Adaptations


Adaptations
   Polish cinema has been known for its close bonds with national literature. At the beginning of the twentieth century, literature provided an abundance of patriotic and social themes not only for the stateless Polish nation, but also for the emerging national cinema. It also gave Polish cinema some respectability among audiences and helped to grant cinema the stature of art. Literary works by, among others, Stefan Żeromski, Józef Ignacy Kraszewski, Adam Mickiewicz, and the two recipients of the Nobel Prize—Władysław Reymont and Henryk Sienkiewicz—had been scripted by prominent contemporary writers and adapted for the screen. Filmmakers were eager to popularize the national literary canon and looked for stage-tested scripts that, apart from signs of high art, contained melodramatic and sensational plots. Both locally produced films and foreign films based on Polish literary classic works proved to be box-office successes in the Polish territories. The most prestigious productions after 1918 included The Promised Land (1927), codirected by Aleksander Hertz and Zbigniew Gniazdowski, and Pan Tadeusz (1928), directed by Ryszard Ordyński. The latter film, adapted from Mickiewicz's book-length poem, became the focal point of the celebrations of the tenth anniversary of Polish independence.
   The most popular Polish films made after 1945 were also based on respected literary sources. For example, the year 1960 marks the production of the first postwar historical epic—and the most popular Polish film ever—another adaptation of Henryk Sienkiewicz, The Teutonic Knights directed by Aleksander Ford. According to figures from 2000, The Teutonic Knights remains the most popular film screened in Poland, with 33.3 million viewers, ahead of two other of Sienkiewicz's adaptations—the children's film In Desert and Wilderness (1973, Władysław Ślesicki), with 30.9 million viewers, and another historical epic, The Deluge (1974, Jerzy Hoffman), with 27.6 million viewers. Among the twenty most popular films shown in Poland from 1945 to 2000, thirteen are Polish films, including eight adaptations, four of which are adaptations of Sienkiewicz's novels. Films based on Sienkiewicz's historical epics, originally written to "console the hearts" of Poles, reinforced the images of the heroic Polish past. Vast panoramas, epic scopes, historical adventure stories utilizing Polish history, and, above all, Sienkiewicz's name proved to be enough to attract millions of viewers. These films were eagerly awaited by Polish audiences for whom Sienkiewicz and the characters populating his historical novels were, and still are, household names.
   Film adaptations of the national literary canon had the most successful ticket sales in Polish cinema during the mid-1960s. They were also well received by Polish critics. The majority of adaptations stirred heated national debates, usually dealing with historical and political issues surrounding the films, rather than the films themselves. Andrzej Wajda's Ashes (1965), an adaptation of Stefan Zeromski's novel, and Jerzy Kawalerowicz's epic production The Pharaoh (1966), based on Bolesław Prus's novel, serve as good examples here. These and other films from the 1960s were frequently received as historically distant parables of contemporary Poland. In the mid-1960s, some Polish filmmakers became known for their innovative treatment of literary classics. For example, The Saragossa Manuscript (1965, Wojciech J. Has), adapted from the novel published in 1813 by a writer of the European Enlightenment, Count Jan Potocki, offers a complex, labyrinth-like narrative structure that is open to interpretation. The viewer follows Captain Alfons von Worden (Zbigniew Cybulski) and his improbable voyages across eighteenth-century Spain. The dreamlike dimension of this travel and the motif of a journey into one's past also characterize some of Has's later films, including Hospital under the Hourglass (1973), an adaptation of Bruno Schulz's prose, which deals with the theme of childhood recollections in the spirit of Franz Kafka. Another film, Jerzy Antczak's Nights and Days (1975), an adaptation of Maria Dabrowska's epic novel, belongs to the group of most popular Polish films.
   Several established Polish directors, such as Andrzej Wajda, relied on adaptations of the Polish national literary canon. At the beginning of the 1970s, Wajda produced a number of important adaptations revolving around the characters' psychology rather than the historical and political contexts. They include Landscape after Battle (1970), based on Tadeusz Borowski's short stories; Birchwood (1970), an adaptation of Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz's short story; The Wedding (1973), an adaptation of the canonical Polish drama by Stanisław Wyspiański; The Promised Land (1975), based on Władysław Stanisław Reymont's novel about the birth of Polish capitalism in Łódź; and The Shadow Line (1976), a lesser-known adaptation of Joseph Conrad's story. In the 1970s, adaptations of the Polish literary canon, including works by Wajda, were also the most popular Polish films screened abroad.
   In the oppressive 1980s, adaptations of national literature also belonged to the most successful films. For example, the year 1986 brought several notable adaptations, including Foreigner by Ryszard Ber, based on Maria Kuncewiczowa's novel; Chronicle of Amorous Accidents by Andrzej Wajda, based on Tadeusz Konwicki's novel; Bodensee by Janusz Zaorski, based on Stanisław Dygat's novel; Ax-iliad, Witold Leszczynski's film based on Edward Stachura's novel; as well as The Girls from Nowolipki and its continuation, Crab Apple Tree, both adaptations of Pola Gojawiczynska's novel by director Barbara Sass. The popular novel by Gojawiczyńska was already successfully adapted before the war by Józef Lejtes in 1937. The most popular film screened in 1987 in Poland, with more than six million viewers, was another adaptation, On the Niemen River, directed by Zbigniew Kuźmiński and based on Eliza Orzeszkowa's novel.
   After overcoming the rough transitional period at the beginning of the 1990s, a group of well-established Polish filmmakers succeeded in winning back their audiences toward the end of the decade with lavish adaptations of the Polish national literary canon. Although they do not constitute the majority of films produced in Poland (roughly a quarter of the annual production), the adaptations are the most prominent in terms of their popularity and prestige. The list of nine Polish films that attracted more than one million viewers from 1989 to 2004 includes seven adaptations. Thanks to Jerzy Hoffman's With Fire and Sword and Wajda's Pan Tadeusz, which together had more than thirteen million viewers in 1999, Polish cinema shared an unprecedented 60 percent of the local market. Due to this record number, several filmmakers and producers saw adaptations of classic Polish literature as the only way to fill the movie theaters. Thus, the beginning of the twenty-first century brought new adaptations of Henryk Sienkiewicz—Quo Vadis (2001) by Kawalerowicz and In Desert and Wilderness (2001) by Gavin Hood. Other adaptations followed, among them the adaptation of Stefan Zeromski's novel Early Spring, directed by Filip Bajon, Aleksander Fredro's classic play Revenge (2002), adapted by Wajda, and Józef Ignacy Kraszewski's popular pseudohistorical novel The Old Tale, adapted by Hoffman. According to figures from 2001, Polish adaptations dominated the box office: Quo Vadis (4.3 million viewers), In Desert and Wilderness (2.2 million viewers), and Early Spring (1.7 million viewers). They left behind a prominent group of (mostly) American films such as Shrek, Bridget Jones 's Diary, Cast Away, and Pearl Harbor. With a budget of eighteen million dollars, Quo Vadis is clearly the most expensive Polish film ever made.
   Historical Dictionary of Polish Cinema by Marek Haltof

Guide to cinema. . 2011.

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