Lech Majewski’s continuing run of visually inspiring and intellectually stimulating cinematic works date from the creation of THE ROE’S ROOM (POKOJ SAREN) in 1997. This represented a clear change in direction from Majewski’s earlier work. In fact, it was less a film in the usual sense than a visualisation, made for Polish television, of Majewski’s own poetic and autobiographical opera.
Majewski chose to treat the metaphors of his libretto literally, so that we see a tree growing through his parent’s ordinary flat and roe deer wandering around eating the grass growing on the floor (hence the title). As that description suggests, this is a hugely imaginative but also undeniably perplexing work, as elusive as it is allusive.
Since then almost all Majewski’s works have followed this template to some extent, and might be more properly thought of as artifacts than as films per se. Majewski is an unashamed highbrow: the loose trilogy of THE GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS (2004), THE MILL AND THE CROSS (2011) and ONIRICA (2014) are inspired by Bosch, Bruegel and Dante respectively. His unembarrassed approach to the eternal verities would probably bring the average Brit out in hives.
Majewski is known for his visionary eye, conjuring compelling pictures from his imagination, but he also has a more practical ability to find the beauty in existing structures. As befits an artist who co-composes the music for his films, he is unusually concerned with sound design. On the other hand, dialogue sometimes appears to be a necessary evil, and Majewski has been known to give his characters undigested treatises on philosophy, history, art theory and theology to get their teeth into.
Given Majewski’s more exalted concerns, humour is rarely a major component of these films. However, one refreshing exception to this is his 1999 film WOJACZEK, a bleakly funny and anarchic record of a few months in the life of the young, brilliant but repeatedly suicidal poet Rafal Wojaczek in the early
1970s, during the dog days of Poland’s communist regime.
The Lech Majewski retrospective runs between 7th and 11th September at the Cambridge Film Festival.