Jerzy Skolimowski, who has been a director, a screenwriter, an actor, a poet, a painter, a playwright, and even a boxer, is regarded as one of the most influential and original voices in Polish cinema. He only became a filmmaker by chance, however, after an encounter with director Andrzej Wajda, leader of the so-called Polish Film School of the '50s and '60s, led to Skolimowski collaborating on the script for 1960's Innocent Sorcerers. Roman Polański, who acted in that film, enlisted him to work on the screenplay for 1962's Knife in the Water, which received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Only then did Skolimowski enroll in the Łódź Film School, emerging with his own directorial debut, Identification Marks: None.
In the decades that followed, he was censored and ultimately exiled from Poland due to his politics. He decamped first to England and then the U.S., where he helmed titles such as Deep End (1970), The Shout (1979), and Torrents of Spring (1989), before forgoing filmmaking altogether for 17 years throughout the '90s and 2000s.
"I easily identify with the outsider character because I have this experience of an immigrant. I was an immigrant for many, many years," Skolimowski says. "I was expelled from my country by the communist regime because I made a strong anti-Stalinist film called Hands Up in 1967. It put me into quite a dramatic situation. Not only that the film would never be shown, but also, I was told that I cannot expect the possibility of making any other films in Poland. I was pushed away from the country and I spent, as an immigrant, a solid 30 years outside of Poland."
In 2008, the Polish veteran returned to his homeland at long last to write and direct Four Nights With Anna. Skolimowski's latest is EO, a cinematic odyssey told through the eyes of a donkey, which received a nomination for Best International Feature Film at the 95th Oscars. "We made this film out of love for the nature and the animals," the filmmaker says. "I think the message is so important because we are giving a voice to the voiceless. And hopefully, it'll be heard."
MORE: 'Donkey Ruled the Set': Jerzy Skolimowski Reflects on the Making of 'EO' (Exclusive)
Below, Skolimowski shares with A.frame five of the films that have most impressed and inspired him throughout his life.
Directed by: Federico Fellini | Written by: Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano and Brunello Rondi
8½ not only influenced me but shocked me by the perfection of every aspect of that film. I think it is a total masterpiece. Not only that I could identify with the subject — the fate of the film director and all his hesitation about the work and life and everything — but every department was fantastic: The photography was very modern. Phenomenal acting, not only from Marcello Mastroianni, but the whole cast. And especially the beauty of Claudia Cardinale, with whom I managed to work shortly afterwards, by the way, in my worst film I ever made, unfortunately. Fantastic music by Nino Rota, and great editing — very sharp, very surprising. To me, it's a really masterpiece on every field.
Directed by: Josef von Sternberg | Written by: Jules Furthman
What a modern film. I was watching it about 10 years ago, and I was surprised how modern the film was. Because after that, there was a long, long time of rather boring cinema years, but that's what was achieved in 1928! Come on. It still looks like the film of today and made by an avant-garde film director.
Directed by: Martin Scorsese | Written by: Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin
Raging Bull is the best film about boxing. And since I boxed a little bit when I was a young man, I was amazed how well Robert De Niro got the boxing technique. None of the actors I've seen so far playing the part of a boxer got that advanced. He was doing very, very difficult things like step backs, which is the most difficult element of the boxer's movement. Only people who really get into the ring and fight know that you have to be very, very precise with your movements, especially with your feet. Because that's the way you really escape the blows and hits, and De Niro got it perfectly. And what a work of the director. Great movie. One of my favorites, definitely.
Directed by: Bob Rafelson | Written by: Jacob Brackman
I enjoy watching Jack Nicholson as an actor, in Chinatown and Shining and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, although especially in Five Easy Pieces and King of Marvin Gardens, which are Bob Rafelson's two films. I love them. I love Bob, and I love Jack. They were my friends, and it's great work, really.
Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel
Written and directed by: Robert Bresson
When I watched Au Hasard Balthazar, I lost the possibility of watching it in my usual manner of that time. As a young man, as a young filmmaker, just fresh off the film school, I was watching it with a semi-cynical, semi-professional eye. Watching why the camera is put that way, why there is a tracking shot. And somewhere in the middle of Au Hasard Balthazar, I completely lost that ability to watch the film like that. I was taken by the emotions of the film... I was crying at the end of this film, and that was the only time when I shed a tear in a cinema. Never before and never after.