Polish film director regarded as the most important influence on contemporary Polish cinema.
Born at Suwalki, the son of a cavalry officer who was killed in World War II, Wajda was himself a resistance fighter at the age of sixteen. Having trained at the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts as a painter, he transferred to the film school at Łódź before working as assistant to the director Aleksander Ford (1908–80). Wajda's first feature film, A Generation (1955), was based on his own experiences of the Nazi occupation. This was followed by Kanal (1956), an uncompromising portrayal of the heroism displayed in the failed Warsaw Uprising. Ashes and Diamonds (1958) was a study of the disillusionment resulting from the postwar communist takeover of Poland; this film exploited the talents of the Polish actor Zbigniew Cybulski to great effect.
After the collapse of communism Wajda returned to the theme of the futility of war in such later films as Ashes (1965) and Landscape after a Battle (1970). His support for the anticommunist Solidarity movement was expressed in Man of Marble (1976) and Man of Iron (1980) and in his profile of the French revolutionary Danton (1982), an allegory of the Polish struggle made during his exile in France and starring Gérard Depardieu.
Wajda subsequently returned to Poland and was elected to parliament as a Solidarity candidate. His most recent films include Ring of the Crowned Eagle (1993) and Holy Week (1996). Wajda's preoccupation with specifically Polish themes has limited the appeal of his work among foreign audiences, in contrast to the commercial success of such compatriots as Polanski and Jerzy Skolimowski (1938– ). However, the indirect impact of his cinematic style can be seen in the authenticity achieved in Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List (1994), a film designed by Allan Starski, who was trained by Wajda.
Subjects: Theatre — Contemporary History (Post 1945).