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Existentialism and socialist realism in the early films of Wojciech Has

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This article discusses three early films of Wojciech Has: Pętla/The Noose (1957), Wspólny pokój/A Shared Room (1959) and Złoto/Gold (1961). I argue that these films deal with the question of the meaning of human life, offering answers in line with either existentialism or socialist realism. One can also identify a certain trajectory in Has’s films. The Noose is the most pessimistic of the three, suggesting that human life has no deeper meaning and is thus ultimately absurd. In Gold, by contrast, the author is closest to affirming life, by drawing on ideas promoted in the socialist realistic literature and cinema, most importantly, the concept of work under socialist conditions as a source of pleasure and immortality. I try to identify the reasons for this transition, pointing to the freedom Polish film-makers enjoyed at the time Has made his full-length debut and the fashion for existentialism. The gradual eradication of their ‘darker elements’ can be attributed to changes in the political and cinematic landscape in Poland. I argue that the transformation in Has’s early cinema can be seen in terms of a shift from tragedy to melodrama. In addition, I try to account for the different roles that men and women play in Has’s films.
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Keywords: Has; existentialism; intelligentsia; melodrama; socialist realism; suicide; tragedy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Central Lancashire

Publication date: April 1, 2013

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