Award-winning Quay brothers create Norwid film to promote poet’s work to foreign audiences
World-renowned animators Stephen and Timothy Quay have produced a short film about one of Poland’s most characteristic Polish poets, Cyprian Kamil Norwid, to open up his life and work to foreign audiences.
Entitled “Vade-mecum” and named after Norwid’s largest poetry collection, the short film, around 11 minutes long, premiered on Facebook last night.
The film sees Polish narration with English subtitles before switching to British English narration with Polish subtitles and combines readings of Norwid’s poetry with historical images and animation against the backdrop of a dark black colour pallete.
A soundtrack of heavy music is used reflect the hardships of Norwid’s turbulent life within the historical context of the partitions of Poland and its disappearance from the map of the world and Norwid’s subsequent exile.
Commissioned by the Polish Book Institute and Polish Cultural Institute in London, the film was produced to mark the 200 year anniversary of Norwid’s birth.
With an accompanying discussion with well-known Polish film critic and academic Dr Łukasz Jasina and Dr Karol Samsel, the film is aimed at English-speaking audiences on social media, but also to Poles, whose associations with him will be connected with compulsory school texts.
Born in Warsaw, Cyrpian Kamil Norwid is considered one of the most outstanding Polish poets of the Polish Romantic period (1820-1864), but he was also a prose writer, playwright, painter, sculptor and creator of sketches.
In 1842 he left Poland, first for Germany and then Rome where he continued his studies at art school.
He later moved to Paris where he spent time with Polish and international emigres including Chopin, and fellow Polish poets Juliusz Słowacki and Adam Mickiewicz.
After a brief stint in New York, he returned to Paris where financial and health struggles confined him to life in a sanctuary for poor Polish orphans and veterans where he spent the rest of his life and died in poverty.
Forgotten in the 19th century, Norwid was popularised by the Young Poland literary and artistic movement at the beginning of the 20th century, with artists of the movement finding in him someone close to their own worldview and situation in life – a tragic poet misunderstood among his contemporaries.
It was during this time that he was uncovered as an outstanding thinker and his verse was appreciated for its virtuosity, language style and his deep reflections on the world of culture. As such, he became an inspiration to many artists and writers.
Directors Stephen and Timothy Quay said: “We decided to take on the challenge of creating this film for those who have probably never heard of Norwid. We hope, however, that we will be able to ignite an interest in viewers and interest them in his legacy – also the artworks- which this artist, underappreciated in his lifetime, left behind.”
Dariusz Jaworski, director of the Polish Book Institute said: “It was really important to us to present Norwid’s output from an English, and not just Polish perspective, and we had no doubts that the best people to tell this story would be the Quay brothers.
“Norwid is a poet who functions in the collective consciousness mainly as a poet of many school texts, therefore we decided to present the film also for Polish audiences, hoping that it will show this eminent man from a different, original perspective.”
Marta de Zuniga, director of the Polish Cultural Institute in London said: “The Quay brothers are an authority when it comes to their knowledge of Polish culture, beginning with classical music, through the painting, film and of course literature.
It is them who, amongst others, brought the works of Bruno Schulz to British salons, by creating, on the basis of his short story, a masterful animation called ‘Streets of Crocodiles’ and they are currently working on an adaptation of ‘The Hourglass Sanatorium’ [another short story by Schulz].”