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Andrzej Munk

Film director, also script writer and cameraman. Born in 1921 (or, according to some sources, 1920) in Kraków. Died tragically in 1961.

Andrzej Munk is a film director and cinematographer responsible for some of the most prominent works of the Polish Film School. Born 16 October 1921 in Cracow, he died tragically on 20 September 1961 in a car crash.

Munk was the son of an engineer from an assimilated Jewish family. He passed his final high school exams in 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II. In September that year, he volunteered for the Youth Work Corps in Silesia to defend Poland against invasion. He later returned to Cracow, but had to go into hiding with his family in Warsaw to escape Nazi persecution in 1940. In Warsaw, Munk found work at a railway construction company, an experience later often reflected in his films. Beginning 1942, he went into hiding under the name Wnuk. In 1943-1944, under the pseudonym ‘Ksawery,’ he was active in the armed underground struggle as a member of the Military Organisation of the Polish Socialist Party. He took part in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and, after its fall, escaped from a refugee transport train bound for a transit camp and returned to Cracow. There he worked at a tobacco processing plant through 1944. Subsequently, Munk moved to the mountain resort of Zakopane, where he was employed as stoker and janitor at a mountain cable car operator through March 1945. After the war, he worked in Warsaw as the site manager at the city’s reconstruction authority. In 1946, he married Halszka Próchnik. The same year, Munk enrolled in the Architecture Faculty of the Warsaw University of Technology and a year later at the Warsaw University School of Law. Tuberculosis, which he suffered since the Nazi occupation, soon forced him to quit both. He underwent treatment in Polish spas and in Sweden.

Munk began film studies at the Polish National Film School in Łódź in 1948, with a double major in cinematography and directing, and graduated in 1951. During his studies, he shot many films of his colleagues and made his directorial debut with the documentary Art of the Young (1949). In 1950, while still studying, the Documentary Production Company in Warsaw hired him for a five-year stint as the cinematographer for the Polish Newsreel company, and later as an independent documentary filmmaker.

A leftist by convictions, Andrzej Munk joined the Polish Socialist Party in 1946 and the Independent Socialist Youth Association (becoming a full-time employee in 1948). Throughout his studies, he was a member of the Academic Association of Polish Youth and the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR). However, due to his individualism, his comrades rejected him, calling him an ‘ideologically alien element,’ exhibiting ‘rightist deviations.’ Ultimately, in 1952, PZPR expelled Munk, allegedly for behaviour inappropriate of a member.

According to the directives in force at the time, Munk’s early documentaries conform to the aesthetics of socialist realism. Over time, the director attempted, with increasing success, to go beyond the propaganda formula; he best succeeded in A Railway’s Man Word (1953) and Stars Must Burn (1954) made with Witold Lesiewicz. While at the Documentary Production Company, he directed The Men of the Blue Cross (1955), a paradocumentary story that is a bridge between his documentary and feature film work.

Shortly after completing that film, Munk joined the newly formed film collective, Zespół Filmowy ‘Kadr.’ Meeting writer Jerzy Stefan Stawiński had a tremendous impact on the director’s work. Stawiński, a prose and incipient screenwriter at the time, went on to co-author the greatest successes of Polish Film School. Munk worked with him on three films, Man on the Tracks (1956), Eroica (1957) and Bad Luck (1957), filmed at Zespół Realizatorów Filmowych ‘Kamera.’

Extremely interesting are short experimental stories that show Munk’s new and original interests in his film work – One Sunday Morning (1955) and A Walk in the Old City of Warsaw (1958).

In his short but intense period of filmmaking, Munk also worked in television. In 1954, was part of a group tasked with developing and perfecting television techniques and aesthetics. Later, he produced three television episodes, Generals’ Evenings (1959), Passenger (1960) and Harlequinade (1961).

From 1957 to 1961 Munk lectured at the Polish National Film School, where some of his better-known students included Roman Polański, Jerzy Skolimowski and Krzysztof Zanussi.

In 1961, Munk began work on the film Passenger, marking a new stage in his artistic quest. The film focuses on the relationship between butcher and victim in a concentration camp. Unfortunately, the director’s tragic death interrupted shooting of the film and Munk’s colleagues completed the film two years later.

The impact of social trends and totalitarian systems on individuals is a common theme in Andrzej Munk’s feature films. Munk employs aspects of the grotesque, uses paradox, and irony, forms that set him apart from other Polish School filmmakers. Man on the Tracks is the story of a pre-war engine driver struggling to find his place in communist Poland and offers a reflection on Stalinism. In the novella-like film Eroica, Munk asks questions about the essence of heroism. Bad Luck offers snapshots of the life of a 20th century everyman, whose tragic and grotesque fate evokes reflection on freedom in totalitarian systems. These films brought Munk international fame and awards, making him, alongside director Andrzej Wajda, the leading filmmaker of the Polish School.

(Mirella Napolska-Jarocka)

Filmography:

1949 Sztuka młodych / The Art of the Young (doc., short)

1950 Zaczęło się w Hiszpanii / It Began in Spain (doc., short)

1951 Kierunek – Nowa Huta! / Destination – Nowa Huta! (doc., short)

1951 Nauka bliżej życia / Science Closer to Life (doc., short)

1952 Bajka / A Fairy Tale (doc., short)

1952 Pamiętniki chłopów / Peasant Diaries (doc., short)

1953 Kolejarskie słowo / A Railwayman’s Word (doc., short)

1954 Gwiazdy muszą płonąć / Stars Must Burn (co-dir., doc., short)

1955 Niedzielny poranek. Scherzo / One Sunday Morning. Scherzo (short)

1958 Spacerek staromiejski / A Walk in the Old City of Warsaw (short)

1955 Błękitny krzyż / The Men of the Blue Cross

1956 Człowiek na torze / Man on the Track

1957 Eroica. Symfonia bohaterska w dwóch częściach / Eroica. Heroic Symphony in Two Parts (part I: Scherzo alla Pollacca, part II: Ostinato lugubre)

1960 Zezowate szczęście / Bad Luck

1963 Pasażerka / Passenger

 

TV

1957(1972) Eroica. Con bravura (TV)

1959 Wieczory generalskie / Generals’ Evenings (TV Theatre)

1960 Pasażerka / Passenger (TV Theatre)

1961 Arlekinada / Harlequinade (TV Theatre)

 

Polska Kronika Filmowa (PKF) / Polish National Newsreel (PNN)

1950 Wiec w Baranowiczach, XI 1950 / Mass meeting in Baranowicze, XI 1950 (doc., short)

1950 Dekoracje, efekty nocne, XI 1950 / Decorations, night effects, XI 1950 (doc., short)

1950 Akademia ku czci Józefa Bema, XII 1950 / A ceremony in memory of Józef Bem, XII 1950 (doc., short)

1951 Wystawa Młodzież w walce o pokój, I 1951 / The exhibition Młodzież w walce o pokój (Youth Fighting for Peace), I 1951 (doc., short)

1951 Fabryka żarówek wykonała roczny plan, I 1951 / The light bulb factory has fulfilled the annual plan, I 1951 (doc., short)

1951 Fabryka penicyliny, PKF 1951, nr 3 / The penicillin factory, PNN 1951, no. 3 (doc., short)

1951 Sztuka Zwycięstwo w Teatrze Nowym, II 1951 / The play Zwycięstwo (Victory) in ‘Nowy’ Theatre, II 1951 (doc., short)

1951 Walka z alkoholizmem, PKF 1951, nr 8 / Fighting with alcoholism, PNN 1951, no. 8 (doc., short)

1951 Dom Dziecka im. św. Gertrudy, PKF 1951, nr 10 / St. Gertrude’s orphanage, PNN 1951, no. 10 (doc., short)

1951 Windziarki na Muranowie (dokrętka do materiału Zbigniewa Raplewskiego), PKF 1951, nr 10 / Lift attendants in Muranów (additional shooting for Zbigniew Raplewski’s material), PNN 1951, no. 10 (doc., short)

1951 Mecz piłki nożnej CWKS – Unia, PKF 1951, nr 14 / Football match CWKS – Unia, PNN 1951, no. 14 (co-dir., doc., short)

1951 Zabawa na Mariensztacie, PKF 1951, nr 23 / Party in Mariensztat, PNN 1951, no. 23 (co-dir., doc., short)

1951 Miejski szpital położniczy w Warszawie, PKF 1951, nr 23 / City Maternity Hospital in Warsaw, PNN 1951, no. 23 (doc., short)

1951 Zespół Aleksandrowa, VII 1951 / The Alexandrov’s Band, VII 1951 (doc., short)

1951 Rumuński Zespół Pieśni i Tańca, PKF 1951, nr 37 / Romanian Song and Dance Group, PNN 1951, no. 37 (doc., short)

1956 Komeda i jego zespół, PKF 1956, nr 36 / Komeda and His Band, PNN 1956, no. 36 (doc., short)

1959 Wydanie (anty)jubileuszowe, PKF 1959, nr 52 AB, wydanie specjalne z okazji jubileuszu 15-lecia PKF / The (Anti)celebratory Version, PNN 1959, no. 52 AB, special edition on the 15th anniversary of PNN (doc., short)