Leading Pole helmer Munk’s career is cut tragically short

Fest prepping retrospective on director

HOLLYWOOD — As it did with so many young filmmakers, the Venice Intl. Film Festival was early to acknowledge the art of Polish director Andrzej Munk, whose “Men of Blue Cross” won best first film in 1955, followed by the short film prize in 1958 for “A Walk in the Old City of Warsaw.”

On the 80th anniversary of his birth and the 40th anniversary of his tragic death in 1961, Venice is prepping an exhaustive retrospective of restored prints of Munk’s six features, made in the last seven years of his life, and 15 of his 20 shorts, filmed between 1946 and 1958.

Born in Krakow, Poland’s traditional center of artistic ferment, Munk graduated high school just before the Nazi invasion and occupation. He joined the underground resistance, and resumed his education after World War II.

Opting out of law, economics and architecture studies, Munk made his first short in 1946 after enrolling in the first classes of the Lodz Film School. Fellow student Andrzej Wajda recalled that as a student at Lodz, “Munk could not make a film about a consumptive hero (I was to play that hero because I was terribly thin) … because to show a victim of consumption was considered just too pessimistic.”

This foreshadowed a long period in which Munk, Wajda, Jerzy Kawalerowicz and others took their state-sponsored training and made films that cleverly critiqued that very state. Such early shorts — 10 alone were made between ’46 and ’52 — as “Art of Youth,” “Science Closer to Life” and “Direction: Nova Huta” experimented with extensive use of natural sound as an alternative to traditional film music.

His war experience proved fruitful ground for his ironic feature films, including “Eroica” (1957), which pairs an absurdist telling of the Warsaw uprising with a fatalistic tale of an escape from a German prison, and “Bad Luck” (1959), about the unfortunate odyssey of an Everyman through the Poland of 1930-1950.

By 1960, it appeared that Munk was on the verge of achieving, with Wajda, worldwide acclaim for an impressive, growing oeuvre when he set out to film “The Passenger.” With a plot hook worthy of Hitchcock, the film depicts the happenstance meeting on a ship of a woman who had been an Auschwitz prison guard and one of her surviving prisoners.

During filming, Munk died in a car crash, and colleagues attempted to round out the uncompleted feature with stills, a kind of completion that predated a recent restoration with stills of Erich Von Stroheim’s “Greed.”

“The Passenger” was finally screened in Venice in 1964, where it won the Italian Critics Award, though another six years passed until it gained a U.S. release.

More Film

  • BOTM-Eve-Viper-Gang

    Director Angus Gibson: My Audience is ‘Young, Black South Africans’

    DURBAN–Sophiatown, 1958. On the outskirts of Johannesburg, as the apartheid police prepare to demolish the community at the heart of black South African cultural and intellectual life, a notorious gang leader is determined to make a last stand. Resisting the forced evictions that will transport the residents of Sophiatown to a desolate township miles away, [...]

  • marvel

    Marvel Phase 4 Plan Revealed, But Comic-Con’s Big Winner is Disney Plus

    In a triumphant return to the San Diego Comic-Con main stage, leadership at Marvel Studios managed some splashy surprises and showed off risky creative bets for the next two years of content coming from the superhero operation. But the biggest takeaway from the Saturday presentation inside Hall H was how important Marvel will make Disney [...]

  • Florence Pugh, O. T. Fagbenle, Rachel

    'Black Widow': Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh Go Head-to-Head in First Footage

    Marvel’s “Black Widow” has only been in production for a month, but studio president Kevin Feige still delivered the goods for fans at San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. Filmmakers brought an intense sizzle reel of on-location shots, kicked off by a dazzling and bone-crushing fight sequence between lead Scarlett Johansson and her on-screen sister Florence [...]

  • Natalie Portman Thor

    Natalie Portman Returns for 'Thor: Love and Thunder' as Female Thor

    Natalie Portman is coming back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but she’s no one’s love interest this time around. The Oscar winner will play a female god of thunder in the fourth film from the Chris Hemsworth series, titled “Thor: Love and Thunder.” Portman hit the stage at San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday to great [...]

  • Fantastic Four

    New 'Fantastic Four' Movie in Development at Marvel

    Marvel is going back to the Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige announced that a new movie based on the superhero group is in the works at San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. Further details, however, including a release date, were not revealed. It marks the first Fox property for Disney to mine since the [...]

  • Mahershala AliMarvel Studios panel, Comic-Con International,

    Mahershala Ali to Star in Marvel's 'Blade' Reboot

    Marvel is rebooting the “Blade” series, and has cast Mahershala Ali to star. Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige announced the news at Comic-Con on Saturday as the panel’s big ending surprise. Ali also took the stage at the announcement to massive applause, donning the Blade baseball cap. Wesley Snipes previously played the half-vampire superhero in [...]

  • Doctor Strange

    'Doctor Strange' Sequel Billed as First MCU Horror Film at Comic-Con

    A sequel to “Doctor Strange” was announced as expected on Saturday at Marvel’s Comic-Con panel — what we didn’t see coming was the tone. Director Scott Derrickson said the film, titled “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” will mine the original comics and play up “the gothic, the horror.” Derrickson said it will lead [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content