Identification Marks: None (Rysopis) (14th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival) Review

Jerzy Skolimowski’s impressive debut feature, showing in the Kinoteka Festival.

Identification Marks: None (Rysopis, which translates as “Description”) was Jerzy Skolimowski’s first feature film, released in 1964 when he was twenty-six. If that seems an earlyish start by most standards, bear in mind that by then he was already a published poet, playwright and short-story writer and had been a boxer for a few years. He played a boxer in Andrzej Wajda’s Innocent Sorcerers which he cowrote, and he’s credited for the dialogue in Roman Polański’s feature debut Knife in the Water. As well as writing Identification Marks: None, Skolimowski played the lead role, Andrzej Leszcyc, a semi-autobiographical character he played again in the following year’s Walkover (Walkower) and in 1967 in Hands Up! (Ręce do góry) which was banned by the Polish authorities and not seen until 1981. Along with Barrier (Bariera), in which the “Skolimowski” character is played by another actor, Jan Nowicki, and 1966’s Belgian-made Le départ, that’s a prodigious start to a filmmaking career by any standards, especially when you bear in mind that all five of those features were made before Skolimowski’s thirtieth birthday.

At the beginning of Identification Marks: None, Andrzej Leszczyc is a university student studying ichthyology but has abandoned his thesis. He signs up for military service, despite being exempt as a student. The film takes place in the few hours before he has to leave, and his encounters with Teresa, the woman he lives with and who is more or less indifferent to him, and an acquaintance who works as a door-to-door salesman and describes the reception he sometimes gets from lonely housewives – something which doesn’t quite happen to Andrzej, and Barbara, a female student who is about to start at University and is much less disillusioned than him but who we suspect may well become so in her turn. All three principal female roles are played by Elżbieta Czyżewska, who was Skolimowski’s wife at the time. (They divorced in 1965; she died in 2010.) Andrzej is of a generation too young to remember the war and at odds with an older one who remembered it with if anything nostalgia despite its obvious horror. See for example the scene where Andrzej meets an older man, a veteran of the 1944 Warsaw Rising.

Like Walkover and Barrier, this is a young man’s film, the work of someone clearly bursting with an urge to show what he could do. As with the other films, there’s quite a lot of influence from the French New Wave but plenty of stylistic flourishes of Skolimowski’s own. There are some impressive long takes, one going down all the flights of a staircase and another following Andrzej and Barbara on a walk-and-talk through a timber yard. It’s very impressive.

Identification Marks: None had a delayed journey to UK cinemas, opening in 1969 after Barrier, Walkover and Le départ. (It would also appear that it was released without being submitted to the BBFC, though there’s nothing it it that would trouble the Board then, let alone now.) There have been no UK television showings that I can trace. Maybe a British DVD or Blu-ray release some day?

Identification Marks: Nine shows on 16 April at 8.00pm at Close-Up Cinema, London, as part of the 14th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival in its Jerzy Skolimowski retrospective.


Updated: Apr 22, 2016

Get involved
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum
Identification Marks: None (Rysopis) (14th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival) Review | The Digital Fix