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Scoring4Polish Directors: Krzysztof Zanussi

A Woman’s DecisionAt Full GallopThe ContractForeign Body, Persona non grataBlack Sun – the audience will hear these and other themes from the film and musical repertoire of Krzysztof Zanussi and Wojciech Kilar on the 16th of May 2019 in the Krzysztof Penderecki Auditorium Hall of the  ICE Kraków Congress Centre The director, who celebrates his eightieth birthday in June this year, will be a special guest at the 12th Film Music Festival in Krakow and the star of the fourth edition of the Scoring4Polish Directors series.

Krzysztof Zanussi is one of the most frequently awarded Polish film directors – his collection includes the Commander's Cross with the Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta, the Gold Medal of Merit to Culture – Gloria Artis, as well as prestigious awards related to the film industry, including two Golden Lions and five Eagles (including this year’s statuette for lifetime achievement).

He made his debut on the silver screen as a director in the late 1960s, at a time when Polish cinema was trying to rise from the economic and ideological nadir. At that time, the General Directorate of Cinematography increased the number of films headed for the screens to twenty-two, including as many as seven productions shot in colour. Polish viewers saw several feature-length debuts; the most renowned one was written by Zanussi, a figure who was not unknown, as his diploma étude Death of a Provincial, with music by Adam Walaciński, had won four awards abroad a year earlier. It was also a known fact that he studied philosophy and physics before the Łódź Film School, and that he was an amateur filmmaker even before his studies.

The formula for the debut that Zanussi came up with was unconventional. The Structure of Crystal was to be a film about two physicists conducting a discourse on the conflict of philosophically different attitudes: the pragmatic and the humanistic. The breakneck idea was to shoot to the rhythm of music, and to adapt the plot to the narrative of the sound. Zanussi first asked Henryk Mikołaj Górecki to construct a score to which a sketch of the script could be adapted. Known for his explosive reactions, Górecki wrote several themes that the debut filmmaker liked very much, but which – as he said years later – “illustrated a completely different film”. It was then that Zanussi heard the composer’s famous, categorical dismissal: “Perhaps Kilar might understand you!”

Zanussi described the circumstances in which the creators of later film and music masterpieces (including IlluminationA Woman's DecisionAt Full Gallop, The ContractThe Constant Factor, and From a Far Country) became friends as dramatic – the composer agreed to the mad idea of writing music and shooting to the sound of it. “He understood that he had to give way to me”, the director said in an interview with Maria Malatyńska and Agnieszka Malatyńska-Stankiewicz, “because I myself had to see the absurdity of my idea and grow into feeling the other laws of film and music”. Kilar’s lesson for the author of The Structure of Crystal at that time was painful. He read the screenplay and wrote music that the director fully accepted, but soon discovered that it was impossible to use. “I fell into a madness of matching”, said Zanussi. “I even ripped boards from a fence to the sound of Kilar’s passages, just to keep the rhythm. I edited the film and of course it turned out to be complete nonsense, at times becoming an animated film”. After adding the image to the sound, it became obvious that it would be necessary to start all over again; Kilar extended a helping hand, then, writing another soundtrack, this time writing it for a motion picture. The music was deep and not overloaded with sounds, emphasising the philosophical and improvisational sound of the images, with the famous piano theme in a minimalist style, which accompanied both the scientific and existential disputes of the characters.

The director's friendship with the composer, which started with such an unfortunate idea, lasted for over forty years. From an artistic point of view, it was a very harmonious duo, with forty-nine feature, short and documentary productions made between them. It is difficult to say today what was the key to such fruitful cooperation – whether it was common religious views, mental agility, or a deep, existential approach to art. There is no doubt that the collaboration with Krzysztof Zanussi meant more to Wojciech Kilar than just illustrating cinema with music. It was an opportunity for a subtle exchange of opinions at the level of film and music abstraction, an attempt to comment on and show with sounds what cannot be said with words or images, because it would sound banal, ordinary, superficial. In this symbiosis, Kilar valued above all the creative freedom that the director gave him, as well as the opportunity to participate in building a film narrative, which he had already known from his earlier collaboration with Kazimierz Kutz and to which he felt increasingly attached.

The most beautiful themes from Zanussi and Kilar’s filmography (including A Woman's DecisionAt Full GallopThe ContractPersona non grata, Foreign Body, Black Sun) will be heard in May 2019 during the Scoring4Polish Directors gala, scheduled for the third evening of the 12th FMF. The concert at the ICE Kraków Congress Centre, the fourth part of the series devoted to the work of outstanding Polish filmmakers, will be part of the celebrations of the eightieth anniversary of Krzysztof Zanussi’s birthday. "It is a kind of tribute that we want to pay to the work of an outstanding artist and visionary of Polish cinema, as well as a member of the Honorary Chapter of the Wojciech Kilar Award, granted at our festival", says Robert Piaskowski, the artistic director of the FMF, adding that this year's gala will be a kind of clash between the classics of Polish cinema and new phenomena observed in Polish film music. "In the context of this beautiful, long and perhaps most fruitful artistic relationship in the history of cinema – the friendship of Zanussi and Kilar – we want to show the most catchy film and music productions of the last season”, Piaskowski explains. And so the second part of Thursday's concert will be filled with songs by special guests of the 12th FMF – Antoni Komasy-Łazarkiewicz, Bartosz Chajdecki and Marcin Masecki. The audience will hear suites from popular TV series and feature films (such as Kruk. Szepty słychać po zmrokuZiuk. Young Piłsudski, The Butler and Mr Jones), performed by the AUKSO Chamber Orchestra of the City of Tychy under the baton of Marek Moś, the founder of the ensemble, as well as the folk group Południce, the jazz band Młynarski-Masecki and soloists Kasia Moś, Katarzyna Bogusz and Anna Witczak-Czerniawska. 

During the Scoring4Polish Directors gala, we will present two awards. The first one is the Young Talent Award – the competition participants will compose a soundtrack to a fragment Agnieszka Holland’s film Spoor. The concert will also be enriched with a new festival award, the Polish Soundtrack of the Year, established for composers and authors of original music for films and television series. The winner of the competition will receive a statuette and an invitation to perform their music during next year's edition of the FMF in Krakow.

Text: Maria Wilczek-Krupa