Made at the Łódz Film School, thanks to planning student exercises so they could be combined into a coherent feature, Skolimowski’s debut introduced his freewheeling style and his alter ego Andrzej Leszczyc (played by the director not so much for egomania as for guaranteed availability), who spends a final day of freedom before compulsory military service tying up some loose ends.
‘At your age I was in the uprising,’ mutters an invading character in search of hospitality; this being Skolimowski’s disenchanted world, however, the war hero is quickly unmasked as a charlatan. Fresh from writing Innocent Sorcerers and Knife in the Water, Skolimowski was in 1964 the spearhead that had punctured the bubble of heroic Polish cinema after its dramatic growth during the late 1950s, and his first film as a director confirms his radical impatience through an unnervingly restless fury unmatched by his later works.
As Skolimowski the stylist has developed, Skolimowski the purist has been left behind; his trilogy of farewells to the decrepit Polish tradition may have reached its highest decorative point with Barrier, but it is in Rysopis that the bewildered allegiances of the generation that just missed the war are exposed in their most revealing form.
With a touch of sentimentality despite its cool exterior, Rysopis is concerned with a society in which everything is a betrayal, from the educational system that fills the student with a wealth of useless knowledge to the friends who rough him up when he catches them eavesdropping or the clinic that merely kills his dog instead of curing it. People are constantly being overheard, stared at, interrogated, spied on; the prickly discomfort of pervasive suspicion is in the air, looming over the streets like the enormous shadows that are thrown on a wall behind Andrzej as he makes his way to the Recruiting Centre.
In this Kafkaesque atmosphere, still chilly where in Barrier it has become more comfortably bizarre, woman is the inevitable haven – if she can be caught. Skolimowski divides her into three, all played by the inescapable Elzbieta Czyzewska: the ‘wife’ who has become impermeably toughened by the process of breadwinning, the fluffy blonde householder who offers amiable entertainment to just about anything male, and the naive student whose sincerity is confirmed by a natural hairstyle instead of a wig and whose empty head conceals a still warm heart.
The latter makes the only tolerable companion in the limbo prior to Andrzej’s enlistment (she is prepared to make faces at him, after all, whereas his wife is beyond such forms of communication), but this is no Hollywood fantasy in which she will be waiting for him when he comes out.
It’s always fun at the beginning, the key phrase in his final conversation with the woman who knows him best, establishes that the student girl would soon go the way of all flesh. Glumly the film concludes that, 20 years after the war, the army is still the only career offering a chance of purpose and excitement, and precious little of either even so. As Andrzej says to a street interviewer (characteristically, no record is made of his words), ‘I’d like to be launched on something definite,’ adding, rather primly, ‘The main thing’s to do your best.’
Andrzej and Skolimowski are naturally interchangeable; if the director’s acting debut is unremarkable, his expressionless durability makes for an appropriate impersonation – and in any case this frequently gives way to subjective camerawork. The immense tracking shots of Walkover are yet to come, but Rysopis nevertheless has its astonishing technical moments, the most memorable being the headlong rush down an entire flight of stairs. Anti-heroism may be its theme, but Rysopis marked the arrival of a new kind of filmmaking courage.
Philip Strick, Monthly Film Bulletin, October 1969
It may be the contradictory mainspring of Skolimowski’s films that underlying their will o’ the wisp qualities is a moral seriousness, even an old-fashioned seriousness. This emerges not surprisingly as a contradictory sense of movement. The films have their febrile side, an apparent unwillingness of camera and characters to stand still for a second, that could be tied to themes of youthful revolt or restlessness or just hapless disorientation, and even to a theme that may be more personal to Skolimowski, as the onetime boxer (and forever football enthusiast) who feels the pinch of time passing that is particular to the athlete.
But then there are sudden checks and halts, strange passages of suspended time or paralysed action, as if the film had just been brought up short by a warning that a life that has not been properly grounded will inevitably be lost. Skolimowski has taken short-cuts through his career – instead of completing a number of exercises at film school, he saved up the pieces of film to make one feature, Rysopis, to prove he was ready for the real thing. Within his films one feels both the élan and the anomie of characters who are short-cutting through their lives.
Richard Combs, Monthly Film Bulletin, June 1990
IDENTIFICATION MARKS: NONE (RYSOPIS)
Director: Jerzy Skolimowski
Production Companies: Panstwowa Wyzsza Szkola Filmowa w Lodzi, Film Polski
Screenplay: Jerzy Skolimowski
Director of Photography: Witold Mickiewicz
Art Director: Jerzy Skolimowski
Music: Krzysztof Sandowski
Jerzy Skolimowski (Andrzej Leszczyc)
Elzbieta Czyzewska (Theresa/Barbara/housewife)
Tadeusz Mins (Mundzek)
Andrzej Zarnecki (Raymond)
OUTSIDERS AND EXILES: THE FILMS OF JERZY SKOLIMOWSKI
Jerzy Skolimowski in Conversation
Tue 28 March 18:30
Tue 28 March 20:45 (+ intro by Jerzy Skolimowski); Wed 5 Apr 20:55; Fri 28 Apr 18:30
Wed 29 Mar 18:20 (+ Q&A with Jerzy Skolimowski); Sat 8 Apr 18:10
Wed 29 Mar 20:45 (+ intro by Jerzy Skolimowski); Sun 9 Apr 13:00; Sat 15 Apr 18:20
Hands Up! (Reçe do góry)
Fri 31 Mar 20:45; Mon 10 Apr 15:40
Sat 1 Apr 18:20; Tue 4 Apr 20:50 (+ intro by season curator Michael Brooke)
Sat 1 Apr 20:50; Wed 5 Apr 18:20; Fri 21 Apr 20:50; Sat 22 Apr 18:20; Thu 27 Apr 20:45
Dialogue 20-40-60 (Dialóg 20-40-60)
Sun 2 Apr 12:30; Sat 15 Apr 20:45
Sun 2 Apr 15:40; Mon 10 Apr 18:30; Wed 19 Apr 20:55
Sun 2 Apr 18:30; Mon 17 Apr 20:40
Identification Marks: None (Rysopis)
Mon 3 Apr 21:00; Sun 9 Apr 18:40
Outsider and Exile
Tue 4 Apr 18:15
Sat 8 Apr 12:15; Fri 14 Apr 20:40
11 Minutes (11 minut)
Sun 16 Apr 12:30; Sat 29 Apr 20:30
Four Nights with Anna (Cztery noce z Anna)
Sun 23 Apr 12:40; Fri 28 Apr 20:50
Sun 23 Apr 18:40; Sat 29 Apr 14:40
In cultural partnership with
9 Mar-27 Apr kinoteka.org.uk
Proud partners of the BFI’s Jerzy Skolimowski season. Show valid BFI ticket and enjoy 20% off your bill at Mamuśka!
EO will be available on BFI DVD and Blu-ray from 3 April (available to pre-order at the BFI shop)
Identification Marks: None and Hands Up! will be available on a 2-disc BFI Blu-ray from 24 April
Walkover and Barrier will be released on Blu-ray by Second Run later this year
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Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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