It's very difficult to say Farewell. It's very difficult to make a Farewell movie. I do not know if Andrzej Wajda knew that 'Afterimage' was to be his last movie. He undertook and involved himself in this film with the same passion, rigor and attention to the detail, with the same mastering of the art and science of film-making as ever. He also did not abandon the major theme of his cinema - the history of Poland seen as a subset of the history of Europe and of all mankind, and as a collection of the stories of the men who made it.
There is one major difference though. Many of his previous films focused on political characters, they were about men who changed history, about victors at least at the historical scale - Danton, Walesa - even if they sometime paid with their lives. The hero of this film, the avant-garde Polish artist Wladyslaw Strzeminski was defeated by history, and the film is the story of his defeat, of his physical but also moral decay. It's a story quite typical about the manner Communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe treated their artists, and even if I did not know anything about him before this movie, his story was well known to me as the same fate (or worse in some cases) was imposed on artists who did not compromise in Romania where I was born and I lived half of my life. We see him at the beginning admired and valued as a teacher and artist, he also was a companion of modernist artists who were associated with the Russian revolution, but this did not help him either. He was not an anti-Communist, but he valued true art, could not accept enrollment of art as a tool for propaganda and the norms of the dogmatic 'realism', and his refusal to compromise cost him his teaching position, his membership in the artist's union, the very possibility of painting. The humiliating tentative to find a way to survive had no chance, the regime was still in the Stalinist period and crushed all opponents according to the principle 'the one who is not with us is against us'. Even the help and support of a handful of students who stood by their beloved teacher and mentor could not save him.
The lead role is played with a lot of restraint and dignity by Boguslaw Linda, his flame is interior, he shows the artist far from being a flawless person, actually sharing some of the guilt of not being able to maintain his family and especially help his teen daughter (exceptional acting of 14 years old Bronislawa Zamachowska). There are many very well constructed scenes, some of them full with details bringing back to life with controlled anger that dark period of transformation, when Poland and Eastern Europe were postponing hope for a few decades and were transitioning from one nightmare to another. Wajda's last film is not a testament, it's an integral part of his opus of work.