Above all I'd like to show in this film the things that seem most important in Adam Mickiewicz's work - our past and our history. We don't care to remember that the image of our national character painted in "Pan Tadeusz" is not merely ironic but quite malicious. It is an image of Poles who do something first and think later. Today I observe a similar situation; so I feel that after almost ten years of freedom the time has come for us to answer the questions: where do we come from? who are we? and where are we going?
This project is incomparably more dificult than anything I had done so far. It is much easier to adapt a realistic novel, such as "The Land of Promise", for big cities, events characters, passions, are the element on which film thrives. Nature on the screen, on the other hand, often reveals its banal aspect.
In my film the images of nature are background only; what I wanted was to resurrect the climate of the "land of childhood". We aimed to create the loveliest scenes, evoking the poetic world of "Pan Tadeusz" - hence the image of spring and birds, flying over an army, marching to its doom (...) in the scene "The Year 1812".
The real heroes are those Polish characters which participated in the downfall of the Republic. They were portrayed in just such a way, sending shivers down our spines, as images of Polish vices, terrifying but perfect in their artistic form.
"This master was not mistaken".
Malgorzata Dziewulska, Maria Janion, Tomasz Jastrun, Tadeusz Lubelski, Tomasz Lubienski, and Marian Stala (moderator) talk about "Pan Tadeusz", a film by Andrzej Wajda.
(...)MARIA JANION: (...) We must say a few words about the script. In my opinion it is very good but slightly one-sided, with its primary emphasis on the conflict between Gerwazy and father Robak, a veiled conflict which climaxes in a kind of terrible irony. We might of course say that this is the irony of Fate or History, which would be typical of the way Wajda thinks about filmmaking. Father Robak undergoes a heroic transformation from a criminal to penitent to a magnificent Polish hero, who fights against the self-serving and obstructive squabbling of the lesser gentility. He himself used to be a squabbler, a sower of dissension, but now he is not - to the contrary, he wants to eliminate this vice from the Polish society. Not so Gerwazy; he remains a splendid squire, obstructive and brawling, and disrupts the revolt planned by Robak. Such a pair of antagonistic figures is typical for action movies, but Wajda takes it further (it required a singular reading of Mickiewicz to bring this out), because really they are doppelgangers. Exactly because of this cruel squabbling and all the vices of the landed gentry which they personify.
(...) The viewer might get the impression that all these terrible faults of our national character actually emerge in some way triumphant. That its impossible to purge them, precisely because of such people as Gerwazy.
TOMASZ LUBIENSKI: - There are two things at issue here (...); the theme of the tragic ambivalence of Fate, as well as Man opposed to History, which revolves around the character of Gerwazy, and the more pastoral aspect - Tadeusz, Zosia, the uhlans. Needless to say, this second aspect doesn't attract me as much as the first, but I think that Wajda managed to combine them both (...) And then we have this problem, how much Wajda believes in Mickiewicz and entrusts himself to him, and how much he competes with the poet for his own good. In my opinion there is no contradiction. For example, although the director loves and respects the poet very much, he has had this extremely interesting idea of the work being read aloud to Polish emigrés, exiled "to the cobblestones of Paris". It is a pity though, that the film "sells" this idea several times.
MALGORZATA DZIEWULSKA: - (...) What turns me off? Many scenes and moments, which should be funny by intent, I perceive as unintentionally ridiculous. All this whiskered, red-faced ribaldry and brutality, which we know so well - Sarmatian, primordial, unleavened, rememered from so many film sets. I'd prefer to see a backward homestead and manor, together with the faces of its inhabitants, freshly invented by the director, imagined, so to speak, anew, not conforming to stereotyped forms. Perhaps the make-up is at fault here, or some other routine of representation, related to the superproduction mechanism. It is a pity that we seem to be caught in the clutches of a big film production, with its mechanical pace, its inattention to nuance, its terrified submission to breathless cuts, stemming from the fear of boring the audience. I'm afraid that this terror doesn't allow any take, any phrase to be held to the end, to conclude naturally. (...) Certainly, the paces of the film and the poem are quite different, contradictory elements, and I'm not saying that it is possible to convey the pace of the poem through film - at least I haven't seen such a film. But it might be possible to create a sort of islands, "islands of text", which is what Wajda does and to good effect, as it seems to me.
TOMASZ JASTRUN: - If there were more such islands it would end in disaster. I am all for dynamic editing, in any case here Wajda does not much differ from all these Polish films, which try to make up by editing what they lack in other respects. The "island" presenting the death of father Robak is interesting, but a greater number of such scenes would harm the film.
(...) Again and again the tale comes to a standstill in those places where the poem digresses. The poet's "descriptions of nature", memorized by generations of unfortunate schoolchildren, under the pretence that they "delight in them", are a fantastic carnival of associations, galloping images, details, colours, hardly contained by the thirteen-syllable dynamic trochee. Agreed - it is well-nigh impossible to transpose this incomparable language into film image. But when the film does finally manage to show the visual equivalent of the famous "heart of the forest", why is it always the same muddy pond, circled by the camera, moving to and fro? And if we have to have mushroom picking, why must the scene take place in the trite, sparse birchwood filmed in slow motion, and, what's more, lacking a single mushroom - to which, after all, the poet devoted a separate small treatise?
The metre of the poem does seem a problem, since a film (especially an action film) doesn't bear long sentences, and Mickiewicz's extended phrases are completely out of the question. However, Olbrychski and Linda apparently know how to avoid this difficulty - they say two, three words at a time, the verse loses its fluidity, but the at least the viewer undertands what is said to him. In this way the Mickiewicz liquid septameter is transformed into Fredro's dynamic eight syllable verse, and the film becomes the duel of two actors, Daniel Olbrychski and Boguslaw Linda. The less knowledgeable actors follow in their steps and so starts the declamation hurdy-gurdy, making it impossible to distinguish anything clearly. Only when Sedzia fumes and stamps his feet like a child, or when Telimena thrashes Tadeusz with a dishrag, is the viewer able to relax, visibly satisfied - finally he understands what's going on.
The acting, by the way, is the crowning feat of the adaptation. Wajda - in contrast to Jerzy Hoffman - feels much better directing two actors than two thousand extras. So the acting of the principals is excellent, but the background, which should be teeming with homestead life (remember "Wesele"?), remains empty, with the occasional extra rushing about and presenting cow's eyes to the camera (...)
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