Jerzy Skolimowski is a Polish film director, screenwriter, dramatist and actor. A graduate of the prestigious National Film School in Łódź, Skolimowski has directed more than twenty films since his 1960 début Oko wykol (The Menacing Eye). In 1967 he was awarded the Golden Bear prize for his film Le départ. Among his other notable films is Deep End (1970), starring Jane Asher and John Moulder Brown. He lived in Los Angeles for over 20 years where he painted in a figurative, expressionist mode and occasionally acted in films. He returned to Poland, and to film making as a writer and director, after a 17-year hiatus with Cztery noce z Anną (Four Nights with Anna) in 2008. He received the Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement at the 2016 Venice Film Festival.
Writer and actor
In his early twenties Skolimowski was already a writer, having published several books of poems, short stories and a play. Soon Skolimowski met Andrzej Wajda, the leading director of the then dominant 'Polish school' and twelve years his senior, who showed him a script for a film about youth written by Jerzy Andrzejewski, the author of the novel Ashes and Diamonds. Skolimowski was not impressed and dismissed the script. However, in response to a challenge by Wajda, he produced his own version which became a basis for the finished film, Innocent Sorcerers (1960), directed by Wajda with Skolimowski playing a boxer.
Skolimowski enrolled in the Łódź Film School with the intention of avoiding the long apprenticeship required before graduating to feature film direction. He used the film stock available to him for student exercises, and with initial advice from Andrzej Munk, he filmed over several years in such a way that the sequences were later clipped off and joined together into one piece of work. While scoring poorly in course work Skolimowski had a finished feature film by the end of the course.
Film as life
After Barrier he left Poland to make Le Départ in Belgium in French. According to him Le Départ was a light film rather than a comedy, "does not have the serious layers that I like in my work." Skolimowski returned to Poland to make Ręce do góry (Hands Up!), the third film of the Andrzej trilogy and the fourth of his Polish sextet. The anti-Stalinist themes of Hands Up! resulted in that film being banned and him being effectively expelled from then communist Poland. He then resettled in London, notably having Jimi Hendrix as a neighbor in the same building.
Between Hands Up! and his next feature, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Gerard (1970), Skolimowski contributed a story to a Czech-produced portmanteau film, Dialóg 20-40-60 (1968), in which three different directors (with Zbyněk Brynych and Peter Solan) each devised their own story using identical dialogue even though the central characters in each section are separated in age by twenty years. Skolimowski's segment, "The Twenty Year Olds", would seem to be an extension of Le Départ with Jean-Pierre Léaud playing opposite Skolimowski's wife Joanna Szczerbic.
Deep End (1970) was Skolimowski's second non-Polish feature to be based on his own original screenplay. The movie with a coming of age storyline bears distinctive thematic similarities to Le Départ. Deep End was a promising film yet it was poorly handled by the studio. His films The Shout (1978) and Moonlighting (1982) became critical successes, with Moonlighting, made in the UK and starring Jeremy Irons, the fifth of his Polish sextet, being critically and commercially his most successful film.
In the USA
The Lightship, Skolimowski’s first US production, was adapted from a novella by the German writer Siegfried Lenz and starring Robert Duvall and Klaus Maria Brandauer. Set on a US Coast Guard ship it was filmed in the North Sea. It is suspended between psychological duel with a doppelgänger theme and a pure performance piece within the stage-like confines of the lightship. However, even though receiving the best film award at the Venice Film Festival, The Lightship had only a very limited release.
Torrents of Spring (1989), adapted from a semi-autobiographical novella by Russian author Ivan Turgenev, was a big budget European co-production starring Timothy Hutton, Nastassja Kinski and Valeria Golino. It could be considered as Skolimowski's most impersonal 'generic' film, the only real departure from his expressed interest in making films only to please himself.
Skolimowski is also an actor, having appearances as Colonel Chaikov, a ruthless yet composed KGB colonel, in White Nights (1985) and Uncle Stepan, a Russian expatriate in Eastern Promises (2007), among other roles. In 2012, he appeared in The Avengers, as a villain interrogating Black Widow.