As the final work of renowned Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda, who died last October, Afterimage has a deathly tone that's doubly apt. It chronicles the slow, gray erasure of Polish avant-garde painter Wladyslaw Strzeminski, played by Boguslaw Linda. We follow the one-armed, one-legged painter as he hobbles around, bearing his silent rejection of new government stipulations that art must bear witness to positive socialist development in Poland after World War II.
Wajda captures a troubled artist who, even at the end of his life, is unwilling to sacrifice his ethic—that artists must be true to themselves and create—for work. The Polish government hands him ultimatums; he responds by walking out of the room. Gradually, he's fired, expelled from the artists' association, and reduced to a social leper.
Strzeminski is followed by a pack of students who feed off his brief bouts of wisdom, as if his life experience were providing theirs, yet his stoicism stings his teenage daughter. Whether he is infinitely patient or utterly defeated isn't clear. But desipte the trials of social reform and poverty, he paints on until he's completely stripped of the means to do so.
Wajda makes no proud claims. He only asks questions: What is art? What are its limitations? How should it contribute to culture, and what is the role of the artist's autonomy? It's bold to put philosophical words in the mouth of a famed artist and to create a film that lacks the pretenses of fiction. It's surprising that Wajda's final film hasn't been more widely seen. But, as Strzeminski says, "They praise the ones who suck up. They're silent about the real artists." —Luke Hicks