In a series curated and organized by Charles Silver, the Museum of Modern Art will screen 21 of Agnieszka Holland’s films from December 10 to January 5.
Turned down by the famous Lodz film school because of her Jewish surname, at seventeen Agnieszka Holland (b. 1948, Warsaw) made her way to film school in Prague, where she was exposed to the work of Milos Forman, Ivan Passer, and other figures of the Czech New Wave. She was arrested for political activities resulting from the Prague Spring of 1968 and served a brief prison stint. In 1971, she returned to Poland, where she worked with such prominent Polish filmmakers as Krzysztof Zanussi and Andrzej Wajda. She was soon invited to join Wajda’s film unit, beginning a close collaboration. Since leaving Poland amid the political upheaval of 1981, Holland has become a true citizen of the world, giving her a unique perspective on the social and political turmoil of recent times. Holland’s response to this turmoil-and to her native country’s cataclysmic experiences with Nazism, Communism, and anti-Semitism-is her films. She has suggested that the “making of a film is as exciting as a drug, and without that life would be empty (to us addicts).” She also hopes “foolishly…that I will make a magnificent, intelligent, and beautiful film, which will express what no one has expressed.” In pursuit of this goal, Holland has gone from Europe to Nova Scotia and the mean streets of Baltimore; she has tracked German culture from the sublimity of Beethoven to the absurdity of the Hitler Youth; and she has turned the keenest of eyes on Poland, with its many splendors and contradictions. The films in this exhibition demonstrate that Holland’s aspirations toward unique expression are far from foolish. Her courageous willingness to follow her muse everywhere-an existence she considers “the most true human situation, especially for somebody trying to make something in the artistic world”-has made it obvious that her true home is behind the camera. All films are directed by Agnieszka Holland, except where noted.
Copying Beethoven. 2006. Great Britain/Hungary. With Ed Harris, Diane Kruger, Matthew Goode. In her third collaboration with Ed Harris, Holland tries to capture the mental and physical deterioration of Ludwig van Beethoven as he finishes his immortal Ninth Symphony and prepares to conduct its monumental Viennese debut. 106 min. Wednesday, December 10, 7:00 (introduced by Holland and Harris); Saturday, December 13, 7:00. T1
To Kill a Priest. 1988. USA/France. Screenplay by Agnieszka Holland. With Ed Harris, Christopher Lambert, David Suchet, Tim Roth. Made shortly before the fall of the Iron Curtain, the first Holland/Harris collaboration explores the story of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, a Polish priest who supported the Solidarity trade union movement, in which Holland was personally involved. 117 min. Thursday, December 11, 6:00 (introduced by Holland and Harris); Saturday, December 13, 1:00. T1
The Third Miracle. 1999. USA. With Ed Harris, Anne Heche, Armin Mueller-Stahl. In his second film with Holland, Harris plays a wavering priest investigating a purported miracle. Holland identified with her mother’s Catholicism as a child, and the film reflects her own ambiguity regarding faith and religion. 119 min. Thursday, December 11, 8:30 (introduced by Holland and Harris); Saturday, December 13, 4:00. T1
Bez Znieczulenia (Without Anesthesia). 1977. Poland. Directed by Andrzej Wajda. Screenplay by Agnieszka Holland. With Zbigniew Zapasiewicz, Ewa Dalkowska, Andrzej Seweryn. Written around the time Holland was beginning her directorial career-and featuring a lead character based on her journalist father-the script skillfully dissects Polish society and values. The title refers to a scene of dental depravity reminiscent of the previous year’s Marathon Man. In Polish; English subtitles. 115 min. Introduced by Holland. Friday, December 12, 6:00. T1
Europa Europa. 1991. France/Germany. Screenplay by Agnieszka Holland. Based on the autobiography of Solomon Perel. With Marco Hofschneider, Julie Delpy, Andre Wilms, Halina Labonarska. Holland’s breakthrough into international acclaim, this true account of a Jewish adolescent’s survival on both sides of the lines in World War II is poignant, terrifying, and frequently funny. Holland’s screenplay received an Academy Award nomination; the film was widely expected to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, but Germany refused to nominate it. Featuring beautiful performances by Hofschneider and a superb cast, the film brilliantly captures the absurdity of twentieth-century authoritarianism. In German, Polish, Russian; English subtitles. 110 min. Introduced by Holland. Friday, December 12, 8:30. T1
Julie Walking Home (The Healer). 2002. USA/Canada/Poland. Screenplay by Agnieszka Holland. With Miranda Otto, William Fichtner, Lothaire Bluteau. Holland’s sensitive handling of this melodrama about a woman with a dying son and a failing marriage reflects a deeply felt emotional complexity. In English, Russian, Polish; English subtitles. 113 min. Sunday, December 14, 2:00; Saturday, December 20, 4:00. T1
A Girl Like Me: The Gwen Araujo Story. 2006. USA. With J. D. Pardo, Mercedes Ruehl, Leela Savasta. Filmed for the Lifetime Television network, A Girl Like Me explores the tragic true story of a transgender adolescent in contemporary America. 105 min. Sunday, December 14, 5:00; Saturday, December 20, 7:00. T1
Wieczor u Abdona (Evening with Abdon). 1975. Poland. Screenplay by Agnieszka Holland. Holland’s professional debut is a poetic exercise in surrealism. In Polish; English subtitles. 39 min.
Cos Za Cos (Something for Something). 1977. Poland. Screenplay by Agnieszka Holland. With Barbara Wrzesinska, Iwona Biernacka, Tadeusz Janczar. An early exploration of Holland’s ambivalence about balancing a career with family obligations. In Polish; English subtitles. 61 min. Monday, December 15, 6:00; Friday, December 19, 7:45. T1
Niedzielne Dzieci (Sunday Children). 1976. Poland. Screenplay by Agnieszka Holland. With Zofia Graziewicz, Ryszard Kotys, Krystyna Wachelko-Zaleska. This amusing satire on the bourgeois pressure to reproduce was deeply influenced by the Czech New Wave. In Polish; English subtitles. 73 min. Monday, December 15, 8:15; Friday, December 19, 6:00. T1
Zdjecia Probne (Screen Tests). 1977. Poland. Screenplay by Agnieszka Holland, Jerzy Domaradzki, Pawel Kedzierski. With Daria Trafankowska, Andrzej Pieczynski. A bit like François Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel cycle, the film presents three interrelated stories about a pair of aspiring film stars in musical-chairs relationships. Each episode has a different director. In Polish; English subtitles. 90 min. Wednesday, December 17, 6:00; Saturday, December 20, 1:00. T1
Total Eclipse. 1995. USA/France. With Leonardo DiCaprio, David Thewlis, Romane Bohringer. A lavish and controversial take on the love affair between nineteenth-century French poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine. 110 min. Wednesday, December 17, 8:00; Monday, December 22, 6:00. T1
Aktorzy Prowincjonalni (Provincial Actors). 1978. Poland. Screenplay by Agnieszka Holland. With Halina Labonarska, Tadeusz Huk. This Cannes prizewinner won Holland early recognition and, when it finally arrived here in 1983, put her on the map in America. The film reflects her love of theater, abhorrence of censorship, ambiguity toward relationships, and devilish sense of humor. In Polish; English subtitles. 107 min. Thursday, December 18, 6:00; Friday, December 26, 8:30. T1
Shot in the Heart. 2001. USA. With Giovanni Ribisi, Elias Koteas, Sam Shepard, Amy Madigan. Based on a memoir by the brother of convicted killer Gary Gilmore, Shot in the Heart recounts the days leading up to Gilmore’s execution and his lawyer’s agonizing decision on whether to continue appeals. This gritty drama demonstrated that Holland could master contemporary America’s sordid underbelly, and it led to her successful work on The Wire. 98 min. Thursday, December 18, 8:15; Friday, December 26, 6:00. T1
Washington Square. 1997. USA. With Jennifer Jason Leigh, Albert Finney, Maggie Smith, Ben Chaplin. Holland’s remake of William Wyler’s The Heiress (1949) is closer to the Henry James novel on which both films are based. Holland asserted that James showed “the way human destinies are shaped by money,” and she aspired to cross a Chekhovian feeling with Jamesian ambiguity-all flavored with a contemporary feminist sensibility. The beautifully shot and acted film was made in Baltimore, soon to be Holland’s American base for The Wire. 115 min. Sunday, December 21, 2:00; Saturday, December 27, 4:00. T1
The Secret Garden. 1993. Great Britain. With Maggie Smith, John Lynch, Kate Maberly. This remake of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s book enabled Holland to decompress after the Sturm und Drang of her continental work. This had been her favorite book as a child, and she felt she needed a “vacation.” (“No Jews, no communists, no dead bodies. What a relief.”) 103 min. Sunday, December 21, 5:00; Saturday, December 27, 1:00. T1
Dybuk. 2000. Poland. Based on the play The Dybbuk, by Szymon Ansky. In her adaptation of Ansky’s play about Jewish mysticism (famously filmed in Yiddish in 1937), Holland found that her toughest challenge was getting her Polish actors “to play real human beings, not clichéd Jews with quaint accents and movements.” In Polish; English subtitles. 91 min. Monday, December 22, 8:30; Saturday, December 27, 7:00. T1
Kobieta Samotna (A Lonely Woman). 1981. Poland. Screenplay by Agnieszka Holland. With Maria Chwalibóg, Boguslaw Linda, Pawel Witczak. Selected by MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center for New Directors/New Films in 1987 (six years after both the film and the director had been banned in Poland), A Lonely Woman depicts the grim reality of a young Polish woman (Chwalibóg) who is broken down by a totalitarian system. In Polish; English subtitles. 110 min. Sunday, December 28, 2:00; Wednesday, December 31, 5:30. T1
The Wire. 2004-08. USA. Holland is proud to be a participating director in the HBO mega-hit series. This marathon screening includes the three episodes she has directed: “Moral Midgetry” (2004), “Corner Boys” (2006), and “React Quotes” (2008). Program approx. 150 min. Sunday, December 28, 4:30; Wednesday, December 31, 7:45. T1
Goraczka (Fever). 1981. Poland. With Olgierd Lukaszewicz, Barbara Grabowska, Adam Ferency. Although already a prizewinner, Fever was banned (as was A Lonely Woman) by the military government that took over Poland in 1981. The material, which deals with Polish anarchist resistance to Russian forces following the failed 1905 revolution, is treated in a manner worthy of Dostoevsky, showing that Holland could rival her mentor Wajda as a political filmmaker. In Polish; English subtitles. 120 min. Monday, December 29, 6:00; Tuesday, December 30, 8:30. T1
Ekipa (Prime Minister). 2007. Poland. Directed by Agnieszka Holland, Kasia Adamik (Holland’s daughter), Magdalena Lazarkiewicz (Holland’s sister). With Marcin Perchuc, Janusz Gajos, Krzysztof Stroinski, Katarzyna Herman, Rafal Mackowiak, Andrzej Seweryn. Two episodes of a popular Polish political-thriller television show. In Polish; English subtitles. 103 min. Monday, December 29, 8:30; Tuesday, December 30, 6:00. T1