All the roles of Stanisław Bareja

In a strange way, cult film director Stanisław Bareja had more creative freedom with the communist TVP than with the anti-communist film groups, which were mostly backed by oppositionists. To this fact, we owe such masterpieces as the Polish series "Alternatywy 4" and “Zmiennicy”, says Mariusz Cieślik, author of the documentary film “All the roles of Stanisław Bareja”.

TYGODNIK TVP: Have you counted all of Stanisław Bareja's acting incarnations?

Yes, there were a total of 22, although after my film was completed, I spoke with the director's son, Jan, and he told me that he had heard of yet another role his father played. One of his friends claims that [Bareja] appears as a tank driver in a certain film from the late 1950s. We'll have to check it out. Acting performances are the least known part of Bareja's oeuvre, but the largest in terms of number. Short clips from all of these roles can be found in my documentary.

Where did the director's love for appearing on camera come from?

The first reason is trivial: financial. Young filmmakers fared poorly in communist Poland, much worse than now. Stanisław Bareja first lived in a workers' hotel, and after he got married, he sublet a room. Hanna Kotkowska-Bareja [the director’s widow - ed] even said that the couple was only able to organize a wedding reception for friends from Warsaw thanks to her husband's acting income. But the second reason is fundamental. As the director's widow says – and I share this opinion – by appearing in his films, he wanted to immerse himself in the realities he created for the silver screen. For the memory of Stanisław Bareja, this is of fundamental importance. The most popular director of his age has not given a single television interview. He was a guest on the radio only once, and an excerpt from his conversation with Jacek Fedorowicz closes my film. Only through his roles do we know how Bareja changed.

Did he perform in films he didn’t produce?

Yes, although he created the best roles in his own films. He is great in the role of Jan, the owner of a Polish shop in London. The one who got a pebble from Jelenia Góra, but wanted one from Jasna Góra [a monatery in southern Poland known as a religious destination for many – ed]. For me, there is great truth in this role about Polish emigrants from the communist era. They longed for a country that was no longer there, and they didn't accept the existing one. Also great are the two comedic roles he played in his series. In "Alternatywy 4", the role of the militiaman Parys stands out because it is a perfect reflection of the way things were at the time. He may be seemingly good-natured, but he's the one who controls the caretaker, Anioł. He is also funny in the role of Krokodylowy, the exaggerated drug dealer from "Zmiennicy."
Local policeman Parys (Stanisław Bareja) and Stanisław Anioł (Roman Wilhelmi), a caretaker of a block of flats at Alternatywa 4 in Warsaw's Ursynów district. Comedy series from 1983. Photo: TVP
Of his other roles, I would single out Jan Mincel from Ryszard Ber's serialised “Lalka” (The Doll). It wasn't until many years later, watching this film again with my children, that I discovered that Bareja acted in it. In it, he is the true embodiment of vitality, just like his character. The other roles are more like episodes or comic shorts. It's important to note that Bareja mostly acted in movies made by his friends from his student days. As a result, we see him in Jan Lomnicki's "Dom" (Home) series, Andrzej Munk's "Eroica", as well as Jerzy Hoffman and Edward Skórzewski's "Gangsterzy i filantropi." This was how they helped each other back then. When one of the group didn't have work or was censored – and this happened quite often in those days – they were hired on set to make a small income. I would highlight Henryk Kluba who played an excellent role in Bareja's "Nie ma róży bez ognia" (A Jungle Book of Regulations). He plays the role of a neighbour called Poganek, planning to organise an orgy.

Bareja also often cast members of his own family to play in his films, with the notable exception of his wife...

This is a consequence of his idea to treat his films like a kind of memoir. The director employed his children and mother in episodes several times. For me, the funniest is [his son] Jan Bareja's episode in "Miś” [The Teddy Bear] – a boy counting people in line at a drugstore. He is the one who tells Suwala [played by Bronisław Pawlik]: "Sir, I've already counted, there are 126 people in line".

  His wife, Hanna Kotkowska-Bareja, refused to appear in her husband's films, despite several requests. This is paradoxical, because they met on the set of "Szkice węglem" [The new soldier] by Antoni Bohdziewicz, where she was an extra. Today, she says she regrets that decision. However, at the time, she thought she was simply unsuitable.

Was Bareja faithful to his actors, or was he always looking for new faces?

Yes, and no. With Bareja, whom we think of today as a cult director, it was quite different from a young filmmaker out of school. Initially, like any artist, he was looking for his own style and tried his hand at different genres. That's an important word: "genre." Bareja practised “genre cinema” at a time when it was despised in Poland. He filmed a detective story, a comedy, a musical comedy, a typical musical, and the first Polish thriller series, "Kapitan Sowa na tropie". During this time, he chose performers based on the type of films they had played in, but there were some exceptions. Because he employed Bronisław Pawlik from his first feature to the end of his career. And it can certainly be said that he was a "Bareja actor". However, when [Bareja] forged his own character "writing" in the 1970s, around the time of the release of the film "Poszukiwany, poszukiwana" [Man – Woman Wanted] he chose a group of performers with a similar sense of humour and stuck with them until the end. The most important were his co-writers and actors at the same time, first Jacek Fedorowicz, then Stanisław Tym, but there were many more. For example, Bożena Dykiel, Stanisława Celińska, Halina Kowalska, Janina Traczykówna, Andrzej Fedorowicz, Jerzy Dobrowolski, Wojciech Pokora, Wiesław Golas, Jan Kobuszewski, Mieczysław Czechowicz, Tadeusz Pluciński, Kazimierz Kaczor, Wojciech Siemion, Marian Łącz and Krzysztof Kowalewski.

Did he let his performers improvise?

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He definitely did. Actors loved working with him. This came up in every interview I conducted, and my documentary film features a large group of his favourite stars, from Bohdan Łazuka to Ewa Błaszczyk. They all say he gave them a lot of freedom, borrowed stories and ideas for gags from them… At the same time, unlike many of his colleagues, he did not pester actors with hundreds of takes. He preferred spontaneity. In addition, he liked and respected them. Many today believe that they played their best roles with Bareja.

What was the source of the aversion of the Polish film industry to Bareja's work?

It came from his many various interests, and also from envy. Bareja loved Hollywood cinema, understood it, and was able to transplant some of the patterns to [Polish realities]. This ensured that each of his films had a large audience. Because Bareja understood that people in the cinema do not want to see themselves. They prefer to see a better version of our world. His colleagues, doing auteur or art cinema, thought otherwise. Their films – showing difficult issues and experimenting with form – received awards at festivals. But it was Bareja who was popular with the audience. Audiences voted with their feet, coming to see his films. His friends were jealous of him and said that he was lowering the bar to please the crowd. But the truth was quite different. Bareja liked this kind of cinema. He could and wanted to make comedies, detective films, and musicals. This is what he himself liked to watch the most.

A close friend of his from film school significantly contributed to the depreciation of Bareja's achievements…

Unfortunately, yes. In their film school days, Kazimierz Kutz – because this is who you are referring to – also belonged to the so-called "collective." This was a social group that stuck together throughout his student days. It also included Jan Łomnicki and Janusz "Kuba" Morgenstern, with whom he was friends for the rest of his life. They partied together, studied together, and later worked together. Their paths crossed for many years. Łomnicki and Morgenstern were very supportive of Bareja when he was affected by censorship problems and had no money to live on. Kutz broke away from them. At a meeting of PRL-affiliated filmmakers, he used the term "Bareism" to describe trash cinema, the lowest-quality productions.

The duplicity is even worse when you consider the fact that during the days of the "collective", the term “Bareism” was used in the same way we use it today – to describe absurd humour that the creator of "Miś" is best known for. Bareja took it personally and broke off relations with Kutz. Actually, the rest of his colleagues also resented him. It's hard to say what made his former friend launch such an attack. Probably what he meant was that he himself creates Creative work with a capital "C," so his film didn’t draw the same numbers as Bareja's entertaining cinema. Besides, at the time, Kutz had released the comedy “Upał” ("Heat"), which turned out to be a box-office flop, so the envy was justified.
Actors loved working with him. He gave them a lot of freedom, took anecdotes and ideas for gags from them. He didn't tire them out with hundreds of retakes, preferring freshness. Many played their best roles with Bareja. A frame from "Alternatywa 4", including: Kazimierz Kaczor, Janusz Gajos, Jerzy Kryszak, Ryszard Raduszewski, Witold Pyrkosz, Krystyna Tkacz, Zofia Czerwińska. Photo: TVP
A number of his scripts, written with Jacek Fedorowicz and Stanisław Tym, were stopped by censors. But the last one – "Złoto z nieba" – was the fault of the management of the Tor film team...

Paradoxically, it wasn’t the censors who fought against Bareja's films the most. They realised the films’ anti-communist potential too late. Bareja was most opposed by his colleagues and various mid-level officials. If he had been allowed to produce his good ideas, he would have made at least twice as many films. His scripts and novellas were rejected at [an early stage]. The censors hacked away only at those that had already been made. In "Miś," for example, they demanded 38 amendments. If they had been made, this satire would have been impossible to watch. “Co mi zrobisz, jak mnie złapiesz” [What will you do when you catch me?] has some plot holes due to censorship interference. At the end of his life, Bareja was unable to make any films at all, so he chose television. Paradoxically, the communist TVP gave him more creative freedom than the anti-communist film groups, where opposition supporters dominated. To this we owe such masterpieces of Polish TV as "Alternatywy 4" and the cult "Zmiennicy."

Did the constant stress that Bareja had to endure at work result in health problems?

Oh yes. Of course, in those days, people were persecuted regularly. Even in the artistic community. Bareja was never imprisoned, he was not tortured, but he was reprimanded several times. The pre-release for state authorities of the aforementioned “Co mi zrobisz, jak mnie złapiesz” turned into a lynching session. The signal was given by the then deputy Culture Minister, Janusz Wilhelmi, who disliked Bareja. But colleagues eagerly added fuel to the fire, and not only those connected with the authorities, such as Bohdan Poręba. Others, who enjoyed a global reputation, also joined in. These included respected writer Andrzej Kuśniewicz, who, it turned out years later, was an agent of the Security Services. A few days later, Bareja suffered a heart attack.

In an interview with Jacek Fedorowicz, he quipped that each film was always paired with a particular illness. And that he thought that it was still worth it [to make films]. Professionally, he had a really hard life. He suffered his second heart attack after martial law was imposed [in December 1981- ed], when the shooting of the TV series "Alternatywy 4" was suspended, and he died at the age of just 58 – at his creative peak. He was already very sick by then. Ironically, the letter with the decision to let him direct his last project arrived after his death. The team led by Krzysztof Zanussi hesitated for a very long time whether to let him shoot this film. Too long, as it turned out.

When, and under what circumstances did the director become involved in opposition activities?

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In the second half of the 1970s, as soon as the Workers' Defence Committee appeared [the first major anti-communist civic group in Poland - ed]​​, he began smuggling books for this organization. First, from Paris, from Jerzy Giedroyc, because he was shooting in France at the time. Later, he met people from the underground publishing house NOWA, headed by Mirosław Chojecki, and began smuggling equipment for them from the West. As a filmmaker, he was able to travel from time to time and offered to help. I should add that these are the kinds of activities that carried a jail term of many years, on par with smuggling weapons or explosives. Meanwhile, Bareja was not afraid at all. He went on, and around the same time he began to employ oppositionists who had been fired from their jobs on film sets. Thanks to him, they gained a form of income and stamps on their IDs, so the PRL-era police had fewer excuses to pick on them. For almost a decade, the Barejas lent their basement to underground printing presses. In their home… in Mokotów [a district in central Warsaw - ed], matrices were made, which allowed them to print illegal books and newspapers. One of these magazines, "Strachy na lachy", was edited by Bareja and [Stanisław] Tym for a while.

A documentary has already been made about the Bareja, but I also see the potential for a feature-length film.

You are right. Before I started making the documentary, I wrote a script for a feature film. We even got funding from the Polish Film Institute. Due to problems with organisation on the part of the producer, the project has been put on hold for almost three years. I hope to get the project rolling again. Bareja certainly deserves it.

– interview by Tomasz Zbigniew Zapert

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and journalists

– Translated by Roberto Galea

Mariusz Cieślik – A publicist, writer, screenwriter, and director. He hosts the shows “Koło pióra” and “Tego się nie wytnie” on TVP Kultura. He has published a collection of short stories "Śmieszni kochankowie", a novel, "Święto wniebowzięcia", "Jak zostałem premierem" (with Robert Górski) and a biography, "Jaruzelski. A Paradoxical Life" (with Paweł Kowal). As a playwright, he works with the Polish Radio Theater (plays "W imię ojca i syna," "Zupełny Bareja," and "Siedemnasty," which he also directed). He was the screenwriter and second director of "Concert for Independence" (marking the centennial of Poland's regaining independence), shown by TVP 1, Polsat and TVN. He is a screenwriter for the series “Prawnicy" (“Lawyers", on TVP 1), "Anioł Stróż” (“Guardian Angel", on TVN) and "Teściowie" (on Polsat). He wrote the screenplay for a feature biography about Bruno Schulz, which is scheduled to begin filming in 2023.

The film "All the roles of Stanisław Bareja" will premiere on December 29, 2022, at 9:55 pm on TVP 2.
Main photo: Stanisław Bareja with a poster for his film “Co mi zrobisz, jak mnie złapiesz,” 1979. Photo: Krzysztof Wojciewski / Forum
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