Andrzej Wajda, considered Poland’s greatest director with credits including the Oscar-nominated The Promised Land (1975), The Maids of Wilko (1979), Man of Iron (1981), and Katyń (2007) has died. He was 90, and among numerous accolades over his long career received an honorary Oscar and Palme d’Or.
Born in 1926 in Suwałki, Wajda grew up during some of Poland’s most terrifying years. His father was executed by the Soviets after the partitioning of the country with Germany, and as a teenager Wajda fought with the polish resistance against the Soviets and Nazis. After the war, he studied painting before attending the Łódź Film School.
He began his career as an apprentice to Aleksander Ford, after which he was able to direct features, with one of his earliest films being 1955’s A Generation, an adaptation of the novel by Bohdan Czeszko. The film also marked the first instance of one of Wajda’s trademarks, veiled examinations of the devastating political and cultural circumstances afflicting Poland, and the effects growing up during World War II had on his psyche, a risky endeavor due to communist-era censorship.
Wajda would make his political beliefs more explicit later in his career, becoming a supporter of Poland’s Solidarity movement, taking advantage of a brief thaw in censorship in 1980 to make his landmark film Man of Iron, which depicts early success by the anti-communist labor movement that included in its cast Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa. His involvement in the film lead to a crackdown by the Polish government and his production company was forced out of business. Despite this, the film won the Palme D’Or in 1983.
Defying pressure from the government, he continued to explore political themes throughout the decade, notably with the Gérard Depardieu-starring Danton, that depicts revolution descending into terror and was reflective of martial law in Poland.
Wajda worked with some of the most notable filmmakers of the his era, among them Jerzy Skolimowski and Roman Polanski, who starred in his Innocent Sorcerers in 1960, (Polanski would also star in his 2002 film The Revenge.) Over his long career he directed nearly 50 films. He received an honorary Oscar in 2002 for his contributions to world cinema, a Golden Prize at the 9th Moscow International Film Festival in 1975, a Silver Bear for his film Wielki tydzień in 1996, and was nominated for four foreign language Oscars.
Married four times, he is survived by his wife, Polish scenographer, costume designer and actress Krystyna Zachwatowicz.