The late Andrzej Wajda’s Afterimage is a masterpiece in a career marked by many illustrious films.
The 90-year-old director’s work had lost none of its force of outrage over the years, but this film carries extra resonance in light of the contemporary situation in Poland, even though the film is set in the dark days of Soviet communist rule. Based on the life of the avant-garde artist Wladyslaw Strzeminski (brilliantly played by Polish superstar Boguslaw Linda), it blazes with energy, passion, and controlled fury as it follows the life of a man who refuses to bend to official ideology, even when it threatens his very existence.
Strzeminski was a compelling and charismatic artist and teacher. Wajda picks up his story in postwar Lodz, where he teaches at the Higher School of Plastic Arts. His ideas, set out in a revolutionary book he has written about art, run headlong into Stalin’s dictates on what is good for the masses: social realism and superficial positivism. This is the dynamic that feeds Afterimage‘s utterly compelling narrative about a highly principled individual who confronts the indifference and, soon enough, anger of the authorities determined to stamp out anyone who questions the party line. A double amputee, Strzeminski is a restless force of nature idolized by the younger generation and the students he teaches.
Boguslaw Linda brilliantly bulls his way through his role as the beleaguered artist who refuses to compromise, and he dominates the film, but Wajda gives him superb foils: his long-suffering young daughter whose life is equally affected by her father’s decisions and an attractive young student whose emotions move from admiration to desire.
This is a firecracker of a film—angry, committed, and deeply connected to the painful decisions that its brave subject is forced to make in order to retain his integrity.
“Led by a powerful and quietly resilient performance by Linda, Afterimage may not contain everything Wajda has said or wish to have said, however it is a moving tribute to a career marred by personal and national trauma, and one of the year’s best pictures.” (John Fink, The Film Stage)
“Afterimage is mounted in a classical, beautifully understated style that throughout conveys the relaxed assurance of a true master. It’s one of those films that doesn’t ask to be liked or admired, but only to be heard.” (Godfrey Cheshire, RogerEbert.com)