The first time we see Rafal Wojaczek, the subject of Lech Majewski's new film, he is throwing himself out of a restaurant window in a sudden and noisy shower of glass. Since the window is on the ground floor, Wojaczek stumbles home more or less unharmed, but the leap is a rehearsal for what is to come: a series of theatrically self-destructive acts that alternate (or coincide) with bouts of drunkenness, occasional sex (with a mental-hospital nurse) and spontaneous recitals of poetry, culminating in a suicide that seems less surprising than long overdue.
Mr. Majewski, a Polish director who wrote the screenplay for Julian Schnabel's "Basquiat" is clearly fascinated with self-immolating artists. But he doesn't go the usual route of exploring the psychological links between creativity and pathology. "Wojaczek", which will be shown tomorrow and Monday at the New Directors/New Films festival, does not explain its hero's personality so much as subject the audience to it. Played by Krzystof Siwczyk, who looks a little like a soulful, Slavic Kurt Cobain, Wojaczek is a charming, maddening poete maudit whose every waking moment is a rebellion against the world around him.
That world, Poland in the late 1960's -- the real Wojaczek died in 1971, at the age of 26 --is presented in gorgeously grim black and white. Mr. Majewski's camerawork has an almost classical austerity, and for its first half the movie seems as static and distant as his shots. But just as Wojaczek's nihilism has a core of passionate wit, so too does the movie as it moves deathward, picking up glimmers of humor amid the gloom. The funniest scenes -- which might have come from the imagination of Jim Jarmusch or the young David Lynch -- take place at a cavernous literary cafe, where a band called the Secret performs deadpan pop tunes while Wojaczek glowers and rants. Mr. Majewski's view of him is candid, but also unmistakably romantic; he would rather present Wojaczek's enigma than unravel it.
Directed by Lech Majewski; written (in Polish, with English subtitles) by Mr. Majewski and Maciej Melecki; director of photography, Adam Sikora; edited by Eliot Ems; production designer, Katarzyna Jarnuszkiewicz; produced by Henryk Romanowski. Running time: 90 minutes. This film is not rated. Shown with a 25-minute short, Giga Chkheidze's "Brasil" tomorrow at 9 and Monday at 6 P.M. at the Roy and Niuta Titus Theater, Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, Manhattan, as part of the 30th New Directors/New Films series of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the department of film of the Museum of Modern Art.
WITH: Krzystof Siwczyk (Rafal Wojaczek), Dominika Ostalowska (Mala) and Andrzej Mastalerz (Wiktor).