Polish Cinema: Barrier (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1966, Poland)

One of Jerzy Skolimowski’s first features, made in his native Poland, Barrier is a challenging New Wave exercise that recalls Godard, Fellini, and Bunuel in equal measure. While it may seem overly affected and somewhat inaccessible by today’s standards, Barrier nevertheless represents the arrival of a singular cinematic voice. Like his contemporary Polanski, Skolimowski would go on to make his most notable films outside Poland.
Dispensing with narrative logic, Skolimowski introduces us to a nameless protagonist - a medical student who plans to sell out and make money. The fellow students repeat the same line: “In this cynical and unidealistic generation, romantic impulses manifest themselves.” This line captures one of the film’s main barriers, the divide between Skolimowski’s generation and the generation who fought in WWII. This generational divide reaches its apex in one of the film’s most fanciful scenes, a huge Easter party where everyone is wearing hats made from magazines. At the party, our protagonist’s love interest says of the men from the war generation, as the men sing war songs: “They have their songs. What are ours?” The film also manifests this theme through our protagonist’s attachment to his father’s saber.
Through a series of scenes, often disconnected with Beckettian non sequitur dialogue, Skolimowski seeks to examine the barriers our protagonist encounters in Polish society - including the barrier between the bourgeois and working class, and between men and women. While some of these passages are downright inscrutable, the general feeling of the film conveys the sense of a young man at odds with the society surrounding him. This conflict manifests itself in the physical surroundings of the film. The characters often fade into the stark architecture surrounding them, or in crowds of people which suddenly manifest without warning in the world of the film. Also of note is the incredible soundtrack from Krzysztof Komeda.



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