There is the mainstream and there are the margins. Andrzej Barański has always been interested in what is invisible to most people, the margins. Although loyal to literature, he does not reach for bestselling novels. This seasoned stylist and an excellent craftsman does not make calculated confections, nor fights for the top of the box office.
It is a real challenge to embrace the massive work of the director, including his feature and television films, outstanding television and theatre performances, short films, documentaries and animations. It would be difficult to identify a filmmaker equally versatile, and, which may come as a surprise, also mysterious. "We're in an Arcadia with social problems," he said about his cinema, „They were probably an issue for Arcadian shepherds, too."
The director of A Woman from the Provinces is an artist of the stylistic and meaning antipodes. He is not associated with anyone, nor belongs to any professional bodies or art groups. In his excellent short films, animations, cinema and tv works, Barański has always been conscious of the particular medium. He chose his literary material, and then created its reflection in a motion picture, in such a way that the audience could focus on faces, emotions and on details.
The classic Polish film critic, Alexander Jackiewicz defined the works of Andrzej Barański as "a new literary cinema" and described his films as "stories about attitudes towards art". Konrad Eberhardt, in turn, in his sketch Turning Order (Odwrócić kolejność), noted: "Barański treats his characters kindly, nevertheless, he observes them from a distance and does not ignore their funny little features. He makes a record of everyday activities: listening to the radio in a celebratory atmosphere, walks around the town, making the bed."
The world of Andrzej Barański's cinema, starting with his film debut At Home, is the image of a collection of small things, small letters and small towns in which quiet, but no less painful dramas and passions are born. It is a world that has a smell of pickled cucumbers and tomatoes fresh from Miss Malwina's garden (Bożena Dykiel) in Two Moons, or somewhat muddy decadence of Horror in Happy Swamp. Andrzej Barański's cinema speaks in a calm, balanced tone and with the smile of the director.
Barański used to choose his own path. Yet, it is all about country roads rather than motorways; slow rather than fast trains. In his films, the form dovetails with the content i.e. the hero's emotions and together they give the rhythm to the whole film. The filmmaker transforms literature (Czycz, Choromański, Kuncewiczowa) into a mundane reality in which a good simple live, deprived of neoromantic elements, is the most important. Decency. This is what the sixty-year-old Andzia (played by great Ewa Dałkowska) impersonates, walking through her banal life wearing a gentle smile. She keeps returning to her memories, (the disrupted film narrative is not chronological) to old loves and painful experiences. Only her smile does not change. She has been marked with it forever.
War, Stalinism, communism and liberated Poland are all in Andrzej Barański's cinema and overthrows are a part of everyday life. Thanks to intelligence, peace, a sense of humour the Polish reality is softened and seems less threatening in Barański's films. As if the director, following Tadeusz Różewicz, his mentor and friend, kept recalling the famous quote from The Card Index: "Times are kind of big, people are kind of small." The word order may still change: little times, little people, little longings. One does not need to attach importance to them; however small, they can feel just as bad.
In this reality one enjoys simple things: a moth on a curtain, a spilled chicken broth, or the title big fish caught in The Day of the Big Fish by Jan (starring Jan Peszek), a distant relative of the well-known Hemingway hero. In By the River Nowhere, a perceptive film about the tragedies of youth, fruit wine was ambrosia and girls and love were genuine as in best Rohmer films.
Nearly all outstanding Polish actors played in his films. I cannot recall a single person talking about Barański with a distance or irony. On the contrary, hearing the name of the director, the faces of my interlocutors immediately seemed to shine. I do recognize this sparkle, when asked about Andrzej Barański, I feel brighter, too.
It's not only my type cinema, but also "my" man. I appreciate Andrzej Barański not only for his great films, but also for his honesty and loyalty in friendship and all the good words and wise advice that he has shared with me. I remember our old conversations about old calendars found in the attic of my grandmother's house or about Canetti, going from the low to the lofty, from triviality to a metaphor.
In Barański's cinema, the world crumbles to pieces every day and, apparently, nothing is left out of it. Still, the director's secret is the fact that something does remain. Something that symbolizes the process of storytelling and narration. Speaking is a little like in Beckett’s plays: the mouth, a gesture of the hand of a storyteller and talking objects: an oilcloth in the kitchen, a clock cuckoo or poppy spilled in the film Księstwo, are all the essence of Barański.