Into The Abyss

Joseph Conrad once wrote that he ‘sought, through the power of the written word, to make the reader hear, feel and, above all else, see’. Looking back over his intensely personal and deeply heartfelt films, Andrzej Żuławski could lay claim to being 'the Conrad of cinema’. He even managed to pass on this energy, often conjuring up hurricane-like performances from his actors and pushing them into new, uncharted waters.

With possibly the exception of the late Russian master, Aleksei German, Żuławski has the dubious honour of being the most banned director in film history. While his debut, The Third Part of the Night (1971), ruffled the feathers of Polish Communist Party officials, his second film, The Devil (1972), was banned for fifteen years. His third Polish effort On the Silver Globe (1978/88) was shut down towards the end of shooting. Ironically, Żuławski found mostly scandal on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Żuławski drenched his cinema in the fantastic. In Possession for example, our protagonist confronts his wife in flagrance with a tentacled monster. The film has all the trappings of a horror film, with the monster being the mask that hides a Bergman-esque psychological drama.

Like Kubrick, Żuławski worked at the intersection of genres. Possession, is often compared to David Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979) as an example of ‘body horror’, and as a precursor to Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist (2009). However, it also belongs to a much broader tradition of the fantastic in Eastern European culture, populated by golems, dybbuks and metamorphoses. Filmed in 1980, right next to the wall in West Berlin, Possession has yet to be appreciated as a political allegory akin to its namesake, Dostoevsky’s The Possessed. An exhilarating jungle gym for the heart and brain, Andrzej Żuławski's latest film Cosmos, arrives from somewhere between Poland, France and Portugal. But what is Cosmos? A philosophical farce? A brain scrambling report on sexual obsession? A mischievous essay on how art, language and thought come into being? Only two things are certain: Cosmos is an UFO (unidentified film object) and the perfect coda to Andrzej Żuławski's filmmaking career.

Żuławski made just thirteen films, but every one, including his last, is stuffed with a lifetime worth of thoughts and, above all else, feelings. Sadly, Andrzej Żuławski passed away on the 17th of February 2016. Take part as we look back on the life and legacy of the late, great, master filmmaker.

by Daniel Bird

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