Studies in Eastern European Cinema Volume 4 Number 1

SEEC 4 (1) pp. 29–46 Intellect Limited 2013
Studies in Eastern European Cinema
Volume 4 Number 1
© 2013 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/seec.4.1.29_1
. Z aneta Jamrozik
Jagiellonian University
How to be an actress (in
Poland): The figure of the
actress in Wojciech Jerzy
Has’s How to be Loved (1962)
This article interprets Wojciech Jerzy Has’s Jak byc´ kochana˛/How to be Loved
(1962) as a film about the sociopolitical situation prevailing in Poland during the
1960s. The main focus is on the leading heroine and her acting, understood both as
professional acting and acting in everyday life. The figure of the actress links the
times before the war with the Soviet-influenced Poland of the 1960s. The article
analyses this figure by drawing on Witold Gombrowicz’s writings on Polish collective identity, the ‘Stanislavskian aesthetic’ of acting and Judith Butler’s understanding of identity as performance.
film acting
Wojciech Jerzy Has
Witold Gombrowicz
Judith Butler
Has and Gombrowicz
Wojciech Jerzy Has’s Jak byc´ kochana˛/How to be Loved (1962) is a ‘star is born’
kind of story. However, unlike most films about young actresses’ path to
fame, Has does not present it as a rags to riches journey. Not only is the plot
presented in fragments, and some of them, especially at the beginning of the
film, seem too short to be fully graspable, but also the story is visibly lacking
Z aneta Jamrozik
the happy ending anticipated in a film of this type. Instead, the focus of the
narrative is on World War II, when the promising career of the actress played
by Barbara Krafftówna was interrupted. However, How to be Loved uses this
war theme, not unlike Andrzej Wajda’s Popiół i diament/Ashes and Diamonds
(1958), to make a statement about the present, or as Andrzej Werner puts it
when talking about Wajda’s masterpiece – ‘to build a bridge over a ten year
period, between the late 1940s and the late 1950s’ (Werner 2011: 53).
The beginning of the 1960s, when Has made his film, was a period in
which Socialist Realist art that prevailed in Poland from 1949 to 1955 was
considered to be over, as was Gomułka’s thaw also known as October 1956.
As a result of the collapse of both paradigms, a new mix of ‘Soviet’ and
‘foreign’ thinking was introduced into art, whose purpose was to combine
education with entertainment. In literature, managers replaced workers as
main characters and immaterial work replaced material production (Krasuski
2006). Film-makers started to make more genre films, mostly comedies and
crime movies, in order to compete with Hollywood. Hence it received the
label ‘mini-Hollywood’ (Werner 2011: 175). The whole change was soon to be
described, after the title of Tadeusz Róz ewicz’s drama from 1962, as ‘our small
stabilization’. Some critics regarded the term as reflecting a positive phenomenon of the depoliticization of life and culture in Poland. Others, however,
pointed to the fact that the words ‘our’ and ‘small’ stand for the mediocre
character of the alleged change; indeed the lack of any real change.
This was also the time when the presence of Witold Gombrowicz was
felt more strongly in Polish culture than before (Werner 2011: 177; Brodsky
1980), especially after his novel, Pornography, was published in Paris in 1960
(Korczarowska-Róz ycka 2011: 87). Gombrowicz’s irony and absurdity provided
a language to describe the gap between the happy endings and luxury shown
in films or told in popular songs and the living experience of the majority of
Poles. The writer attacked both Polish communists and their opponents. Both,
according to him, tried too hard to behave ‘truly’ or ‘authentically’ and, by
doing that, were forgetting ‘that man not only is himself but also pretends
to be himself’ (Gombrowicz 1988: 36). According to Gombrowicz, the Poles
have a great need for authenticity, but look for it in the wrong places. Thus,
instead of accepting their own inauthenticity, they try to hide it by overperforming their national characteristics. The writer himself proposed a different
path, advocating an authenticity based on acting used as a subversive strategy. In this approach, to be an actor means to ‘constantly sense one’s lack of
authenticity’ (Baniewicz 1992: 102). In 1953, in one of the first instalments of
his Diary, Gombrowicz addresses his countrymen by suggesting that if they
hate acting, this is because it is an integral part of their identity. For him,
acting was a key of being in the world and understanding it (Gombrowicz
1988: 37).
I would argue that the abovementioned presence of Gombrowicz in the
Polish culture of the 1960s is also evident in How to be Loved. Has, like the
writer, compares acting understood as a profession with acting in real life, and
he locates these different types of acting in the context of the Poles’ struggles
with their own national identity, treating it with irony. In my reading of How
to be Loved I will focus on the main heroine and her acting, understood both
as a professional acting and acting in everyday life. I will draw mainly on the
‘Stanislavskian aesthetic’ of acting (Naremore 1988: 2), Gombrowicz’s writings on Polish collective identity and Judith Butler’s understanding of identity
as performance.
How to be an actress (in Poland)
The dominant discourses on acting still follow humanistic psychology of
Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers (Polkinghorne 2001) in locating existence
‘inside’ the individual and sharing its view that a person is free to choose his
or her own behaviour. By contrast, Butler and Gombrowicz emphasize that
choice stems not so much from the individual, but from the conditions of
possibility offered by discourses, which prescribe what is an acceptable form
of subjectivity. Thus, both cultural critics question the autonomy of the individual from the social, and propose a different kind of agency, one based
on parodic repetition of ‘the original’: ‘The theory of gender performativity’ – explains Butler – ‘presupposes that norms are acting on us before we
have a chance to act at all’ (Butler 2009: xi), while according to Gombrowicz
the will that guides us ‘is collective, born in an interhuman dimension’
(Gombrowicz 2012: 22).
However, while Butler maintains that there exists no extra-discursive
subject, focusing mainly on the gender binary system, Gombrowicz concentrates on the binaries embedded in Polish tradition. He shows how the idea of
‘us’ vs ‘them’, as he puts it, governs Polish life in all its aspects. Gombrowicz
claims that this type of thinking leads to Poles’ ‘one-sidedness’ and inauthenticity and attempts to reveal its mechanism by examining Polish history. He
turns to the years of struggle to regain statehood after the period of partitions,
which lasted from 1795 to 1918, seeing in this period a reason to draw a line
between what is and what is not essentially Polish:
History has forced us to exaggerate certain characteristics of our nature
and we are what we are excessively. We have overstylized […] our
excessiveness […] resulting in the fact that the type of Pole that we have
evolved must stifle and destroy the type that we could have been and
that exists in us as antinomy. Yet it would seem from this that the Pole
is impoverished exactly by one-half of himself.
(Gombrowicz 1988: 109)
The mechanism of dividing everybody into ‘us’ and ‘them’ was continued in
the fight with communism, and, as noted by many commentators (WnukLipin´ski 1996; Wydra 2000; Frybes and Michel 1996), did not cease after 1989.
It is against the background of such crude divisions and Has’s oppositions to
them that I propose to locate How to be Loved.
How to be Loved as a film about Poland in the 1960s
How to be Loved begins in the 1960s with image of a woman waiting at
the Warsaw airport for her flight to Paris. The woman turns towards the
camera and this move initiates her look back at the times before the war.
The gesture of turning around is then repeated at the beginning of the next
scene, this time, however, revealing the visibly younger face of the woman.
From now on, the film goes back and forth in time as it recounts the life of
the character, from the beginning of her acting career in 1939 to the trip to
Paris in the 1960s.
How to be Loved was the sixth film in Has’s career and is regarded as one
of his most successful. After its premiere it was applauded both by critics and
audiences as a masterpiece and ten years after the release was still considered
the director’s ‘lucky six’ (Je˛drkiewicz 1974: 12). This adaptation of Kazimierz
Brandys’ short story (1960) came out as ‘lucky’ not only for the director, but
Z aneta Jamrozik
Figure 1: Barbara Krafftówna turns towards the camera at the beginning of the
flashback scene in How to be Loved.
also for his actress, Krafftówna, who received a prize for the best actress at
the San Francisco Film Festival. Krafftówna is accompanied by Zbigniew
Cybulski, who plays Wiktor Rawicz, already a star in the theatre where the
woman prepares for her great debut as Shakespeare’s Ophelia.
From the very beginning Has stresses the difference between the two
characters. Thus, while the woman is excited about her role as shown in the
rehearsal at the beginning of the film, Rawicz, sitting in his chair and sipping
his tea, seems half-bored, half-irritated by her practicing Ophelia’s monologue
right next to him. His behaviour questions the difference between acting and
non-acting, as it is unclear whether the half-asleep man is actually acting or
rather resting while waiting for his turn. Thus, when the woman, doing her
monologue, turns away from Tomasz (Artur Młodnicki), who plays Claudius,
and sits next to Wiktor’s chair, it is unclear whether she is still performing
the role from the play. The end of her monologue, in particular, raises this
question, as she switches from the text of Ophelia to stating that she does
not understand a word of it. The rehearsal has to be stopped because of the
German bombings. The next scene shifts to Krakow already being under
German occupation.
It is important to notice that these moments of acting take place during
the rehearsal. Through this device Has introduces a theme of performances
without audiences and actors unsure how to act in a situation in which the
border between the stage and offstage is blurred. In the episode discussed,
Wiktor appears to be too bored to perform during the rehearsal, but he
becomes more than eager to show off his skills afterwards, while the actress,
on the other hand, excels during the rehearsal but later seems unsure how
to respond to Wiktor’s overstylized, theatrical behaviour. When she ends her
Ophelia monologue with a confession that she does not understand a word
How to be an actress (in Poland)
of it, Wiktor laughs at her trouble, responding with the ironic ‘Darling, the
words will reveal themselves at the thirtieth spectacle’.
The difference between the two characters and their types of acting is
reinforced by the fact that other characters call Krafftówna’s character by
referring to the names of her two great roles: Ophelia (during the war) or
Felicja (at the beginning of the 1960s) (Ostrowska 2011). Therefore viewers
do not get the chance to know her ‘real’ name. In this article I will refer to
Krafftówna’s part in the film as ‘Felicja’ (in inverted commas) whenever I will
be writing about the actress with no ‘real’ name she plays in Has’s film, and
Felicja – when describing the character ‘Felicja’ the actress plays in the radio
soap opera. Wiktor’s name, on the other hand, is repeated throughout the
film many times, even appears on the German announcement when the man
becomes accused of a murder. The fact that ‘Felicja’ could just as well be called
‘the actress’, as she remains unnamed both in the novel and in the film, and
the way Wiktor speaks to her, treating her doubts as childish, links her to the
heroines from Socialist Realist novels, who are equally often either unnamed
or have their names abbreviated to sound more childish (Piekara 2001: 30).
Although the story in How to be Loved is presented from the woman’s
perspective and guided by her inner monologue, the sociopolitical circumstances also play an important role in the story, as they both influence her
monologue while, at the same time, being reflected in it. What connects her
personal monologue with the sociopolitical situation in Poland the most is
acting. During the war ‘Felicja’ has to act in front of Germans and Poles in
order to convince them that she has nothing to do with Wiktor’s disappearance. Then she has to lie to Wiktor, whom she hides in her apartment, making
the man believe that he is regarded as a national hero. Finally, she decides
to take a job as an actress in a German theatre to avoid German officers
Figure 2: Barbara Krafftówna as ‘Felicja’ and Zbigniew Cybulski as Wiktor in
How to be Loved.
Z aneta Jamrozik
searching her place. Acting is thus shown in the scenes taking place during
the war as a kind of strategy to keep up appearances or putting on a mask in
order to survive. The threat against which the woman is fighting is both physical (Germans) and psychological – the Polish heroic myths that make Wiktor
believe that one has to be a hero or a nobody, as there are no other options.
Acting remains an important strategy also in the contemporary scenes. For
example, on a plane to Paris, ‘Felicja’ notices the poor quality of her clothes
and tries to ‘cover’ it by speaking French or using phrases typical for ‘those
dumb pseudo-intellectual women who talk to foreigners in the Bristol Hotel’.
Thus, as I would argue, Has creates a complex picture of Polish society after
World War II, a society that still has to put on mask while going public and
leads a double life. One of the motives for continuing this double life after the
war was, as is emphasized in the above mentioned scenes, a sense of inferiority felt by Poles towards Europeans. The other reason, the one that Has could
not stress enough at the time, was the fact that the People’s Republic of Poland
was governed by a state dependent on Russia – a fact commonly known at the
time, but never openly spoken about. This political situation affected the way
people behaved, as many subjects were banned from official life, and therefore
people could not speak of them freely in public. A similar point was made by
Marcin Maron, who in his book devoted to Has, placed How to be Loved next
to Szyfry/The Codes (1966), claiming that in both the director achieved a kind
of balance between the individual and the national dimensions of the stories
presented in them (Maron 2010: 79). How to be Loved can also be considered as
one of Has’s most personal films, as the director suggested in an interview:
They [personal memories] are present, first of all, in How to be
Loved. But they’re more connected with Stalinism, than with [the
German-Z˙J] occupation. Cybulski says there about the pain of waiting:
‘To wait! They always tell me, that I need to wait!’ This is exactly the
experience of those days. During the occupation one was not afraid to
speak to a friend. There was no double thinking, double morality. This
was typical for the new times ….
(quoted in Maron 2010: 211)
Yet, it has to be stressed from the beginning, that by ‘those days’, Has clearly
meant the years around the production of the film, and not the pre-war, or
war times. Even the scenes that appear to take place during the German occupation served to comment on the duplicity of life in 1960s Poland. To capture
this ‘double thinking’, which – according to Has – characterized post-war
Poland, the director incorporated it into the filmic structure. This structure
manifests itself most importantly through the character of the main heroine and Krafftówna’s ironic acting style, by means of which she emphasizes
the fact that ‘Felicja’s’ attitude towards her life and her past is similar to the
way actors analyse their characters before embarking on performing them
onstage or in front of the camera.
Krafftówna stresses that for ‘Felicja’ her work as an actress simply cannot
be reduced to her playing the part of Felicja and then returning to herself. The
role of Felicja Konopkowa affects profoundly the way others see her and how,
subsequently, she perceives herself. The ideal housewife, Felicja Konopkowa,
becomes suddenly more real than the unmarried and childless ‘Felicja’.
Thus, her role functions similarly to a social convention, as it promises social
recognition, yet at the price of reducing the real person to the role he or she
How to be an actress (in Poland)
plays. As a matter of fact, Krafftówna’s character as a female star embodies
two types of performance analysed in Butler’s Gender Trouble (1990): the social
and the cultural. As for some of her viewers, like the one from France, she is
Felicja the housewife, while for the others (like the journalists from the plane)
she is a famous actress. Krafftówna uses this ambiguity as a subversive strategy to reveal the discursive nature of both performances. The act of exposing
the power of the social and artistic discourses becomes a manifestation of the
agency of the actress, both ‘Felicja’ and Krafftówna (Butler 1995: 136).
‘Felicja’ as a woman
Has begins his film with the close-up of ‘Felicja’s’ mouth. The woman is sitting
in the bar located at the Warsaw airport. The profile of her face remains barely
visible, as she sits back to the camera. Yet, her lips, reflected in the mirror,
occupy the centre of the frame. This way of framing puts an accent on the
paradox of her fame, namely the fact that ‘Felicja’, thanks to her voice acting
profession, can be simultaneously seen and unseen, visible and invisible. If
she refrains from uttering a word, she will not be recognized as an actress
who plays Felicja Konopkowa in the radio soap opera. But if she decides to
speak, she reveals not herself but Felicja, as people tend to identify the actress
with her role. Either way – the actress goes unnoticed. On the other hand,
however, when she begins to speak, her body seems to vanish, as everybody
begins to focus on her voice instead. This is depicted by Has later in the cited
scene, when the waitress at the bar switches the radio on and the voice of
‘Felicja’ as Mrs Konopkowa ‘fills in’ the space, leaving the actress suddenly less
important, especially since she is still situated with her back to the viewer.
Thus, the opening of How to be Loved presents the woman not as a whole
person, but rather as an audio-visual collage, made of parts which do not
Figure 3: The opening shot of How to be Loved.
Z aneta Jamrozik
necessarily match each other. The woman’s lips – reflected in the mirror –
seem too big, and we can hear her voice, while the lips, though opening and
closing, remain visibly mute. This paradoxes seem to summarizes well Has’s
reflection on performing the self and acting the role, suggesting that he considers them related, but not in a way typically associated with mainstream acting.
For Has the affinity between acting in real life and acting onstage seems to be
more material, and connected to body than imaginary ‘magic if’ with which
Constantin Stanislavsky begins the chapter about imagination in his An Actors
Prepares (Stanislavsky 2008). According to the Russian theoretician, the ‘magic
if’ helps actors imagine themselves at the place of the character by lifting ‘the
actor out of everyday life into the world of the imagination’. ‘Genuine “facts”,
the normal world, do not exist onstage’ – explains C. Stanislavsky and he
stresses: ‘the normal world is not art’ (2008: 60). Thus, an actor should ask
himself or herself ‘what if I do if I were in the situation of my character’, and
the ‘if’ is the key word here. Stanislavsky draws a line between acting on and
off the stage, comparing the work of an actor to a children’s play: we know it
is not going to happen, it is not real, but we let our imagination go. While, for
Has, acting in real life and acting onstage remains the same, only the contexts
differ each time, and as James Naremore emphasizes, ‘to become “human”
in the first place we put on an act’ (1988: 22). An example for this kind of
thinking about acting is presented by Barbara Krafftówna in one of the interviews about How to be Loved, when the actress confessed that in the scene of
rape she deliberately remained barefooted, while during shooting the scenes
that took place on the plane, she refused to take off uncomfortable shoes,
although she was filmed only in close-ups and her shoes remained off-screen
(Kuchtówna 1975: 32).
However, for ‘Felicja’, this similarity is not only liberating, but also suffocating, as she herself suggests in her inner monologue, saying, that she ‘got a
feeling of becoming the part of a background, of something that, till now, has
been happening behind my back’. Thus, the woman seems to want to be more
like a Stanislavskian actress, who can lock her identity safely ‘inside’, and, by
that, do not have a feeling of becoming a part of the background, but rather
be able to draw a precise line between actions she does on and off the stage.
In contrast to that, ‘Felicja’, being at the beginning of her journey, notices
that the context of her actions has always been decided for her by others. For
example, in the rehearsal scene described earlier, it was Wiktor’s ambiguous
behaviour, that led us to question her acting. This means that the actress has
no power over the meaning of her acting. She does not ‘put on an act’. Rather,
it is decided by others whether her ‘act’ is considered an acting in real life
or acting onstage, whether she is phony or authentic. Stepping towards the
background, ‘Felicja’ mentions in the opening monologue of the film, is thus
an attempt to get enough distance to regain the power over the context of her
own actions.
The radio soap opera, called The Radio Dinners at The Konopkas, features
‘Felicja’ as Mrs Konopkowa and Tomasz as her husband. This relation turns
out to be complex, when it comes to separate acting as everyday behaviour from acting as profession. For Tomasz probably has loved ‘Felicja’
since their war times, and it was him who offered her the part of his radio’s
wife. ‘Felicja’, on the other hand, uses her personal memories as a base for
improvising her radio part. This ability seems to be the main reason why she
becomes so popular, so much more than Tomasz, who sticks to his lines.
Has shows one of the recording sessions in which Felicja changes the text,
How to be an actress (in Poland)
not only altering its ending, but also its convention by acknowledging the
presence of the audience in the rhetoric question – ‘Who of us would think
of respecting oneself, when a true love comes around?’. The episode proves
that ‘Felicja’ can break the illusion of a Sunday dinner and at the same time
remain Felicja who from time to time likes to speak to the audiences in her
own name, as a private person. This utterance, however, seems to cause a
stage fright attack in Tomasz, as he himself does not feel comfortable with
this meta-acting convention.
In spite of her successes, ‘Felicja’ feels ‘burnt’ as an actress, and is unable
to cherish her acting work. One of the reasons for her attitude is her need to
be recognized as a unique individual. This need, however, cannot be fulfilled,
as the audience are only able to regard her as Felicja Konopkowa (thanks to
her voice), or not to notice her at all. Thus, her voice and body covers each
other in the way similar to the soap opera’s (as well as the ‘mini-Hollywood’
films) distracting people from the blank reality by offering them a sentimental
return to the good old (pre-war) days. Thus, kitsch associated usually with
soap operas, in case of ‘Felicja’s radio soap opera is not so much an expression of low artistic value, but first of all its artificiality, its being out of the
tune with the national situation at the time, when ‘bourgeois’ couples like the
Konopkas hardly existed. First of all, however, kitschy soap opera not only
seems to entertain people and let ‘Felicja’ work in her profession, but gradually becomes the substitute of life for them and for her.
The actress, therefore, comes to a similar conclusion to Gombrowicz,
as the writer often would write about kitsch, comparing the communists
desire to depict the People’s Republic of Poland as a safe haven to Polish
anti-communists’ cherishing the memory of the nation’s heroic past instead of
thinking of its present situation. In 1963 the author published in the Parisian
monthly Kultura an essay titled ‘Kitsch’, commenting in it on communist
attempts to present the system as a natural and obvious one. Gombrowicz
stresses that the new methods of a ‘gentle persuasion’, emerging after the
riots of 1956, although at first may seem so much different from the Stalinist’s
violence, are, in fact, equally dangerous. Since, instead of attacking straightforwardly, they use the press and other media to create the image of the
country, which remains only a kitschy illusion. Therefore, the main danger for
the communists in Poland is no longer an open ‘anti-communis[t]’ attack, but
one coming from the inside, shattering the illusory image, for ‘nothing more
fatal can happen to a communist than his growing suspicion, that communism is a fake system’ (Gombrowicz 1993: 495).
The Konopkas in their ability to leave behind the war and live as if nothing
changed, resemble the Poles as described by Gombrowicz, who comments on
their kitsch in his Diary, pleading:
Oh, if only a fire would rain down from the heavens and cleanse the
Argentine life of Poles of its excessive kitsch. I can’t understand these
people. It is puzzling to me that a man who has passed through the
seven circles of hell, who has experienced a situation that has touched
the very depths of his soul, […], having landed in Argentina, joins a
committee as if nothing had happened and begins to recite an immortal, it turns out, platitude. The knowledge of life that they gained, that
they had to attain, is beside them. They have it in their pockets but not
in themselves and in the end, even these pockets have been sealed.
(Gombrowicz 1988: 56)
Z aneta Jamrozik
Felicja resembles the people described by Gombrowicz, but ‘Felicja’, the
actress, is far from it. In fact, the war for her remains still a very much vivid
experience, as proved by her remembering it during her journey to France. It
is also noticeable, from the way she structures her memories, that she not only
knows well the national myths about women, who sacrifice themselves for
their ‘knights’, but also connects it with the myth of Ophelia. Since ‘Felicja’,
not unlike Shakespeare’s heroine, who is accused by Hamlet first of pretending to be someone she is not, then of trying to make him marry her, has to put
up with similar accusations posited by Wiktor during the war.
‘Felicja’ as an actress
The very first image that ‘Felicja’ recalls is a close-up of hands: a man’s hands
in leather gloves, and a bare woman’s hand holding them in a comforting
gesture, as we hear the voices coming from off-screen. First, a male voice
asking ‘Do you really believe, that I can be saved?’, then a female voice
responds ‘A hair of your head will not fall. It’s not far now, you’ll be safe soon’.
In the female voice we can recognize the voice of ‘Felicja’, while the male
voice belongs to Wiktor. When the image fades away, ‘Felicja’ ironically
compares her reminiscence to the screenplay: ‘Not bad for a beginning of a
screenplay. In life, however, such moments one endures a bit worse’. This
comment suggests that, by laughing at her own words, she tries to draw a
line between her past and present situation. Comparing her past self to a
(not very good) actress, while simultaneously restating her present self as
the real one, ‘Felicja’ proves that Gombrowicz was right when he wrote that
the Poles really hate acting.
It is also important to add, however, that this kind of attitude is not
limited to the Polish people, but paradoxically – as Naremore argued – is quite
common among actors. This kind of thinking about actor–character relationship comes from the ‘Stanislavskian’ tradition of acting, which originated with
Stanislavsky’s system at the beginning of the XX century, and still remains a
basis of so-called common sense approach to acting. Naremore summarizes
this approach by noting that ‘the hallmark of such attitude is the belief that
good acting is “true to life” and at the same time expressive of actor’s authentic, “organic” self – hence the typical movie advertisement: “Clint Eastwood is
Dirty Harry”’ (Naremore 1988: 2, original emphasis). Therefore, paradoxically,
this tradition of acting is ‘really’ against acting. Many acting coaches still try
to convince their students that they ‘have to be themselves’ since ‘the camera
sees what you truly are at the moment’ (Comey 2002: 14).
The way ‘Felicja’ begins her travelling back in time, her ‘memory work’,
is significant in its resemblance to the process of emotional memory.
Emotional memory, according to Stanislavsky, should bring with itself an
ability to empathize with others, while empathy marks the beginning of the
actor’s work in creating a character. In describing the process Russian theoretician used the ‘metaphor of the house through which the actor searches
for the tiny bead of a particular emotional memory’ (Auslander 1997: 31). It
appears that Has only changed the house for the plane, leaving the container
metaphor untouched.
However, the close-up of hands initiates the work of emotional memory
not only for ‘Felicja’, but also – in due course – for spectators, as they are likely
to perceive the two main protagonists through this image. The image will
gradually be gaining in meaning, just as it will become a part of the viewers’
How to be an actress (in Poland)
memory. So far, however, we can see the close-up of the man’s hands, as
he gesticulates a lot, using ‘wide’, so-called theatrical gestures, that make his
words sound like a prepared speech. The man’s overstylized gestures also
point to Has’s criticism of pretentiousness of the Polish heroic tradition. In the
case of the woman, however, she herself comments on her words, comparing them with a line from the screenplay and pointing out their affectation.
Therefore, ‘Felicja’s’ most intimate memory already presents people trapped
in old national roles, though her comment marks her first attempt to break
from this circle and see it from the double perspective. In this way, ‘Felicja’s’
words function like a parody understood here after Robert Hariman as an act
of duplication where the original is placed ‘beside itself’ and the copy is used
as a joke (2008: 249). Even the way ‘Felicja’ recalls her past brings connotation with watching a blurred image. This is manifested by the way in which
‘Felicja’ lowers her head and begins to stare into a distance, as if she was
seeing there a scene from the past. This enables her to put herself as if outside
the whole situation, and see it from a double perspective.
The recalled moment is also important because of the way it presents
‘Felicja’. It makes her body parts replace her whole body, echoing a type of
framing used in the scenes on the plane, and before that, at the bar. Thus, in
the flashback, ‘Felicja’ is represented by her hand, on the plane – the space of
technology, science and hygiene – she is shown only in close-ups or medium
shots, so at best we can only see her torso. According to Patrick Tucker, this
type of framing creates a kind of intimacy between an actor and a spectator;
that is why he calls it the ‘“intimate” theater style’ (2003: 7). But, when used a
lot, and this would be the case of Has’s film, such style figuratively disembodies the person who is presented in the frame.
The images of hands and face of ‘Felicja’ become the most recurring visual
motifs in the film. Has stresses their presence from the very beginning, when
he makes Krafftówna hold a glass of cognac to the camera, showing her taking
off and putting on leather gloves, or applying her make-up. Presentation of a
dismembered body is also emphasized during the scenes in a closed, white,
somewhat futuristic and sterile space of the plane. ‘Felicja’ calls it ‘hygiene’,
and extends her observation on other passengers.
The framing of her body, instead of conveying a sense of intimacy between
the actress and the viewers, presents it more as an obstacle to intimacy. Those
who would expect to gain an access to ‘Felicja’s’ mind by examining the
close-up of her face will feel disappointed. The close-up that appears at the end
of the opening sequence is more of a challenging look directed at the spectator, than a seducing gesture of a female star. Furthermore, until then, we
can only see ‘Felicja’s’ back, while the fragments of her face are reflected in
the hand mirror she holds before herself. This particular type of framing of
a woman’s body does not position her as an object of desire, nor it offers a
pleasure of voyeuristic gazing at her, but presents her more as a jigsaw puzzle
to be solved by the spectator.
The slow gestures she performs while applying the lipstick, the way she
holds her glass, or the slow monotonous tone of her inner monologue, seem to
have the meaning of what Bertold Brecht (Weber 2000) and Roland Barthes
after him called a social gest, ‘in which a whole social situation can be read’
(1977: 73–74). The body-collage is to be examined as a sign of Socialist Realist
way of presenting women’s bodies as disembodied and desexualized (Skwara
2006), rather than admired by a viewer. A similar type of dissecting framing
one can find in the films of Classical Hollywood Cinema. However, in Has’s
Z aneta Jamrozik
Figure 4: The close-up of Barbara Krafftówna as ‘Felicja’ at the beginning of How
to be Loved.
film it is used to stress the social meaning of an image while obscuring the
pleasure of looking at a woman’s body.
Writing about women represented in the Socialist Realist novels, Ewa
Toniak notes that ‘they are hard to “spot”’, since ‘they are all, though each in
its own way – “disembodied”’ (2008: 86). The body is usually reduced to the
depictions of hands and faces, what Toniak calls the ‘strategy of invisibility’,
and argues that in this way, femininity is ‘safe placed’ in the body parts, that are
not supposed to be connected with the flesh or evoke men’s desire. Thus, a
woman can be viewed as a ‘sterile’ sign or – as Toniak calls it – a ‘rhetorical
figure’ of femininity instead of an object of desire (2008: 86).
Even ‘Felicja’s’ own thoughts circulate around the notion of hygiene,
understood as being detached from a messy or dirty side of life. ‘Hygienic
appearance’ – she says in her inner monologue after glancing briefly at her
neighbour. It is apparent that she yearns for ordered ‘hygienic’ life, while at the
same time knowing that this will not be enough for her. For example, when
looking at the man, she begins to imagine: ‘If I married him today, I would
have probably despised him a little, for he knows so much less than me’.
The man, who – as we learnt earlier – did not spend the war in Poland
and now lives abroad – for ‘Felicja’ stands for calm and order for which she
yearns, but also the kitsch she is afraid of. Kitsch emerges from the fact that
‘he knows so little’, and – as ‘Felicja’ concludes after a while – ‘in certain
circumstances he would say “It’s perfectly human”, and in others “It’s below
the limit”’. By this comment the woman makes evident, that she – like
Gombrowicz – finds ‘one-sidedness’ of a perspective inadequate to grasp the
complexity of her situation. However, she herself looks at the man in exactly
the same way, unable to overcome her prejudice and come up with more
than one possible version of his biography. Therefore, while she can use a
How to be an actress (in Poland)
plurality of perspectives offered by parody in relation to the past, it becomes
more difficult when it refers to the present. Thus, although, this ‘hygienic’
man sitting next to her, who also happens to be a serologist, inspires her to
imagine herself living another kind of life, she quickly forbids herself imagining such a scenario as being unrealistic.
There is a parallel between the way in which Socialist Realism ‘saw’ a
woman, and how many acting teachers still encourage their students to ‘see’
their bodies, when they compare it to an instrument. In both cases this leads
to disembodying, though, as Linda Walsh Jenkins and Susan Ogden-Malouf
argue, this process is different for male and female performers. The authors,
having examined the differences between actors and actresses and how
they are taught their craft in the United States, came to the conclusion that
while male actors during their training learn how to get through the layers of
defences in order to gain access to their emotional resources, female actors
have to overcome their self-effacing habits to draw attention to their presence
on the stage. However, this particular skill, apart from providing an actress
with charisma or ‘star quality’, can also pose a danger for her, as the authors
explained while writing about ‘the most danger case’, that is, the Method:
‘Method’ acting, as it is traditionally taught, asks the performer to align
with a part, to search for those self-revelations that are appropriate to
a role. The acting coach or director frequently serves as an all-knowing
guru for whom the performer must be absolutely vulnerable (opening
the way to both psychological and sexual exploitation) […] If an actress
really knows the negative effects of what she is doing, she can only act
if she effaces herself, she becomes disembodied.
(Jenkins and Ogden-Malouf 1985: 66)
Therefore, according to Jenkins and Ogden-Malouf, an actress really has
only two choices at her disposal. She may protect herself by not giving away
anything from her personal history during playing a part, but this will not
improve her visibility onstage. On the other hand, she may align herself with a
character, in which case she will lose a sense of being herself, through becoming one with her character. For this reason, whenever there is the belief that
one can reveal his or her ‘true self’ through acting, then there is a danger of
becoming the half-empty mirror image instead, as suggested by Gombrowicz
in his notes about ‘Polish excessiveness’ by which
Pole is impoverished exactly by one-half of himself, in addition to which
even the half that is allowed to be heard cannot appear in a natural way.
[…] History imposes upon us an artificial conception of ourselves and
forces us to simulate historical deduction instead of living our own reality.
(1988: 109–10)
The invisibility and disembodiment of an actress seems crucial for Has because
it connects the theme of female acting with the way women were presented in
the Socialist Realist art. Watching How to be Loved we learn that ‘Felicja’ was
not famous, and hardly able to work in her profession, before turning to be a
voice actress. Therefore, the voice acting implies here that an actress ‘can only
act if she effaces herself’.
Has also suggests that the woman is reduced to her voice also in everyday
life. The voice of ‘Felicja’ (and with it her stardom) seems to have the power to
Z aneta Jamrozik
diminish the visibility of woman’s body, as suggested by the scene when she
says goodbye to her neighbour from the plane. When asked if he will remember her, the man answers kindly, that he indeed liked her voice. Moreover, a
bit earlier, when they were both still on the plane and ‘Felicja’ was trying to
gain the man’s attention by using her acting as well as feminine ‘skills’, her
efforts go unnoticed. Though one may feel tempted to follow Kaja Silverman
(1988) and come to a conclusion that How to be Loved, unlike Hollywood
cinema, grants the woman power over the story she recounts, the situation
is more complex here. First, as was pointed out by Elena del Rio, the body
should not always be ‘regarded as a passive surface of mute and dumb physicality’ (2008: 125), while disembodied voice, in contrast, be a sign of power.
Second, ‘Felicja’ herself, after hearing her voice on the radio at the beginning
of the film, seems unsatisfied and that is why she wants to step back to look at
her figure and attempts to join her voice with her body.
‘Felicja’s’ desire to step back and look at herself has therefore two objectives. One is connected with her acting profession and the second with its
social consequences. In both one can find a hostility towards acting understood
as pretending to be someone else. The first remains more or less typical problem for all actors, and as that, it may be considered in line with Stanislavsky’s
wish to create a system, that would help actors to deal with impossibility to
observe their work, to estimate it, and subsequently – to improve it. As Mel
Gordon outlines in his book about Stanislavsky’s legacy:
Stanislavsky ascertained the special problems of the actor: inspiration
and expression. Artists […] normally create just at those times they feel
truly inspired. Only the performing artist must create on demand, on
someone else’s time – for instance, six nights a week at 8:10 exactly.
In addition, the actor alone does not see his labor at the moment he
creates it. The performer’s expressive means – his body – is inseparable
from his critical faculties. Therefore, unlike most other artists, the actor
is dependent on others to direct him.
(2010: 8)
Of course, as we may see in the case of ‘Felicja’, actors can watch and listen
to their performances after they have been recorded. Still, it is not the same
as in the case of a writer or a painter, who can look at his or her work from a
distance and make the necessary changes before it has been finished. In the case
of ‘Felicja’ this ability to listen to her recorded performances at the beginning of
the film only increases her sense of lack of agency in directing her own life. Later
on, however, she decides to make the most of this mechanism by using its ability
to double her voice as a parodic device, through which she mocks the dichotomy
of the original and fake self. Furthermore, during her flight to Paris ‘Felicja’ starts
to realize that this subversion of the idea of identity is possible not only through
doubling one’s presence by recording it, but also by her very ability to act. Thus
‘Felicja’s’ efforts as an actress are not directed towards revealing of her ‘true’ self
hidden behind the ‘everyday mask’, as proposed by Stanislavsky and his followers, but are used to reinvent her visibility and agency by presenting herself in a
manner that challenges the division between acting and non-acting.
The second aim of ‘Felicja’s’ actions has to do with the fact that she lives
in a society, which, to paraphrase Naremore, ‘really hates acting’, therefore
perceives it (and automatically everybody who does it) as faking. It will be
useful to return for a while to the distinction between ‘Felicja’s’ and Wiktor’s
How to be an actress (in Poland)
Figure 5: ‘Felicja’ (Barbara Krafftówna) observing Wiktor from behind the curtain
in How to be Loved.
types of acting. When the two meet after the war it becomes obvious that the
man tried to live up to his myth, but he did that only by reciting the heroic
stories he himself invented. ‘Felicja’, on the other hand, stands in the doorway and observes the whole scene from behind the curtain, remained both
an actress and a spectator. This scene may be interpreted as another social
gest, this time more profound then the previous one, as ‘Felicja’, walking
through the space of the bar encounters on her way many examples of ‘excessive Polishness’, as Gombrowicz would probably name them, one of which
is conveyed in Wiktor’s monologue. Thus, her in-between-position helps to
reveal the overflow of national myths, roles and stereotypes among people,
who would never consider themselves actors.
Is she for real?
In Gender Trouble Butler, analysing drag shows, describes the confusion
resulting from the fact that a person, who may at first look like a woman
happens to be a man or the other way around. This confusing moment throws
into relief questions about the reality of either gender. As she notes, ‘if you
examine what knowledges we are drawing upon when we make this observation, regarding anatomy of the person, or the way the clothes are worn’,
then it becomes evident that this is all knowledge that has been “naturalized” through a process of normalization’ (Butler 1990: xxii). This moment of
hesitation puts ‘the reality of gender … into crisis: it becomes unclear how to
distinguish the real from the unreal’ (Butler 1990: xxiii).
The problem with ‘Felicja’ is similar, though it refers more to her acting
than her body as we may almost never be sure whether she is acting or is
‘serious’ or – to put it simpler – when she is Felicja and when she is ‘Felicja’.
Z aneta Jamrozik
The woman avoids situations in which she would be supposed to let her
emotions go and she never seems to ‘behave privately’. This is stressed by
Krafftówna’s acting, which, compared with the Stanislavskian tradition,
appears lacking in sincerity. She never limits herself to simply speaking the
words but always furnishes them with exaggerated movements and gestures,
making ‘normal’ conversation look like an ‘overacted’ acting exercise. Michael
Kirby once observed that ‘not all performance is acting’, however when for
him the most problematic case would be a happening, as ‘the performers in
happenings generally tended to “be” nobody or nothing other than themselves’ (2002: 40), for the spectator of How to be Loved what becomes more
curious is the fact, that ‘Felicja’ hardly ever seems to be anybody else than
an actress playing a role. The way Krafftówna plays ‘Felicja’ makes it look
like if she is trying to question the difference between the acting and nonacting, and subsequently, the difference between acting in real life and acting
onstage. This kind of ambiguity leaves spectators confused, as on the one
hand, ‘Felicja’ seems inauthentic, since she makes her acting visible but by
doing this she questions the whole idea of authenticity, as she does not try to
hide her artificiality, even looks into the camera at the beginning of the film.
This look can be interpreted as a manifestation of turning the gaze away from
‘one-sidedness’ and self-evaluation, while pointing towards the space occupied by the viewer, because s/he is the one, who evaluates acting and gender
performances, pronouncing them natural or fake.
How to be Loved tells the story of a woman, who does her performance of
gender so convincingly that she becomes invited by one of her fans to perform
the role of her mother ‘live’ in Paris. Thus, childless and lonely ‘Felicja’ gets a
chance to have a family while performing Felicja Konopkowa. What does that tell
us about the division between life and fiction? It certainly seems ironic that what
is supposed to be a lie, a fiction, a role to play turns out to grant the actress with
the very real ticket to Paris, while all the things she has done before, especially
her love for Wiktor and sacrifice for him, suddenly seem like a ‘bad screenplay’.
Thus, the border between fiction and truth proves to be less firm than expected.
Film acting is a profession in which an immaterial product is to be evaluated by others rather than by the doer herself. Those who judge it, come
with their own set of rules, usually embedded within the wider sociocultural context. How to be Loved presents the situation in which the sociocultural context was created by two groups, communists and anti-communists,
both equally hostile towards acting, which led to the excessive or ‘inauthentic’
authenticity of both camps. Has shows that acting can be used as a subversive
strategy, allowing a person to live authentically on his or her own terms, defying any social or cultural expectations.
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Suggested citation
. Jamrozik, Z. (2013), ‘How to be an actress (in Poland): The figure of the
actress in Wojciech Jerzy Has’s How to be Loved (1962)’, Studies in Eastern
European Cinema 4: 1, pp. 29–46, doi: 10.1386/seec.4.1.29_1
Contributor details
. Zaneta Jamrozik is a Ph.D. student at The Jagiellonian University in Krakow
and at The University of Central Lancashire in Preston. She is working on
Michael Haneke’s cinema and Eminem’s music videos.
E-mail: [email protected]
Z aneta Jamrozik has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and
Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work in the format that
was submitted to Intellect Ltd.