In Spotlight, we shine a light on upcoming, underappreciated or obscure filmmakers by taking a closer look at their filmography. This week, we explore the films of Austrian director Jerzy Skolimowski.
Film geeks obsessed with the superhero genre may recognise Jerzy Skolimowski as Georgi Luchkov, the Russian general who interrogates Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers. But before his minor foray into Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, he had established himself as one of Poland’s most distinguished and acclaimed filmmakers. Beginning his career in the 60s as a collaborator alongside the likes of Andrzej Wajda and Roman Polanski, Skolimowski has since gained international recognition as an actor, director, screenwriter, dramatist, poet and painter. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, here’s a few to get you started.
We begin with Deep End, the 1970 cult film about a socially awkward teen dropout named Mike (John Moulder Brown), who gets a job working at a public swimming pool where he becomes helplessly infatuated with his older attractive co-worker Susan (Jane Asher). This twisted tale of adolescent obsession is a peculiar cocktail of comedy, tragedy and unabashed sexiness that is amply provided by Asher in one of the most alluring screen performances that has ever graced the screens. Though set in 1960s London, England, this quasi-coming-of-age story has a uniquely foreign view of Britishness that only a European filmmaker can bring.
Of the existing Skolimowski pictures, it is arguably Moonlighting for which he is best known. This incredible British drama stars Jeremy Irons as Nowak, an illegal immigrant from Poland who guides a team of builders to London where they begin hard labour remodelling a small house. Needless to say, Nowak and his non-English speaking compatriots struggle to adapt to their new surroundings as they are forced to work intensive hours for little money in the most difficult of living conditions. Irons gives a career highlight in this sympathetic yet unsentimental portrait of immigration from Eastern Europe that is as topical now as it ever was.
Skolimowski took a 17-year break from the director’s chair, pursuing other ventures such as acting and painting, before eventually returning to the medium with Four Nights with Anna in 2008. Essential Killing comes a couple years later, and stars Vincent Gallo (the one and only) as an Afghan soldier who escapes captivity from the US military into snowy wilderness of Poland. Bold, ruthless and politically charged, this dramatic thriller exercises a different muscle in the director’s canon but manages to maintain quintessentially Skolimowski. Some viewers may also be pleased to hear that Gallo doesn’t utter a single word throughout.
With Skolimowski now in his late 70s, it’s uncertain just how many more new features we’ll have the pleasure of seeing. Though his most recent outings haven’t garnered as much critical attention, I won’t be surprised if he were to make another great sometime soon. But whatever happens in the future, the Pole has undoubtedly cemented himself as one of the great Eastern European filmmakers of our time.