Monday, 12 December 2016

Innocent Sorcerers - Niewinni czarodzieje (1960)

On the surface, Innocent Sorcerers doesn't seem much like an Andrzej Wajda film. Indeed, it doesn't even seem like a Polish film of that era. In detailing the lives of young bohemian people in late '50s Warsaw, it's not at all like the films Wajda was previously known for (his celebrated War trilogy, which detailed the experiences of Polish youth through extreme hardship and horror) and likewise, with its depiction of the modish milieu of jazz clubs, proto-hipsters, scooters and a fondness for all things culturally pointing West, it is not what we usually have in mind when we think of Poland. Innocent Sorcerers actually feels more in line with the contemporary French New Wave, or the similar British movement that lay just around the corner. It's certainly as knowingly self-referential as anything Godard created in the former; the film's own poster is seen in the background and later, as a jazz track concludes on the radio, the announcer reveals it to be a track from the film Innocent Sorcerers.

But delve deeper and Innocent Sorcerers (written by Jerzy Skolimowski and Ashes and Diamonds author Jerzy Andrzejewski) becomes an interesting and revealing, if somewhat stylised, look at Communist Poland and how its youth related to it. The title itself holds the key, originating as I believe it does from Adam Mickiewicz's metaphysical poem Forefathers, which refers to the 'innocent sorcerers...imprisoned against their will' who derive a formula which poisons their 'foolish hopes' to ensure their reality becomes more bearable. In their refusal to take their oppressive Communist reality seriously, their desire to live a more sophisticated Western world, the characters in Innocent Sorcerers have refused to accept a reality that doesn't measure up to their dreams or ambitions. 

So much for the subtext, but what of the film itself? Well it's the story of Andrzej (Tadeusz Łomnicki) a bleached blonde mod who works as a doctor at a sports complex, tending to aspiring boxers and Olympic hopefuls by day and spends his nights womanising and playing the drums in a jazz band as 'Medicine Man'. His similar minded friends include Zbigniew Cybulski, Roman Polanski and Krzysztof Komeda (who also provided the film's score), but he meets his match one evening in the form of an enigmatic beauty played by Krystyna Stypulkowska, who gives only gives Andrzej the obviously false name of Pelagia (he in turn says his name is Bazyli) Intrigued by one another they spend the night in Andrzej's flat, chatting in a heightened, knowing and playful manner whilst partaking in games full of erotic/courtship subtext.

On its release, Innocent Sorcerers offended both the Communist regime and the Church authorities within Poland as neither establishment saw any of their respective ideologies on display in the narrative or the character. Fearing the decadence of youth, legislation soon put a stop to this blossoming Polish Film School Movement. It was not until the 1970s that Polish Cinema would truly break free once more of the ideological stranglehold to produce a host of innovative, groundbreaking films.

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