old orders and strict Enlightenment rationality with introspective ruminations on spirit and nature.  “Since the oppressive hothouse conditions which fostered Polish Romanticism in the first place have continued in many respects to the present day, the Romantic tradition still reigns supreme in the Polish mind.” [2] Romanticism, in this view, is fostered by tumultuous times despite any shattering of ideals; whether it is the 18th century, WWII, or a particularly restrictive period of Communist rule. 

Dygat also wrote the dialogue for Wojciech Has’ 1959 adaptation of Zbigniew Uniłowski’s 1932 novel One-Room Tenants. Lucjan, an aspiring writer, is looking for an apartment after a stay in a sanatorium. His friends and eventual roommates include poets, students, and working women with varying degrees of ambition and disillusionment. “Neither of us lives on ideas,” the poet Dziadzia tells Lucjan. Characters, especially the intellectually inclined, often spit out fabrications, or sometimes speak just for the sake of speaking, to hear oneself aloud or to hold the attention of another person. Yet the characters are aware of the lies they tell themselves and each other. As one character says: “We need to create myths. They help us take reality less seriously.” When Dziadzia ruminates on how the appearance of the street below could shift into “the East, or Champs Elysees, or a forest road,” Lucjan replies, “Imagination is a liar.”

Over the course of the film, Lucjan’s illness strikes back, and he eventually cannot rise from his bed within the crowded apartment. “This is a very sad story about the creative feebleness of promising beginner artists, but also about the disease which deprives the main character, Lucjan, of hope for a better life.” [8] What I could find about the source novel in English argues that Uniłowski’s “drastic description of physiology…is meant to construct a symbolically marked space… it is a symbolic expression of his anthropological beliefs referring to the nature and man's duty. In this view a man is captivated by his physicality and can only strive to limit its power over himself…” In one scene Uniłowski juxtaposes “a gloomy sphere of biology (put in a blind kitchen) with the light which falls into the room through the window together with voices of a beautiful [woman] singing at work.” [26]

Zbigniew Uniłowski began writing the first chapters of One-Room Tenants in February 1931, at the residence of his longtime friend, the composer and pianist Karol Szymanowski. Szymanowski had been sick the previous years, sometimes barely able to write, undergoing treatment in Davos, Switzerland. In his letters to Uniłowski, Szymanowski expressed his wishes to have private accommodations. “I can’t stand guest houses, by reason of having to associate with strangers (especially unbearable women!).” It is not explicitly stated whether Uniłowski based the shared room and later ill state of Lucjan upon his own friend’s condition, although a forward to the letters written by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz states: “Karol was slightly perturbed [by the novel], but he later calmed down: he believed in Uniłowski’s talent.” [12]

How are these aspects rendered in the film? The main apartment and other settings are often very dark (except for a brighter-lit museum interlude), the camera roaming and peering through interiors. Faces and objects of note are either prominent in the frame, or stuffed between the contours of other bodies or objects. Cinematographer Stefan Matyjaszkiewicz shot One-Room Tenants to convey tension and constriction. Though the film starts outside on the street, it rarely follows the characters outside after that, sitting still while the characters gaze outward through windows and doorways. Lucjan and other characters will be confined, in one room or another.

Has’s adaptation updates the spatial topos of the body as a grave. The title room is a place of death for the main character. The disease and passing associated with this space allows the director to return to the theme of life resembling theatre. Above all, the room is a common space, characterised by a lack of intimacy and by exposure. Withdrawal means rejection of masks, opening and liberation. However, when it comes to time spent with other people, it is necessary to give up intimacy and accept constant assessment, which, unfortunately, excludes authenticity.” [8] 

Their conversations skirt around issues, unable to confront matters of physical sickness or mental turmoil directly until it is too late for anything to change.

To recreate this ‘30’s era through dialogue, Dygat could have also drawn from his own experience as part of the bohemian milieu in pre-war Warsaw. The original novel was also inspired by the “Kwadryga” literary group. In 1928, “Kwadryga magazine became a monthly wide-range publication… Deep friendship relationships between members of both groups became a legend. The legend of “Kwadryga” was created mostly by the novel Wspólny pokój by Zbigniew Uniłowski, one of the most scandallizing novels of the pre-war priod.” [7, sic] Uniłowski also included the figure of author Isabela Czajka-Stachowicz [20], prominent in avant-garde circles and the café scene. She inspired the character of “The Leopard Woman,” [22] who enjoys ensnaring the attention of men. Her depiction is somewhat negative, but at least in the film she is allowed her own scene of reflection. These and other muted moments balance the fast, episodic scenes fading to and from black. One needs to pay attention to what underlies even the most petty-seeming plots in the film. By the time political intrusion takes away a visiting youth from the apartment, every aspect of the film is headed toward a final, cryptic glance at the audience.

One-Room Tenants and Farewells are often considered part of the Polish Film School movement, in which “filmmakers also tried blurring the lines between realism and symbolism of the characters, events, landscapes and objects on the screen. Even nowadays, the historians of cinema still dispute on the truth hidden beneath the images produced by the Polish film school; but they all agree [upon] the directors' method of expressing ideological reflection -- such as leaving the most important element ‘between the lines’…" [17]

Communist political domination in 1949 enforced Socialist Realism as the only approved mode of art in Poland. After Stalin died in 1953, this restriction became somewhat relaxed. The “Polish Film School (Polska Szkoła Filmowa)arose between the relative stability of 1957 and 1963; confronting wartime experiences, generational clashes, and notions of Poland as a nation. Though Wojciech Has, even then, was noted for heading in a more independent direction, his output during this time is considered part of the movement.

While many of Dygat’s written works were aligned with Social Realism, he also moved along his own path.  Dygat was one of several writers to resign from the Polish Communist Party in 1957 [16], after administrative crackdowns like the shutdown of Po prostu, a periodical popular amongst young intellectuals. Student meetings gathered to protest this decision were broken up, sometimes by force, by special militia. The literary journal Europa was also closed by the government even before publication of the first issue.

On March 14, 1964, Dygat joined others in science, arts, or politics in signing the following “The Declaration of the Thirty-Four” (known in Poland as “List 34”): [24]
"The reduction of printing paper allocation for books and periodicals and the enforcement of much stricter censorship create a situation which endangers the growth of Poland's national culture. We, the signatories, believe that the expression of genuine public opinion, the right to criticise, to discuss freely and to have access to unbiased information are all imperative ingredients of any progress. Therefore, moved by our social conscience, we demand that changes be introduced in the cultural policy of the Polish State which will accord with the spirit of its Constitution and promote the welfare of the nation." [21]
It was sent to Prime Minister Jcizef Cyrankiewicz, but the Polish government denied receiving the statement. However, the Polish People’s Republic still took action. Some, if not all of the signatories were forbidden from broadcasting, and their names were declared verboten on Polish radio. Productions were shut down, passports and clinic services were denied. The writer who mimeographed the declaration, Jan Lipski, was imprisoned for two days. Six hundred responses in the press also condemned those who signed List 34, reportedly outraged at this act of defamation inspired by Radio Wolna (Free) Europa. Yet the government failed in convincing the signatories from withdrawing their names. The extent of retaliation also varied from target to target. Dygat managed to continue writing for print and film, and was one of the literary voices who shaped the direction of many Polish films from the late ‘50’s onward. His influence in social circles was such that the secret police were said to call him “The Prince of Warsaw.” (Stanisław Dygat był przez bezpiekę nazywany "księciem warszawskim".) [13]

Though he was a major literary voice within Poland, I was only able to find one Stanislaw Dygat novel translated into English: the 1965 novel Disneyland (re-titled Cloak of Illusion). Here I’ll compare the novel to its 1967 movie adaptation Jowita (Jovita), to see if it reveals any more about Dygat and bringing his work to the screen.
The novel is narrated by the protagonist, a suspicious and over-analytical athlete named Marek Arens. At one point, Marek half-seriously muses, “Your parents compromised themselves in respect of various values. You all consider, therefore, that they’ve been compromised. But the values have been compromised too. They don’t want to admit that they themselves have been compromised and they attribute the compromise to you.” This is quite the indictment of the generations of One-Room Tenants and Farewells

Disneyland takes place in livelier locations than dank apartments or stuffy clubs or fading aristocratic mansions. It features lively events in “public spaces frequented by the young and fashionable, including a concert hall, a gallery and a sports club which also serves as a venue for balls and parties.” [15] Yet Marek himself often expresses two contradictory opinions, or states an ideal that he later betrays. His generation also engages in disguises, hypocrisies, and stabs at honesty; at the conversation games from the early romantic scenes of Farewells [13] and throughout One-Room Tenants.
The characters … typically tend to create an artificial world around them in which masks, multiple identities and confused emotions are commonplace. At the same time in Poland, however, the numerous possibilities open to the younger generation were being extolled. The game of masks and mirrors, mixing reality and illusion… was the favourite subject of the writer Stanislaw Dygat.” [6]

The film, directed by Janusz Morgenstern, is less talky than the novel’s constant first-person narration, and feels more overtly modern than the Has-Dygat adaptations or even the source novel. While Has skillfully evoked the 1930’s and ‘40’s when directing Dygat’s scripts in the ‘50’s, Morgenstern “successfully portrays a very real picture of [contemporary] Cracow, preserving the atmosphere and creating a true testimony of the period for posterity.” [6] Jowita dips in and out of a subjective lens but does not include the book’s narration. It is said to be one of the few Polish film of the time clearly influenced by the French New Wave [15], with split-second frame editing and sensual extreme close-ups. A telephone’s ringing also anchors plot points with psychological effect. Outside the concert, the soundtrack bounces with rock’n’roll and modern jazz. The meta device of a film reel also becomes a brilliant catalyst for the memories and regrets that propel Marek towards the conclusion.

After a short plot introduction, we sweep into a concert where Khatchaturian’s waltz from the "Masquerade” suite plays. Marek falls into flashbacks that finally catch up to the concert halfway through the film, making the novel’s time jumps easier for viewers to follow. Then the film flashes back and forth again, extending past the concert. There are less of the book’s ambiguity and mind games, but these seem cut for time and cinematic flow, and do not undercut plot or themes. 

Jowita consisted of the usually government-friendly qualities of adapting a work by a Polish author and focusing on a story of romantic escape and folly. The film still ran into censor trouble before release. Dygat’s earlier political involvement might not have been the cause.
“‘It is, perhaps, difficult for the Western spectator to understand the challenge that the film and its heroes makes to members of government…This type of psychological and sentimental interplay and this fondness for freedom from commitments and responsibilities was common to most of the youth in other countries, where it was in no way considered subversive. However, in a country where the role of films was considered to be to testify to ideologies, portraying official social truths, such “charmers” could only be a source of irritation to many.’” [6] 
Even avoiding political themes could court government trouble in this time. 

Marek has many affairs with women, but can’t forget his one conversation with Jovita, whose “Turkish” costume only revealed her eyes. His boxing coach Szymaniak (in the novel, Marek’s doting stepfather) killed himself after a doomed relationship with the prostitute named “Lola Fiat 1100,” a character thought by Marek to be more predatory than someone like “The Leopard Woman” in One-Room Tenants.  This is the basis for a disturbing view of women as mysterious, interchangeable until proven unique, exotic like the costumes at the sports club ball. 

Yet both the book and novel position Marek’s perspective as dangerous, and the women in the story hold their own as characters. One woman even confronts him in the final scene. His feelings are jumbled by the conviction, shared by Polish Romantics, that love is a minor pursuit for a man, unlike nobler affairs like competitive or intellectual pursuits. Though he is close to proposing marriage at one point, he is reluctant give in to what he sees as the domestic inclinations of women, which trapped his athletics coach and could have led to Syzmaniak’s suicide. “Marek preferred an imaginary (limerent) object of desire over a real woman or even over several women with whom he had affairs and, ultimately, he chose nonlove.” [15] He might tell himself that he despises hurting women, but his misogyny eventually guides his hand to violence. Like the protagonists of Farewells and One-Room Tenants, Marek’s aspirations and personal ideals will remain unfulfilled. 

Dygat inclined towards aspiring but dissatisfied characters caught in whirlpools of mistrust, self-delusion, and societal pressures. This made him a fitting partner for his projects with Wojciech Has. Farewells and One-Room Tenants are concerned less with depicting the macro view of history and ideology of their respective eras. What matters is how these films portray the way people try to survive in a specific time, how they pursue and lose grasp of dreams.

Works Consulted

[1] "Cloak of Illusion." The MIT Press. Print.

[2] Davies, Norman. Heart of Europe: The Past in Poland's Present: The Past in Poland's Present. Oxford University Press, 2001. Web. 17 Mar 2014. <>

[3] "Do you remember, it was fall." Translation of "Pamiętasz, była jesień" by Sława Przybylska from Polish to English. Lyrics Translate, 30 June 2011. Web. 15 Apr. 2014. .

[4] Dygat, Stanislaw. Cloak of Illusion. Trans. David Welsh. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1969. Print. 15 Feb 2014.

[5] "Elliptic worlds of Wojciech Jerzy Has: Petla (Noose) – Wspolny pokoj (One room tenants)." Kinoglazorama Spectacular. 20 Mar 2011. Web. 2 Jan. 2014.

[6] "Festival Lumière - "Jowita"." Lumière 2011: Grand Lyon Film Festival. Institut Lumière, 2011. Print. .

[7] Gałczyński, Mikołaj. "Life and Works of Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński." Official Website of Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński. 2008. Web. 4 Apr 2014. .

[8] Grodź, Iwona. "One Room Tenants." ARCHIVE - 10th Era New Horizons International Film Festival. Stowarzyszenie Nowe Horyzonty, 2010. Web. 4 Apr 2014. .

[9] Has, Wojciech, dir. Farewells (Lydia Ate the Apple) (Pożegnania). 1958. Web. 14 Dec 2013.

[10] Has, Wojciech, dir. One-Room Tenants (Wspólny pokój). 1959. Web. 4 Jan 2014.

[11] Helman, Alicja. "The Masters Are Tired." Canadian Slavonic Papers/Revue Canadienne des Slavistes 42.1/2 (2000): 99-111. Web. <>

[12] Hughes, William, ed. "Zbigniew Uniłowski: ‘Letters from Karol Szymanowski’ (‘Wiadomości Literackie’, 1938, nr.1)." The Chronicles of Doctor Hughes. 03 Nov 2012. Web. 4 Apr 2014.

[13] Kowalczyk, Janusz R.. "Stanisław Dygat." 2012. Web. . .

[14] Mazierska, Ewa. "Existentialism and socialist realism in the early films of Wojciech Has." Studies in Eastern European Cinema 4.1 (2013): 9-27. Web. <>

[15] Mazierska, Ewa. Masculinities in Polish, Czech, and Slovak Cinema: Black Peters and Men of Marble. New York: Berghahn Books, 2008. Pp 153-155. Web.

[16] Michnik, Adam. The Church and the Left (Koṡciół, lewica, dialog). Ed and trans. David Ost. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993. 85. Web.  

[17] Miczka, Tadeusz. "Cinema Under Political Pressure: A Brief Outline of Authorial Roles in Polish Post-War Feature-Film 1945-1995." Trans. Andrzej Cimala. Kinema (1995). Web.

[18] Miłosz, Czesław. "The Novel in Poland." Daedalus 95.4 (1966): 1004-1012. Web. <>

[19] Morgenstern, Janusz, dir. Jovita (Jowita). 1967. Web. 23 Mar 2014.

[20] Pawłowska, Monika. "Izabela Czajka-Stachowicz in three perspectives: as literary character, friend of artists and heroine of her fictionalized autobiographical books." Archive of Theses. University of Warsaw, 2 Dec 2013. Web. .

[21] "Polish Intellectuals Under Pressure." The Tablet 18 Apr 1964. Web. .

[22] Nikodem, Jakub. “Izabela Czajka-Stachowicz, "Moja wielka miłość".” 22 Jul 2013. Web. .

[23] Świdziński, Wojciech. "Farewells-What does Wojciech J. Has did Adieu to?. ("Pożegnania" - z czym się żegna Wojciech J. Has? )" Kwartalnik Filmowy 57-58 (2007). Web.

[24] Szubarczyk, Piotr. "14 marca 1964: List 34." Kalendarz polski codzienny. Wolna Polska. 2014. Web. .

[25] Toepplitz, Krzysztof-Teodor. "The Films of Wojciech Has." Film Quarterly 18.2 (1964): 2-6. Web. 

[26] Wierzbicka-Trwoga, K. "Breaking the taboo of secretion on the example of Zbigniew Unilowski’s ‘Sharing a Room’." Pamiętnik Literacki 98.3 (2007): 63-73. Web.

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