Before ‘Alternatywności 4’ was released on television, the series had been in circulation for years

Jesieni± In 1979, screenwriter Maciej Rybiński received the keys to a new apartment in Warsaw’s Okęcie – it was then that he realized that a script about the inhabitants of one block of flats would be a perfect opportunity to show a cross-sectional image of the Polish People’s Republic society. At the very beginning, the series was to be called “Nasz dom”, and Rybiński invited Janusz Płoński to collaborate on the script. Soon after, Stanisław Bareja took up directing and added some of his ideas and real-life observations to the script.

At the end of Edward Gierek’s rule, television decision-makers did not want to agree to the implementation of such a subversive project. The situation changed when Solidarity was established, and with it came the thaw.

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Bareja – loved by viewers, hated by the film community

A difficult way to “Alternatives 4”

At that time, the atmosphere relaxed so much that Stanisław Bareja was able to make his “Teddy Bear” in 1980, which was treated exceptionally mildly by the censors and finally hit theaters on May 4, 1981. The film may not be liked by the critics, but the viewers were delighted with it. In such an atmosphere, the manager of the “Perspektywa” Film Group – Janusz Morgenstern (who also gave the green light for the production of a film about Ryszard Ochódzki) – accepted the idea for “Nasz dom” with enthusiasm. Let us remind you that this director has extended his hand to Bareja, despised by the film community more than once. It was he who in 1974 became the promoter of the 17-page diploma thesis “Problems of the production of films from hidden cameras, which are part of television entertainment programs” by Stanisław Bareja, which he composed together with the comedy film “Husband of his wife” made in 1960 as part of master’s exam.

This favor was not accidental: they studied together at the directing department of the Łódź Film School, and at that time belonged to an informal group of friends called “The Collective”. As part of it, they watched films not available in cinemas together, and exchanged literature outside the official circulation. Apart from Morgenstern and Bareja, this social circle also included Jan Łomnicki and Kazimierz Kutz. However, not all members of the group had the same sympathy.

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Where did bareism come from?

It was Kutz who was to initiate the criticism of Stanisław Bareja’s work with the term “bareizm”, which he threw back in 1968 or 1969 during a meeting of the Polish Filmmakers Association. In the 1960s, especially in their second half, his films – unlike Bareja’s comedies – were not very well received – “Upał”, produced together with Kabaret Starszych Panów, received mixed reviews, and in the case of “Who knows” it is better not to mention the most virulent opinion. He recapitulated these failures with his activities in the film community and, inter alia, he criticized other colleagues: Barei had been accusing him for a long time of making films for “the public”.

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Rather, he did not foresee the consequences of his words – “bareism” originally meant a low-flying production, aimed at not very picky viewers, but which was commercially successful – for some time it was even synonymous with kitsch in Polish cinematography. So the authorities enjoyed using it, which condemned the director of “anti-socialist pronunciation, lies, dirty propaganda and hatred of the working class”, and representatives of the film community, which pointed out “low quality” and lack of consistency in editing, which was usually associated with censorship interventions, and in the 1980s it had a lot to do with the low availability of film and the lack of doubles.

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In the footsteps of the “Alternatyw 4” series. What are the locations from the show now?

Anyway, the reluctance of the film community and communist officials made Bareja extremely difficult to carry out new projects, and his associates were also uphill: the directors reluctantly cast actors who starred in his films. Due to this bad reputation, for example, Stanisława Celińska refused to accept the role of the wife of the main character in the comedy “Wanted, Wanted”: she was afraid that later she would not be able to appear in the works of such directors as Krzysztof Zanussi and Kazimierz Kutz.

Among the fierce critics was also the director Bohdan Poręba, whom Bareja later stuck a pin into several times in his films: in “Teddy” there was a parody of director Zagajny, played by Janusz Zakrzeński. Poręba was also one of the founders and main ideologists of the “Grunwald” Patriotic Union, of which Bareja made fun of in “Zmienniki” and in the “Alternatives 4” series: he accused him of loyalty to the communist authorities and anti-Semitism. There is a reason why the “Grunwald” organization is tapping Professor Dąb-Rozwadowski’s apartment; representatives of this union replaced the SB officials who originally appeared in the scenario – the censorship wanted to cut this whole thread out.

“Nasz dom”, “Stanisław Stróż” and “Alternatives 4”

Before the shooting of “Alternatyw” began, Stanisław Bareja introduced some changes to the script by Rybiński and Płoński and added a few ideas. At the beginning he changed the title of the production to “Stanisław Anioła”, but after some time he came to the conclusion that it was not what he meant. As he later explained to Rybiński, he decided on “Alternatyw 4”, because Poland was a country at the crossroads with four different alternatives: up, down, right and left.

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The shooting of the series started in early December 1981 – the crew started shooting in a shack in Praga, and then moved to a television studio to shoot scenes in the office of the director of a housing cooperative. Much was not recorded, because on December 13, 1981 martial law was introduced in the Polish People’s Republic – the photos were suspended for an indefinite period. What is worse, Stanisław Bareja suffered a heart attack in January 1982. Surprisingly, however, he managed to return to the set a month later – the filmmakers, however, worked under the strict supervision of the authorities.

The fact that during this period a significant number of actors boycotted television and filmmaking as a form of cooperation with the government did not help either. Bareja, however, was associated with KOR and an activist of “Solidarity”: in 1980 he brought to Poland a duplicator for the NOWA Independent Publishing House on the roof of his toddler, and organized conspiratorial meetings at home. Due to numerous contributions to the environment, he was granted a “boycott dispensation”.

Second circulation series shelf

The series was originally intended to resemble modern sitcoms: it would consist of six episodes, 22-25 minutes long. However, the concept evolved and eventually a series was created consisting of nine episodes approximately one hour long, except for the final episode which is 77 minutes long. The shooting ended in the summer of 1982, and the whole thing was edited shortly thereafter, but the “Alternatives 4” watched censorship and more problems began.

It was requested that a dozen or so scenes be cut out: apart from the eavesdropping in the professor’s apartment, the problematic ones turned out to be e.g. a scene in which comrade Winnicki (Janusz Gajos) talks about media manipulation techniques, it was also postulated to introduce a moralizing ending – because the last scene was protested, when the theoretically compromised Stanisław Anioł returns as the manager of the estate. As the historian Andrzej Zawistowski describes in the text for the website Przystanek Historia, the film lay on the shelves for three years. Along the way, however, there was an accidental premiere in 1983: someone accidentally played the first episode instead of a movie about the successes of the USSR economy.

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This happened when TV technicians played a series on VHS tapes during working hours – someone in the director’s office pressed the wrong button and the Bareja series went on air. Anyway, soon after that, unofficial copies began to circulate among trusted people around Warsaw. At the turn of 1985 and 1986, TVP finally decided to officially broadcast the series. As it is now estimated, the first episode on November 30, 1986 was watched by over a dozen million viewers – and each subsequent episode enjoyed no less interest.

Bareja, like Bareja, smuggled a lot of references to reality in the script – much less obvious today than in the 1980s. The viewers, however, had no major problems with picking up the various allusions. As Andrzej Zawistowski quotes in his texte “Alternatives 4. True Stories“:

The journalist removes the name Czechowicz from the list, saying that he has “bad associations” (Andrzej Czechowicz – an intelligence agent of the Polish People’s Republic, who managed to join the Radio Free Europe team). When telling his biography, Furman mentions that he became an associate professor in 1968 (the authorities then appointed a group of sympathetic academics to the positions of associate professors, omitting the previously required habilitation) (…). Professor Dąb-Rozwadowski is disgustedly called a lunatic, dissident and intellectual. These are almost quotes from the party’s condemnation propaganda linked to the opposition through 1980, when the professor talks on the phone about the provocation, says “Adam, don’t stutter” (Adam Michnik?). Cichocki’s father died “in 43 they were in the cold”, and Majewska spent six months in the north (i.e. in the Soviet Union).

Of course, due to the tone of the series, the reviews could not be good. Bareja was accused of chaotic editing, lack of consistency or a poor plot. However, viewers liked the production very much and were not afraid to admit it. Anyway, they did not have much opportunity to watch the director’s new projects later: “Alternative 4” is the penultimate production that Stanisław Bareja managed to make before his death. He died unexpectedly in June 1987 in Essen, Germany, where he was on a scholarship at the Folkwang Museum in Essen. On June 11, there was a hemorrhage and a stroke – the director died three days later in the city hospital. The premiere of his last comedy series “Zmiennicy” took place on October 18, 1987.

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