Gniazdo (1974) opens on the eve of the decisive Battle of Cedynia in June, 972. Mieszko I (Wojciech Pszoniak) is stricken by a terrible fever. Delusional, Mieszko I hallucinates his father’s ghost and argues with him to aid him the following day in his battle with the Saxons. Mieszko I’s argument is done via flashbacks that recount the deeds that preceded the forthcoming battle that will ultimately lead to the creation of the Civitas Schinesghe.
A work of Soviet backed nationalist propaganda, Gniazdo was intended to be Poland’s own Alexander Nevsky (1938). The apparatus of the non-linear flashback structure of Gniazdo may give the illusion that Mieszko I is a human character existing in a naturalistic idiom, but the images say otherwise. Gniazdo is a film of iconic visual compositions, derivative of Alexander Nevsky, that romanticize the adventures of Mieszko I; functioning as an overt kind of myth making.
The gestures meant to humanize the legendary Mieszko I are more a byproduct of the prevailing cinematic aesthetics of the time than a deliberate act of revisionism or subversion on the part of director Jan Rybkowski. A gritty realism was expected in “serious” films of this period so authenticity and “realism” were incorporated into the overall design of the film. The operatic sounds and dramatic poses of Eisenstein’s films were equally integral to Soviet propagandist filmmaking, even if they were largely considered passé.
The result is a film of cinéma vérité kineticism punctuated by carefully orchestrated tableaus. These tableaus usually only lasted for a single shot and cast Mieszko I into a high contrast composition where his form is positioned heroically as if he were posing for an icon portrait. These few moments of cinematic classicism are the great strengths of the film. Not only are they technically brilliant, but they cast the more human side of the characters and their world into a starker relief.
By operating in two styles intermittently Gniazdo opens an aesthetic discourse that illuminates the paradoxical nature of a man who exists as myth while simultaneously existing as flesh and bone. Mieszko I’s status as the “Father Of Poland” is quietly subverted in one moment then reaffirmed in the next. The contradictions of this political agenda invites the viewer to question the motives behind the production of the film itself, thereby undermining the film’s purpose as a work of propaganda.
These conflicting aesthetic choices, perspectives and the flashback structure are the result of the collaboration between Jan Rybkowski and screenwriter Aleksander Ścibor-Rylski. Rybkowski was a practiced craftsman of the old guard while Ścibor-Rylski represented the new revolutionary Poland (Ścibor-Rylski penned Man Of Marble three years later). Gniazdo‘s strength as a film is in its contradictions and there is no greater contradiction than the collaboration between Rybkowski and Ścibor-Rylski.