I didn’t know the movie “Afterimage” (available, at least in Italy, on Amazon Prime). It is a powerful work by Polish director, Andrzej Wajda. The movie is set in Łódź, Poland, where the painter Władysław Strzemiński lived. You can find his biography here. The movie is about one crucial line in that brief biographical presentation: “in 1950 Strzeminski was stripped of his position at the SHSVA by decision of the Ministry of Culture and Art for failing to respect Socialist Realist doctrine”.

Wajda achieved two things, both of paramount importance, with the movie. First, he conveys magnificently the feelings of a formerly celebrated artist, a local glory, whose fortune suddenly collapses and he is left struggling in his new condition of a pariah. The Ministry of Culture was ruthless with Strzemiński: they took his day job (he was a teacher at the State Higher School of the Visual Arts), they destroyed his work, they made him persona non grata throughout the city. Second, Wajda showed how that was possible precisely because of the structure of a command-and-control economy. One telling scene sees Strzeminski trying to use the few bucks he has left to buy a few tubes of paint. He is refused the possibility, “in a shop where I bought my colors for thirty years”, because his artist’s license has been taken away. Without a special license, not only were you forbidden to work; you could not even get hold of the “factors of production” you needed for your creations.

I cannot properly review a movie, besides saying I liked it, so here is a more competent and critical review. It could well be that the movie makes of the painter a kind of Ayn Rand-esque hero, though ultimately crushed by the regime. Another element in the movie I have found telling is how it portrays people under socialism. They are as miserable, greedy, and cowardly as they are under other social systems. Perhaps the regime provided some of them an opportunity to punch people they were envious of. Certainly underdevelopment and poverty made them less altruistic, as in a powerful scene when Strzemiński’s maid pours him some soup and then she pours it back in the pot, after the artist tells her he can no longer pay her. Strzemiński then licks the dregs left in his plate.