Andrzej Żuławski, acclaimed director, screenwriter and writer, award-winning author of films that include Trzecia część nocy (The Third Part of the Night), Diabeł (The Devil), Possession, Szamanka (Shaman), Fidelity and most recently Cosmos, passed away on 17 February 2016 at the age of 75, following a long illness.

Born in Lvov in 1940 into a family of artists and intellectuals; his father Mirosław Żuławski and paternal grand-uncle Jerzy Żuławski were both writers. Andrzej Żuławski spent his childhood years in Poland, later moving to Czechoslovakia with his family, and graduating high school in France. It was also in France that, encouraged by his parents, he began his studies at film school. “[…] Like any normal person, I wanted to go to Łódź, because at the time it was the best film school […]. My parents protested, saying they would never send me to Łódź, even if I managed to pass the admission exams, because that would be the end of me. My father represented the People’s Republic of Poland at the embassy in Paris and was deputy of Poland in UNESCO — he knew all those people. And he said to me: ‘They will turn you into a drunk and you will die. You won’t be able to handle it; it will be too much for your physical condition.’ And my mother was even more vehemently opposed to the idea, so they forced me to apply to film school in France, which was possible only because the A-levels at my Polish-French high school had been valid both in France and in Poland; the school I went to followed a double curriculum,” as Piotr Kletowski and Piotr Marecki recount Andrzej Żuławski’s words in their book (“Żuławski. Przewodnik Krytyki Politycznej”).

Żuławski studied at the Institut des hautes études cinématographiques (IDHEC) in Paris from 1959 to 1960, while also studying philosophy at the Sorbonne.

In the early 1960s, Żuławski returned to Poland and worked for Andrzej Wajda as assistant director on his films Samson (1961), Miłość dwudziestolatków (Love at Twenty; 1962), and Popioły (The Ashes; 1965), an epic adaptation of a novel by Stefan Żeromski.

In 1967, he made two television films: Pieśń triumfującej miłości, based on a short story by Ivan Turgenev and starring Beata Tyszkiewicz, and Pavoncello, starring Stefan Friedmann. Żuławski’s feature debut was Trzecia część nocy (The Third Part of the Night; 1971), a film that was as innovative and expressive as it was bold, in terms of both film language and subject matter; a wartime story featuring Leszek Teleszyński and Małgorzata Braunek. Mirosław Żuławski wrote the script with his son, based on his own wartime memories. “If this film might be compared to anything, it could only be a gigantic lamp in a desolate and monotonous landscape,” wrote a critic following the film’s premiere, as quoted by

Żuławski’s second feature Diabeł (The Devil; 1972) was a horror story set in 1793 on what became Prussian territory following the partitions of Poland, starring Wojciech Pszoniak, Leszek Teleszyński and Małgorzata Braunek. The film proved to be extremely controversial and ended up being shelved by communist censors for 15 years. Following this, Andrzej Żuławski left for France, where three years later he would make L’important c’est aimer (That Most Important Thing: Love), a film adaptation of Christopher Frank’s novel featuring the remarkable Romy Schneider as an ageing porn star and Fabio Testi as a photographer who is in love with her and tries to get her out of oblivion by casting her in a stage performance of “Richard III”.

After having made L’important c’est aimer (That Most Important Thing: Love), which went on to receive a César award for Best Actress, Żuławski returned to Poland to begin work on Na srebrnym globie (On the Silver Globe; 1986), a project loosely based on Jerzy Żuławski’s trilogy of sci-fi novels. The film was shot in Poland, Mongolia, and in the Soviet Union. However, shooting was cancelled mid-production on the orders of the Ministry of Culture. Andrzej Żuławski found himself blacklisted and after two years of being unable to work in Poland, he again left for France. In the 1980s, he directed a total of five films outside Poland. The first of these was Possession, a hypnotic horror starring Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neil, which screened in Cannes and received the award for Best Actress. In his 1984 film La femme publique, Żuławski touched upon some of the themes often addressed in his works, such as the relationship between reality and life, or the increasing madness of his protagonist (played by Valerie Kaprisky). “What is interesting, apparently the term ‘zulawskism’ was coined in France, used to describe something being done in excess. Żuławski had once compared cinema to coffee, which should precede the taste of the moment. He chose to intentionally irritate, stimulate and rush everyone, to create a form of over-expression that would only prove to be valid years later. Żuławski often points out that many of the accusations against his films would have never been made if people had been aware of the above statement,” as Michał Hernes wrote for about Żuławski’s works .

Żuławski’s 1985 film L’amour braque is based on “The Idiot” by Fyodor Dostoevsky, one of the director’s favourite writers. The films stars Sophe Marceu, to whom Żuławski was married at the time. “That book had been in me for a long time, and in a very particular way. Not only as a work that stays in our minds long after reading, when it touches upon issues that are close to us, but also as an impression, a spiritual spectacle, a source to be translated to the screen. Back when I was in Poland during the making of On the Silver Globe, I was greatly impressed by the stage adaptation of “The Idiot” by Andrzej Wajda in Krakow. The two actors playing Myshkin and Rogozhin, their film counterparts being Francis Huster (Leon) and Tcheky Karyo (Mickey), performed differently every night, improvising and re-creating their characters every time. One had to see seven or eight performances to realize the full extent of their mastery,” said Andrzej Żuławski in an interview.

He was able to pick up his unfinished project Na srebrnym globie (On the Silver Globe) in the following year, after it turned out that 48 reels of footage had been saved and stored at the production studio. The director chose to replace the missing scenes with shots of the streets of Warsaw and a voice-over narration describing the sequences that had never been filmed. Before the end of the 1980s, Andrzej Żuławski also made My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days (1989) about a love affair between a computer wiz and a simple girl, featuring Sophie Marceau as the latter, and Boris Godunov, a film adaptation of the famous opera. In 1990, he made La note bleue, a film about the last years in the life of Frederic Chopin, also featuring the director’s muse Sophie Marceau as Solange, daughter of George Sand.

Żuławski’s next film would not be made until six years later. Szamanka (Shaman), written by Manuela Gretkowska, sparked enormous controversy in Poland. This hypnotic tale of a young student (Iwona Petry) and anthropology professor (Bogusław Linda) who finds the remains of a shaman, eventually became something of a cult film. Żuławski’s 2000 film Fidelity, a loose and contemporary adaptation of Marie Madeleine de La Fayette’s novel “La Princesse de Clèves,” again starring Sophie Marceau, had less of an impact on audiences. What followed were 15 years of silence, which would end in 2015 when Żuławski made Cosmos, a film adaptation of Witold Gombrowicz’s work, and received the Best Director award at the Locarno Film Festival.

Andrzej Żuławski was also the protagonist of three documentary films: Melancholy: A Portrait of Andrzej Żuławski by Sylvie Guedel (1994), Żuławski o Żuławskim (Żuławski on Żuławski) by Jakub Skoczeń (2000), and Varsovie, la forêt fortresse (Warsaw, the Fortress Forest) by Philippe Guigou and Jean-François Robina (2007).

Żuławski was a member of the European Film Academy, recipient of the Order of the Legion of Honour in France, and the Commander’s Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta in Poland. In 2008, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award for a Director with Unique Visual Sensibility at the 16th edition of the Camerimage festival.

In an interview for “Rozmowy poszczególne,” produced in 2014 by TVP and the National Audiovisual Institute (NInA), Żuławski said of his films: “The only thing in my life that makes me truly glad is the fact that these films never die. They live on, stimulating audiences.”

Translated by Karolina Kołtun