Saturday, October 22, 2016

Andrzej Wadja | Niewinni czarodzieje (Innocent Sorcerers)

faith, hope, and love
by Douglas Messerli

Jerzy Andrzejewski and Jerzy Skolimowski (screenplay), Andrzej Wadja (director) Niewinni czarodzieje (Innocent Sorcerers) / 1960

The young peroxide blonde sports doctor, Bazyli (Tadeusz Łomnicki) of Andrzej Wadja’s memorable 1960 Polish film, Innocent Sorcerers, suddenly loses all interest in the many women in his life, and seemingly transfers his sexual allegiance to the male boxers he daily tests and to his fellow jazz musicians—by night this handsome young doctor plays drums in a popular local Warsaw jazz combo. 
     Although still popular with women, including a regular “rock-tossing” former partner, Mirka (Wanda Koczeska)—to warn him of their presence, his girlfriends toss small rocks at his apartment windows—Bazyli has lost his commitment for the drunken nightlife preferred by most of his male acquaintances, including his closest mates, Edmund (Zbigniew Cybulski) and Dudzio (the later director Roman Polański). What is happening to this young 1960s Polish youth culture, we can only ask?

     Wadja, along with his writers Jerzy Andrzejewski and Jerzy Skolimowski brilliantly explain that this new generation of the “lost and lonely,” having perhaps lost touch with history and their own cultural history, have, nonetheless, become culturally nostalgic (although Bazyli infactically insists that he hates “wild strawberries,” presumably a reference to Bergman’s 1957 evocation of the past) while being utterly cynical about their own times. In a stunning series of events that slightly pre-date Godard and the American playwright Albee, Wadja introduces us to a single night where Bazyli and an accidental pick-up, Pelagia (the wonderful Krystyna Stypułkowska) wage a theoretical war against their meaningless sexual lifestyles by her demanding a contract of sorts, which lays out the rules of the sexual games in which they will soon engage: begin with a drink (always present in the form of the cheap US Gordan’s vodka, preferred evidently to any Polish versions of the liquor), have their first kiss, engage in an intellectual discussion about social situations, and, perhaps, end up on his couch.
      The clever interchanges remind one of Albee’s George and Martha of Who’s Afraid of Virigina Woolf?, however without any of their lifetime experiences. Wadja’s couple are clearly challenging one another, but also pushing into a nearly voyage into a sexual terrain in which neither of them is willing to commit. 
      Jonny Cooper, of Britain’s Daily Telegraph expresses it best:

Halfway through Innocent Sorcerers, the film's two central characters play a game of "strip matchbox". They perch a matchbox on the edge of the table, flip it into the air, and take their clothes off depending on which side it lands. Five minutes earlier, Bazyli…had been trying to seduce bohemian and coquettish Pelagia, but now their desires are not so clear. As the matchbox continues to land in the man's favour, both lose interest in seeing the game through. Nakedness has quickly fallen from being desirable to shameful; sex suddenly seems like too much effort.


Drunk and tired, both would-be seducers are simply too exhausted to continue to play their game or commit to their “contract.” The “sorcerers” (a world which comes from the Latin, meaning “one who declares a lot”) can no longer speak. As daylight breaks into Bazyli’s bleak man-cave, he sneaks out to meet with his male compatriots and to ask, for his crossword puzzle solution (a passion he and Pelagia share), what are the “three evangelical virtues” (“faith, hope and love,” Edmund reminds him) before returning to find his Pelagia gone.
      Suddenly devastated by her absence, he goes searching for her whereabouts, even considering buying a train ticket to an unknown city to which she might have returned. Finally, returning to his apartment, he finds her once again, but even in the satisfaction of her being there, curls up in a pretense of ennui in sleep. She leaves again, but, in the last few moments of the film, returns to him, quietly reentering his domain.
      What will happen between the two we do not know. Perhaps they will finally admit their love as intellectual equals, or perhaps they are simply born into a generation that cannot commit to real love. Wadja forces us to imagine the future of Polish life, which for outsiders is even more puzzling that it must have been, in 1960, for Polish filmgoers. Will he now commit or retain, as he expresses, his preferable “sleeping alone”? But, oh what a wonderful conundrum Wadja has created, certainly one that transcends even the cultural differences between us and the quite terrible English translation of Polarts’ 2006 DVD.

Los Angeles, October 22, 2016

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