Jerzy Skolimowski is a Polish film director, screenwriter, dramatist and actor. A graduate of the prestigious National Film School in Łódź, Skolimowski has directed more than twenty films since his 1960 début Oko wykol (The Menacing Eye). In 1967 he was awarded Golden Bear for his film Le départ. His famous film is Deep End(1970).
Skolimowski was born in Łódź, Poland, the son of Maria (née Postnikoff) and Stanisław Skolimowski, an architect. He often recognized indications in his work to a childhood ineradicably scarred by the War. As a small child he witnessed the brutalities of war, even having been rescued from the rubble of a bombed-out house in Warsaw. His father, a member of the Polish Resistance, was executed by the Nazis. His mother hid a Jewish family in the house and Skolimowski recalls being required to take candy from the Nazis to maintain appearances.
After the war, his mother became the cultural attaché of the Polish embassy in Prague. His fellow pupils at school in Poděbrady, a spa town near Prague, included future film-makers Miloš Forman and Ivan Passer, as well as Václav Havel.
Skolimowski was considered as a trouble maker at school as he was the origin of many pranks which angered the authorities. At college he studied ethnography, history and literature and took up boxing, which was also the subject of a feature-length documentary, his first significant film. Skolimowski's interest in jazz and association with composer Krzysztof Komeda brought him into contact with actor Zbigniew Cybulski and directors Andrzej Munk and Roman Polanski.
In his early twenties Skolimowski was already a writer, having published several books of poems, short stories and a play. Soon Skolimowski met Andrzej Wajda, the leading director of the then dominant 'Polish school' and twelve years his senior, who showed him a script for a film about youth written by Jerzy Andrzejewski, the author of the novel Ashes and Diamonds. Skolimowski was not impressed and dismissed the script. However, in response to a challenge by Wajda, he produced his own version which became a basis for the finished film, Innocent Sorcerers (1960), directed by Wajda with Skolimowski playing a boxer.
Skolimowski enrolled in the Łódź Film School with the intention of avoiding the long apprenticeship required before graduating to feature film direction. He used the film stock available to him for student exercises, and with initial advice from Andrzej Munk, he filmed over several years in such a way that the sequences where later clipped off and joined together into one piece of work. While scoring poorly in course work Skolimowski had a finished feature film by the end of the course.
Skolimowski then collaborated with Polański, writing the dialogue for the script of Knife in the Water (1962).
Between 1964 and 1984 he completed six semi-autobiographical feature films: Rysopis, Walkover, Barrier (1966), Hands Up! (completed 1967, released 1981), Moonlighting (GB 1982) and Success Is the Best Revenge, a segment in Dialóg and two other features Le Départ (1967) and Deep End based on his original screenplays. Barrier won Grand Prix at Bergamo International Film Festival. Le Départ won the Golden Bear at the 17th Berlin International Film Festival.
While living and working in many countries, he also completed another six relatively big budget productions, including four international co-productions, between 1970 and 1992 (The Adventures of Gerard, King, Queen, Knave, The Shout, The Lightship, Torrents of Spring and Ferdydurke), all distinctly bearing Skolimowski’s signature.
After Barrier he left Poland to make Le Départ in Belgium in French. According to him Le Départ was a light film rather than a comedy, "does not have the serious layers that I like in my work." Skolimowski returned to Poland to make Ręce do góry (Hands Up!), the third film of the Andrzej trilogy and the fourth of his Polish sextet. The anti-Stalinist themes of Hands Up! resulted in that film being banned and him being effectively expelled from then communist Poland. He then resettled in London, notably having Jimi Hendrix as a neighbor in the same building.
Between Hands Up! and his next feature, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Gerard (1970), Skolimowski contributed a story to a Czech-produced portmanteau film, Dialóg 20-40-60 (1968), in which three different directors (with Zbyněk Brynych and Peter Solan) each devised their own story using identical dialogue even though the central characters in each section are separated in age by twenty years. Skolimowski's segment, "The Twenty Year Olds", would seem to be an extension of Le départ with Jean-Pierre Léaud playing opposite Skolimowski's wife Joanna Szczerbic.
Deep End (1970) was Skolimowski's second non-Polish feature to be based on his own original screenplay. The movie with a coming of age storyline bears distinctive thematic similarities to Le Départ. Deep End was a promising film yet it was poorly handled by the studio. His films The Shout (1978) and Moonlighting (1982) became critical successes, with Moonlighting, made in the UK and starring Jeremy Irons, the fifth of his Polish sextet, being critically and commercially his most successful film.
The Lightship, Skolimowski’s first US production, was adapted from a novella by the German writer Siegfried Lenz and starring Robert Duvall and Klaus Maria Brandauer. Set on a US Coast Guard ship it was filmed in the North Sea. It is suspended between psychological duel with a doppelgänger theme and a pure performance piece within the stage-like confines of the lightship. However, even though receiving the best film award at the Venice Film Festival, The Lightship had only a very limited release.
Torrents of Spring (1989), adapted from a semi-autobiographical novella by a Russian Ivan Turgenev, was a big budget European co-production starring Timothy Hutton, Nastassja Kinski and Valeria Golino. It could be considered as Skolimowski's most impersonal 'generic' film, the only real departure from his expressed interest in making films only to please himself.
Skolimowski is also an actor, having appearances as Colonel Chaikov, a ruthless yet composed KGB colonel, in White Nights (1985) and Uncle Stepan, a Russian expatriate in Eastern Promises (2007), among other roles. In 2012, he appeared in The Avengers, as a villain interrogating Black Widow.
In July 2016, at the Venice Film Festival Skolimowski was honoured with Golden Lion for "lifetime achievement".