Polish Cinema: The Wedding (Andrzej Wajda, 1973, Poland)

Andrzej Wajda’s adaptation of The Wedding (Wesele), the famous fin de siecle play by Polish playwright and artist Stanislaw Wyspianiski, arrived at a time of disillusionment in Polish society. The film, which exposes the failure of the intellectual class to mobilize positive societal change, no doubt held resonance within a country that had just witnessed the 1968 Polish political crisis. While Wajda’s adaptation may be somewhat inscrutable for audiences unfamiliar with Polish history or the source material, it is nevertheless one of the directors’ more challenging and artistically inventive films.
Set in Krakow in 1900, the film takes place entirely during one night, at the wedding of a Polish poet, representing the intellectual class, and a peasant girl. Such weddings were common in Polish society at the time, with the intelligentsia often fetishizing the peasantry. The first half the film introduces us to dozens of characters, many of whom are difficult to identify. We do not share the perspective of any character in particular - these figures are meant to represent various “types” existing within Polish society of the time period. 
In The Wedding, we see the influence of 1960s counterculture on Wajda’s filmmaking. The camera bounds around, almost unable to focus its attention on a single object or person. This creates a hypnotic effect, as if we are dancing with the characters. This hallucinatory effect grows in the second half of the film, which could best be described as A Christmas Carol, if Dickens was writing about Polish history instead of Christmas. Our characters are visited by a series of figures from Polish history, including Stanczyk, the famous figure of the Polish struggle for independence, and Jakub Szela, a Polish peasant who led the Peasant Uprising of 1846. Some of the imagery is truly nightmarish and apocalyptic.
While The Wedding is perhaps too opaque and disorienting overall, it nevertheless is stylistically innovative and thematically rich enough to warrant a thorough watch.



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