My Nikifor: The Screen Portrait – A Chronicle of an Epoch By Olga Markova

in 19th Athens Panorama of European Cinema

by Olga Markova

The movie concourse at the 18th Athens Panorama of the European Cinema has left a lasting trace in the mind of the audience with its masterly portrayal of contemporary images. We have seen this type of confidence achieved in the Polish movie My Nikifor (Mój Nikifor), by Krzysztof Krauze – the director that got the FIPRESCI award. We know only too well, how difficult it is to create such a portrait on the screen: on one hand, the people who have known those personalities are still alive; on the other hand, the images created by these people could be in contradiction with the images built by the movie authors. If the confidence of the audience is not achieved, the feedback fails.

Moreover, it is the result of a perfect teamwork. The two main characters – the worldwide-known Polish artist-naives Nikifor Krynicki and his younger colleague Marian Wlosinski, gradually raid and haunt our mind. The mastership of the director and cinematographer is hidden discreetly behind the attitude of the images the actors create: as if, they have delicately interwoven their presence in the lace of the image integrity, behind the perfect performance of famous actors.

A cinematographic phenomenon is the interpretation of the image of Nikifor by an 80-year old woman – the Polish theater actor Krystyna Feldman who never lets us have even a trace of suspicion that the image she is creating is not a man. Her one and only Nikifor undoubtedly contributes to the convincing atmosphere, particularly when it concerns such a complicated and contradictory hero. The brilliant interpretation of Krystyna Feldman is yet to be analysed and properly appreciated.

The stunning crotchetiness of this powerful talent (about who articles are written by the thousand) trapped in the helpless body of Nikifor (who doesn’t know the word ‘Thank you’ in spite of the constant care he gets) is revealed on the screen both in unison and disharmony with the sophisticated, peaceful winter landscape of the picturesque village of Krynice.

The director Krauze always builds the drama material of his scripts on the base of real human beings and their stories. I remember his debut with the full-length feature film Debt (Dlug, 1999) whose storyline is set at the time immediately after the fall of the communist regime in Poland. He provoked the immediate interest of both the audience and the critics with the power and emotion of the authentic document. In My Nikifor Krauze has again directed his attention to a real and colourful hero whose life passed on the borderline between real space and mythology. His younger colleague Marian Wlosinski discovered him as a talent in the 1960s and attended to the mentally and physically disabled, though very gifted, painter till the end of his unfortunate life at the same time sacrificing voluntarily his own family life and career on the altar of ethics and art. That offering makes Marian’s life and destiny as much dramatic as Nikifor’s.

So the great achievement of the director Krauze is in the dialectic manner of combining and opposing as well the destinies of these two great individuals; in creating sensitive and detailed portraits of rare aviswith their own specific philosophical and ethical conceptions of the world.

It is very important to me that the ideas of these heroes and of the director at the same time send a constructive message to contemporary society. In this way the screen offers a positive appeal to the young generation that is quite disoriented and stuck at the crossroad of drugs, violence, terrorism and lack of ideals.

Psychological portraits of this type will definitely be the signature of our contemporary world in the history of the film art.