Representation and Ruination under a Soviet Shadow: Wajda, History, and Chris Marker’s Re-thinking of Tarkovsky’s ‘Zone’

Paul Coates 1
  • 1 Western University, , Canada


Following the recent death of Andrzej Wajda, a reconsideration of his work is timely, and all the more so because he provides a reference point for many East Central European cinéastes. Thus this article uses his work as a main switching point between meditations on the issues his films raise. It theorises the status accorded History in them, and in Marxism in general, in relation to Walter Benjamin’s work on allegory and ruin, as well as to questions of characterisation. Also considered is the degree and nature of existentialism’s influence on this cinema, with blockages of choice foregrounded as necessarily entailing a thematics of doubling, contradiction and masking, and a reworking of the meaning of accusations of ‘treachery’ that have been a leitmotif of oppressed cultures, particularly when – as in cinema – access to the means of production depends on real or apparent collaboration with state authorities. The particular meaning of certain delays in production will also be considered, as will certain figures from the Polish culture (this writer’s primary specialisation) with an obvious ‘Baltic connection’, i.e. a Lithuanian origin, such as Tadeusz Konwicki and Czesław Miłosz. The thematics of doubling will finally be related to notions of ruination and of a filmic language adequate to it, which it will be argued may be seen prototypically in ‘the Zone’, Chris Marker’s name for a particular method of image-presentation, named in homage to that great Soviet film shot in Estonia, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (Сталкер, Russia, 1979). To revert to the title of Wajda’s final film Afterimage (Powidoki, Poland, 2016), and invoke Miłosz also, the Zone may be called the native realm, not only melancholic but also surprisingly utopian, of the after-image that is the ruin.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Adorno, Theodor W. 1964. Jargon der Eigentlichkeit. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

  • Agee, James 1964. Agee on Film. Boston: Beacon Press.

  • Alexievich, Svetlana [1984] 2017. The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II. Trans. Richard Pevear, Larissa Volokhonsky. New York: Random House.

  • Barthes, Roland [1967] 2011. ‘The Death of the Author’. – Timothy Corrigan, Patricia White, Meta Mazaj (eds.), Critical Visions in Film Theory: Classic and Contemporary Readings. Boston, New York: Bedford, St. Martin’s, 346–349.

  • Benjamin, Walter [1925/1928] 1998. The Origin of German Tragic Drama. Trans. John Osborne. London: Verso.

  • Benjamin, Walter [1940] 1977. ‘Über den Begriff der Geschichte’. – W. Benjamin, Illuminationen. Ausgewählte Schriften. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 251–261.

  • Bereś, Stanisław 2003. Pół wieku czyśćca: Rozmowy z Tadeuszem Konwickim. Kraków: Wydawnictwo literackie.

  • Biró, Yvette 1983. ‘Pathos and Irony in East European Films’. – David W. Paul (ed.), Politics, Art and Commitment in the Eastern European Cinema. London, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 28–48.

  • Camus, Albert 1983. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. Trans. Justin O’Brien. New York: Knopf.

  • Caruth, Cathy 1996. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History. Baltimore, London: Johns Hopkins University Press.

  • Chwin, Stefan 1993. Literatura a zdrada. Od Konrada Wallenroda do Małej Apokalipsy. Kraków: Oficyna Literacka.

  • Crary, Jonathan 2011. ‘Vera Lutter: Spectres of Negation’. – Brian Dillon (ed.), Ruins. London, Massachusetts: Whitechapel Gallery, MIT Press, 169–173.

  • Eliot, T. S. 1948. Selected Poems. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

  • Eliot, T. S. 1970. Four Quartets. London: Faber and Faber.

  • Elsaesser, Thomas 2005. European Cinema: Face to Face with Hollywood. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

  • Freud, Sigmund [1896] 1950. ‘The Aetiology of Hysteria’. – S. Freud, Collected Papers I. Authorised translation under the supervision of Joan Rivière. London: Hogarth Press, Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 183–219.

  • Freud, Sigmund [1917] 1950. ‘Mourning and Melancholia’. – S. Freud, Collected Papers IV. Authorised translation under the supervision of Joan Rivière. London: The Hogarth Press, Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 152–170.

  • Hamburger, Michael 1957. Reason and Energy: Studies in German Literature. London: Routledge, Kegan Paul.

  • Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich [1837] 1956. The Philosophy of History. Trans. J. Sibree. New York: Dover.

  • Jackiewicz, Aleksander 1983. Moja filmoteka. Kino polskie. Warszawa: Wydawnictwa artystyczne i filmowe.

  • Kael, Pauline 1973. Deeper into Movies. Boston, Toronto: Little, Brown and Company.

  • Lacan, Jacques [1957] 1966. ‘L’instance de la lettre dans l’inconscient ou la raison depuis Freud’. – J. Lacan, Écrits 1. Paris: de Seuil, 249–289.

  • Lukács, Georg [1938] 1977. ‘Realism in the Balance’. Trans. Rodney Livingstone. – Perry Anderson et al. (eds.), Aesthetics and Politics. London: New Left Books, 28–59.

  • Lukács, Georg [1955] 1963. The Meaning of Contemporary Realism. Trans. John Mander, Necke Mander. London: Merlin Press.

  • MacCannell, Juliet Flower 1991. The Regime of the Brother: After the Patriarchy. London, New York: Routledge.

  • Márai, Sándor [1972] 2005. Memoir of Hungary 1944–1948. Trans. Albert Tezla. Budapest: Corvina, in association with Central European University Press.

  • Miłosz, Czesław [1953] 1981. The Captive Mind. Trans. Jane Zielonko. New York: Vintage Books.

  • Møller, Lis 1991. The Freudian Reading: Analytical and Fictional Constructions. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

  • Mruklik, Barbara 1974. ‘Film Fabularny [1950–1954]’. – Jadwiga Bocheńska, Andrzej Kossakowski, Barbara Mruklik et al., Historia filmu polskiego 3. Warszawa: Wydawnictwa artystyczne i filmowe, 223–259.

  • Pērkone-Redoviča, Inga 2017. ‘Wpływ Wajdy na kino lotewski. Przypadek filmu Kamień i pył’. – Sebastian Jagielski, Magdalena Posiadło (eds.), Kino polskie jako kino transnarodowe. Kraków: Universitas, 193–204.

  • Rhode, Eric 1966. Tower of Babel: Speculations on the Cinema. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

  • Snyder, Timothy 2003. The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine. Lithuania, Belarus, 1569–1999. New Haven, London: Yale University Press.

  • Solnit, Rebecca 2011. ‘The Ruins of Memory’. – Brian Dillon (ed.), Ruins. London, Massachusetts: Whitechapel Gallery, MIT Press, 150–152.

  • Tejchma, Jozef 1991. Kulisy dymisji. Kraków: Oficyna Cracovia.

  • Verzemnieks, Inara 2017. Among the Living and the Dead: A Tale of Exile and Homecoming on the War Roads of Europe. New York, London: W.W. Norton.

  • Wajda, Andrzej 1967. ‘Destroying the Commonplace’. – Harry M. Geduld (ed.), Film Makers on Film Making: Statements on Their Art by Thirty Directors. London: Pelican, 235–240.

  • Wajda, Andrzej 1989. Double Vision: My Life in Film. Trans. Rose Medina. London, New York: Faber and Faber, Henry Holt Inc.

  • Wajda, Andrzej 2003. ‘Cinema: Past and Present’. Trans. Joanna Kazik. – John Orr, Elżbieta Ostrowska (eds.), The Cinema of Andrzej Wajda: The Art of Irony and Defiance. London: Wallflower, ix–xvii.

  • Wolf, Christa 1991. ‘The Sense and Nonsense of Being Naïve’. – Philomena Mariani (ed.), Critical Fictions: The Politics of Imaginative Writing. Seattle: Bay Press, 230–238.

  • Žižek, Slavoj 1989. The Sublime Object of Ideology. London, New York: Verso.


Journal + Issues