mon 22/07/2024

Blu-ray: Jerzy Skolimowski - Walkower, Bariera, Dialóg 20-40-60 | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: Jerzy Skolimowski - Walkower, Bariera, Dialóg 20-40-60

Blu-ray: Jerzy Skolimowski - Walkower, Bariera, Dialóg 20-40-60

Visually striking early works from an iconoclastic Polish director

Jan Nowicky and Joanna Szczerbic in 'Bariera'

Diving into this three-disc set of early films by maverick Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski leaves one reeling, an arresting reminder of the vibrancy and flair of so much 1960s Eastern European cinema.

This isn’t a valedictory package: Skolimowski, now aged 85, is still active and his recent EO won the 2022 jury prize at Cannes. 1965’s Walkower (Walkover) was Skolimowski’s official debut feature, opening bleakly with an offscreen suicide and following the progress of Skolimowski’s filmic alter-ego Leszczyc, arriving in a grubby town dominated by a huge factory. A former engineering classmate (Aleksandra Zawieruszanka) attempts to find him work, though Leszczyc is more interested in following his boxing career, Skolimowski having boxed for several years before becoming a filmmaker. Walkower is a visual treat, the director later claiming that the frequent long takes were the result of his having missed the editing classes whilst attending the Łódź film school. Skolimowski’s camera follows Leszczyc running up and down stairs and through musty offices, at one point jumping off a moving train. Andrzej Trzaskowski’s pungent, jazzy score is another pleasure.

Skolimowski boxBariera (Barrier) followed a year later, the tale of Jan Nowicki’s nameless medical student, first seen with his hands tied behind his back, attempting to win a piggy bank stuffed with coins by catching a matchbox balanced on a ruler. Watching him pull off the trick is a thrill, and he’s soon squaring up against the titular barriers manned by an older generation. There are moments when you wonder whether Skolimowski is making things up on the hoof, David Thompson’s booklet essay explaining that many scenes were devised just a day before shooting. Nowicki’s courtship of a tram driver (a luminous Joanna Szczerbic) unfolds against the backdrop of a stylized, concrete Warsaw, as striking as the elaborate sets constructed by Jacques Tati for Playtime. And there’s an extraordinary, terrifying stunt where Nowicki slides down a ski jump while clinging to a suitcase. Krzysztof Komeda's score is memorable, and the film lasts a taut 81 minutes.

Which makes the third instalment all the more disappointing, Dialóg 20-40-60 a fascinating idea which doesn’t quite come off. Released in 1968, this is a collaboration between Skolimowski, Slovak director Peter Solan and the Czech Zbynìk Brynych, with a single script shared between three couples in their twenties, forties and sixties. The lines spoken are the same, though the settings and genders change. Skolimowski’s opening chapter is the best, with a Czech-dubbed Jean-Pierre Léaud playing a nattily dressed pop singer who finds newlyweds squatting in his flat. Solan’s is darker, while Brynych (The Fifth Horseman Is Fear) casts his sexagenarian protagonist (Josef Kroner, here looking disarmingly like John Le Mesurier) as a theatrical prompter in love with one of the cast. It’s an intermittently entertaining experiment, but the pacing can be erratic, Brynych’s finale feeling fatally overextended. The bonuses (four early shorts by Skolimowski) are excellent, though, and Second Run’s lavish production values are a constant across the set.

Many scenes were devised just a day before shooting

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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