Smuga cienia [The Shadow Line]
Joseph Conrad's short story The Shadow Line has a clear plot, which is easy to follow; nonetheless, this writer's prose is difficult to adapt for film.
If you want to be faithful to a novel, which you are adapting for film purposes, you must deconstruct it completely and put the pieces back together again, so that it would be able to live on screen. When I think about adaptation I recall what Hamlet said to his mother: "I must be cruel, only to be kind". I wasn't cruel enough to The Shadow Line, I pursued the mood, the understatement, the elusive nature of words,. And so I created an inarticulate, elusive and uncommunicative film."
Looking back at The Shadow Line I think that I felt most helpless in confrontation with Marek Kondrat. I understood and accepted his ambitious and considered notion of acting, which was based on refraining from the expression of emotions. Unfortunately, when I realised that the young artist would try to act out his idea, I failed to provide him with some clear material to play. I should have conceived scenes and situations, which do not require an actor's commentary; then his poker face would have been both explicable and intriguing to the viewer. He wouldn't have had to illustrate his acting with "commentary." Regrettably, the single plot of the film did not allow for artificial dramatic tricks.
Over the years I have often thought about this film, trying to discover if I could have found better solutions. Today, I would say: it is easier to make a film about Conrad with his style in mind than to film any of his novels.
The film is a betrayal of Conrad's work. It makes him seem a boring buffoon, a soft-minded fool obsessed with the souls of men who are at very best unbalanced. Why has this happened? Perhaps - at least I suspect so - the source of failure lies in trying to fit psychology where there is no room for it. For example, The Shadow Line is viewed as describing the state of mind of a young man, who has found himself in an extremely difficult situation. Thus, the director looks for the meaning of the story and its driving force, in the relation between the hero's state of mind and the external situation (the ship, the disease plaguing the crew, the heat etc.). And since it is impossible to keep on showing heat or windless silence, as the viewer will be bored stiff, the director tries to film it in a prettified way, inventing a couple of attractive balancing acts on the masthead. And this at the cost of ignoring essential issues and the problem of different attitudes to the predicament. Thus the whole undertaking becomes limited to technical skill, satisfying the mererequirements of ordinary visual realism.
That which started as a sea adventure has become an internal adventure. Faced by screen death Wajda draws on memorable accents of his Birchwood. His style avoids baroque excess, giving a subtle account - in ways both intimate and flamboyant - of everyday events, as well as providing dialogue in harmony with the moods evoked by the sun and governed by the rhythm of sunrises and sunsets. This makes the slow decay of the small community (the filmmaker's favourite subject) even more terrifying.
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