Early in Afterimage avant garde artist Władysław Strzemiński sits huddled in a cramped apartment painting. When his only light source is blocked by the red of a multi-floor Stalin banner unspooled atop his apartment complex, he gets up, slashes a hole in the banner, and gets back to work. The final film by maverick Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda — who passed away at the age of 90, shortly after the film premiered last fall at TIFF — is a triumphant, defiant portrait of an artist whose hands are tied and nearly cut off after refusing Sovietism and embracing the utility of art as propaganda. Wajda, unlike many of his contemporaries, rarely strayed from his native Poland, choosing to produce a wide range of features, including sprawling historical epics with national narratives like Pan Tadeuz and Katyn and a handful of more personal works like Everything For Sale, a meditation on the death of star and frequent collaborator Zbigniew Cybulski.
Afterimage offers a stark contrast between the bright reds, yellows, and whites of Streminski’s paintings and the “liquidated” colorful Neoplastic Room at the school where he teaches in Lodz to the gritty world of his oppression rendered in dark grays and greens, lensed by Pawel Edelman. Prior to the arrival of the Soviets he encourages his students in playfully exploring; the one-legged professor rolls down a hill prior to giving a lecture to his classes. The same class would later be re-educated by a bureaucrat who cancels his class and force the students to attend a mandatory assembly.