L’important, c’est d’aimer

The relationship between filmmakers and their female stars has always been troublesome. This is not because, as one is led to believe, a female star is no longer capable of playing the role of wife, but that the combination is just too sensational for the couple. Camera, in the hands of an able director, becomes a paintbrush, a magnifying glass, a weapon to explore, to reveal the female body—and the mind behind it. This power is somehow strengthened if the relation between the director and the female in question is beyond professional contact. The analogy of painter and his model is pertinent here, since not only their tools resemble, their gazes have to reach the same depth behind the faces of those women before a true piece of art can be produced. In the light of this argument I would recommend every director to cultivate a certain degree of intimacy with his model—just for the sake of art. However, sometimes it might turn out to be a nightmare—here come the protagonists of our story.

Most of us on earth come to know Andrzej Zulawski through Sophie Marceau (You don’t know Sophie Marceau? Do you live on earth?). But other than the husband of a French film star, Mr. Zulawski has an indisputable professional background. He was trained at the prestigious IDHEC and worked as assistant for Andrzej Wajda in three films (1961, 62, 65). He also attended both Warsaw University (1961) and Université de Paris (1962-1964), so that he was not just a professional worker—he wrote most of his scripts. Like Polanski, he made his debut back in Poland. But his confidence in motherland was soon crushed by the banning of his second feature Diabel (1972). His third project, The Silver Globe (1987) remained unfinished for ten years—the team was practically disbanded by the authority. Understandably, in the end of 1970s he went to live in France, leaving all these unhappy memories behind.

L’Important, c’est d’aimer (1975) is his first project in France. It features Romy Schneider and brought her a Caesar for the performance (something every French actress covets for). Possession (1981) repeated the formula (the woman, the husband and the intruder triangle) and brought Isabelle Adjani the same glory. La femme publique (1984) didn’t make it. I have yet to see this film and understand why.

From 1985 onwards Zulawski mainly worked with Sophie Marceau, then a plump post-Boum teenager-turned-star. She made Police (1985) this year with Maurice Pialat, where her role is far from central, and she was certainly looking for something more ambitious, for instance, the role of Adjani in Possession. Hence L’amour braque (1985). It might have been the one if the jury was not already a bit tired of Dostoyevsky’s universe. Mes nuits sont plus belles que vos jours (1989) features more nudity from the part of Sophie, but that didn’t work; either was La note bleu (1991) and La Fidèlité (2000). By this time, everyone knew that the problem is with the husband. Since besides those Zulawski films, Sophie was shining everywhere: Fanfan (1993), Braveheart (1995), Anna Karenina (1997), Firelight (1997) and finally, even a Bond film, The world is not enough (1999). Although these films are not necessarily artistic, or have Sophie as a central character, her performances (or simply appearances) are much more enjoyable than the way Zulawski had been using her for years. It was no surprise then in 2001 we heard that Sophie left him for good.

Conversely, without Sophie, Zulawski seems to fare better. Szamanka (1996), a film shot in Poland, was again an impressive piece of work, reminding us of the power revealed in his earlier Possession. Although Zulawski’s themes remain always the same, only these two are constructed above the level of comprehensibility, a quality that he does not seem to care very much. What does he care then? It seems that the title of film I saw tonight can best capsulate it: what counts is to love. Not only Zulawski regards love as the most noteworthy thing in the world, it is to his understanding that we always have to fight for it, and mind you, fight real hard. Consequently, Love becomes Violence at Zulawski, and he seeks to explicitly convey this sense in his films, either by actual violence (somebody gets beaten up in most of his films), or a sexual violence, which are most of the time fortuitous, traumatic.

Michael Atkinson pointed out in his "Trouble Every Day: From Amour Fou to Primal Scream: Inside the Movie Madhouse of Andrzej Zulawski" (Film Comment January 2003, Vol. 39 pg. 38-41), that “Not much has been written about Zulawski, and virtually none of it in English, but when he is described at all it is as a simple hyperbolist.” He was true. And his article does not add much to this total vacuum by giving us a detailed analysis of Zulawskian aesthetics, although it seems that he does see those films and enjoy them to a certain extent. Actually, I imagine Zulawski to be a prize subject of film study: what a splendid mixture of absurdity, violence, female exploitation, among others!


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