The film Out of the Limelight is like an essay. A good essay is not about asking questions and giving answers, but about inspiring readers to make their own inquiries.
In the story of Zygmunt Lubicz-Zaleski, my attention was drawn to the humanist–patriot relationship that is referred to in the film. I have to admit that I find it much easier to identify with the film hero’s wife, Maria Zdziarska – a doctor, soldier in the war of 1920, and author of a memoir. It is worth noting that the story of this fantastic woman, a prisoner of Pawiak and Ravensbruck, who had the courage to treat a suffering co-prisoner with pneumothorax, shows how emancipated Polish women were in the interwar period, at the same time proving their very modern approach to marriage. In my eyes, Maria Zaleska is the silent heroine of the film.
The second aspect of the film that I found worth reflection (and most certainly appreciation) is how Zygmunt Zaleski – referred to as ‘the ambassador of the Polish cause’ – perceived the role and importance of education. Zygmunt Zaleski was the founder of the only Polish secondary school functioning without restraints in Europe during the Second World War (it was the Cyprian Kamil Norwid Secondary School in Villard-de-Lans). He was also able to organise educational activity under the most extreme circumstances – in the Buchenwald concentration camp. I am amazed (particularly from today’s perspective) by his views on teaching and learning, which he believed to be civic duties. Zaleski taught his children the same approach: during the occupation, his son was an active member of the underground movement, but also attended clandestine lessons, considering them to be a form of resistance against the enemy.
Thirdly, the film seems to have gained particular importance today in the context of the debate on whether we should receive refugees or not (yes, of course we should), as it reminds us that the Poles, too, were once refugees – and Zygmunt Zaleski’s secondary school was, in fact, established for them.
One more comment: Zaleski decided to work with the Polish minority in France because he wanted to keep his distance from the internal conflicts of independent Poland. Being a genuine intellectual, aware of the fact that ‘service, mission, and sacrifice’ was his duty, he turned to those who needed him instead of engaging in pointless debates. He simply knew he would be more useful abroad. As an intellectual, he also attached great importance to ‘usefulness’. On the one hand, such faith in the ethos and willingness to act are encouraging; on the other, it is very sad that Poland was divided at a time when it should have united in joy. I do not know whether this was the authors’ intention – nevertheless, they have reminded us once again that history not so much repeats itself as creates quite ironic parallels.
Katarzyna Taras, PhD
/film expert, film critic/
The film by Rafael Lewandowski is a multifaceted story of Zygmunt Lubicz-Zaleski – a deserved humanist and social activist who was fully committed to the Polish cause, to which he sacrificed his entire adult life. He lived in the turbulent times when Poland regained independence and struggled hard to defend it. Zaleski supported his homeland from a distance, working tirelessly as the ambassador and animator of Polish culture in Western Europe. Initially forced to leave the country, he later made a conscious decision to remain an emigrant, and he spent most of his life in France, continuing his efforts to promote Polish culture and science. His emotional and physical links with his homeland never ceased to exist: he often visited Poland and always carried it with him in his heart.
Out of the Limelight restores the memory of this unjustly forgotten researcher of literature of the Romantic period, translator, teacher, musician, poet, and the good spirit of the Polish cause in the West. Lewandowski’s documentary not only shows Zaleski from an interesting perspective, but also reveals to us the fate of his noble family, which was deeply interwoven with the history of Poland. It is a moving story of various faces of patriotism, of strength of family traditions, of Poles as Europeans. Out of the Limelight is an important voice in the debate on our identity. Everyone who feels concerned about Poland in the context of Europe should watch the film.
Marcin Lutomierski, PhD
/literature expert, historian of Polish literature and culture, researcher of works by emigrants/
Polish films rarely show us our countrymen working on behalf of our country abroad. This makes Rafael Lewandowski’s documentary, which brings us closer to the extraordinary story and achievements of the outstanding emigrant activist Zygmunt Lubicz-Zaleski, all the more important. The biography of the film’s hero is a lesson in patriotism shaped by the best models of the romantic tradition. It is also proof of our need to remain faithful to humanitarian ideals in the face of the dramatic events that unfolded in Europe during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The content of the film, the comments of experts on the history of literature, and the recollections of friends and relatives of Lubicz-Zaleski prove the lasting impact and relevance of his achievements as a promoter of Polish culture, art, and science. The documentary underlines the significance of the aesthetic concepts of Lubicz-Zaleski through the use of audiovisual means of expression. The audience is able to grasp Zaleski’s synesthetic sensitivity thanks to the creative use of image and sound, as well as the moving narration by Wojciech Pszoniak.
Radosław Osiński, PhD
/film critic, film expert, curator at the Centre of Contemporary Art in Toruń/