Most artworks that are made to honor someone tend to be mediocre, at best, and embarrassingly bad, at worst. The 1969 film, Everything For Sale (Wszystko Na Sprzedaz), by Andrzej Wajda, falls somewhere in the middle. It tries to do similar things as such self-conscious and self-reflexive films as Federico Fellini’s 8½, Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories, but does not succeed. Rather, it falls between lesser efforts like François Truffaut’s Day For Night and Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York. In short, it’s a film that tries to honor the memory of a dead actor, Zbigniew Cybulski, who became a star in Wajda’s Ashes And Diamonds, as Poland’s answer to James Dean, and appeared in over 40 films in twelve years, but instead make an abortion of any real feelings felt for him, and actually portrays the dead actor as a cipher. Perhaps this was what, in a Freudian sense, Wajda actually intended. If so, it’s a wasted effort in spite.
There really is no plot to the film, merely a set of random scenes that are linked, only tangentially, by the death of an actor, who has fallen under a railroad car he was running to catch. Some of the scenes turn out to be scenes from a film that a director named Andrzej (Andrzej Lapicki) is directing. Others are the real life peregrinations of the actors in the film the director was going to make starring the unnamed dead actor (aka Cybulski). The director seems to shoot scenes taken from the real lives of the actors who surrounded the dead actor, including his own estranged wife, Beata (Beata Tyszkiewicz), a frumpy brunet. Throughout the film she appears in the ‘real’ and ‘meta’ scenes, but is the same in both- a bore and a hopeless romantic, who seems to be jealous of the dead actor’s wife, a petite redhead named Elzbieta (Elzbieta Czyzewska). Like Beata, she appears in the real and meta scenes, and in one of the meta scenes attempts suicide. Whether this happened in the ‘real’ world of the film, or in real life, is unknown. She seems to have had an affair with Abrzej, who left his wife for her. She seems to be the film’s most important character. In one scene, she is seen dancing frenetically out of step with others at a party, and then blathers on inanely to the director, who has his screenwriter hiding in a closet to write down all she says, to be used in the meta-film he’s making. She also traps some of the film’s actors on a carousel she sets to high speed, not unlike a scene in the Alfred Hitchcock film Strangers On A Train. She also goes to the scene of the death, which is then redone in the ‘meta’ film, as well. But, 70% of the way into the film, not long after her search for her ‘missing’ husband ends, she disappears from the film, until the final meta scene by the train tracks. There are a number of other minor characters in the film, some of whom long for fame and fortune, and others who think that Andrzej’s obsession with his dead friend’s life is exploitive and sick, while still others think it’s ok to exploit the dead actor, who’d love it that they do. The only other character/actor of any note in the film is a young man who ends up getting the dead actor’s role in the film, Daniel (Daniel Olbrychski). He veers between weird and obsessive, as he tries to find out the truth about what the actor claimed he did during the Second World War. The film actually ends with him abandoning the meta film to run wild with horses on location, and as the camera pans around to follow him he seems to blur in to the whirl of sky and horses. The film then ends abruptly.
In a sense, this hodgepodge of a film is more ‘real’ than any of the other films mentioned above. So what? It’s not a good film. It’s experimental, yes. It’s daring, yes. It’s bad, yes. But it is also an interesting film. In watching it, on a rather faded transfer to DVD, the ‘reality’ did put me in another time and place, one that will never be again. I did feel like I was in a Third World country, behind the Iron Curtain, etc. But, other than that, the film was boring. Yes, Elzbieta was attractive, and her flirtations made me, as a viewer, desire her a bit, but nothing really coheres in the film. It just stays flat. It’s a soda that’s lost any fizz. There is no direction, no guiding hand, and no desire for such.
This is the third film of Wajda’s I’ve seen, and by far the worst, although I would say it was not terrible, in the way Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò is. A Generation had some moments of excellence and Maids Of Wilko had more. This film has none. An hour in to the 96 minute film and your average filmgoer will be totally lost, if he or she is even still watching at that point. The DVD is by Vanguard and MGE, and its print is not that good. The colors are a bit faded, and wear and tear, as well as dirt, is plainly visible in some scenes. The film is shown in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, and lacks any English language dubbing. It does feature subtitling in several languages, including English. The subtitles are in an excellent and easily readable golden font. One has to wonder why, if a relatively small company as this can use such readable fonts, why is it that top of the line DVD company, The Criterion Collection, cannot? The DVD does come with a few extra features, the best of which are interviews with Wajda and the film’s stars. The interviews mainly are memories of the film and Cybulski, and the best comments come from Wajda, who admits he mainly let the actors make up their own lines and scenes. Ok, so is this a mea culpa? No, just an admission, and it’s clear that Wajda thinks far more highly of the film than it’s worth. Other features include listings of other DVDs that MGE offers for sale, Polish postage stamps with Wajda’s visage, the text of a letter from Steven Spielberg promoting Wajda for a lifetime Oscar in 2000, Oscar photos, and a musical fanfare. For a cheap DVD, not bad, although an audio commentary might have shed light on specific scenes, if not aiding them artistically.
The screenplay was written by Wajda, and one wonders if, had he waited a few more years, he would he have been able to come up with something deeper and more affecting? There is no listed musical score, and most of the soundtrack seems to be diegetic. The cinematography, by Witold Sobocinski, is nothing to behold, and most reminded me of American television movies of the week, like Brian’s Song. Everything For Sale is not one of those films that heralded greater things in future films, nor is it a film that represented one of the many overrated works of an even more overrated director. It’s simply a failure that is occasionally interesting. That’s not much, but it is life. Try that one nest, Andrzej!