The Eighth Day of the Week - Ósmy dzien tygodnia - Aleksander Ford - Zbigniew Cybulski - Sonja Ziemann - Piotr - Agnieszka

The Eighth Day of the Week
1958, directed by Aleksander Ford

The Eighth Day of the Week opens its story with an architectural rendering of two modern high-rises in an attractive open landscape. After a few seconds the shot pans from the rendering across Piotr’s room in the attic of a turn-of-the-century Warsaw building. We’ll soon find out that Piotr is a draughtsman creating architectural drawings for a living. The contrast between his utopian illustration and the reality of his crumbling flat in a bomb-damaged neo-Renaissance tenement is extreme. The walls are cracked, and wooden struts shore up a large hole in the ceiling. When Piotr runs downstairs his footsteps loosen chunks of plaster, bringing his neighbors out to complain. The next day as he waits for his girlfriend Agnieszka, a crack in his wall suddenly widens, initiating the building’s spectacular disintegration.

Piotr escapes down a fire engine’s ladder with a little boy he’s rescued, but he delays the firemen’s retreat by climbing back up to retrieve two items: the flowers he bought for Agnieszka, and that architectural drawing. The flowers we can understand, but it’s remarkable that the drawing, which he takes precious seconds to roll up, means so much to him. It appears that modern architecture represents here the same ideal expressed by “the eighth day of the week”, a phrase that Agnieszka and her brother Grzegorz identify as the elusive and mythical day when dreams come true.

The Eighth Day of the Week - Ósmy dzien tygodnia - Aleksander Ford - Zbigniew Cybulski - Sonja Ziemann - Piotr - Agnieszka

The only modern architecture we get to see is the Centralny Dom Towarowy department store in central Warsaw, which appears like a nighttime mirage almost an hour into the film as Piotr and Agnieszka continue their days-long search for a place to make love. If we’ve noticed the significance of Piotr’s drawing, it should be no surprise that this shiny International Style building will be the one place where the couple’s dreams come to life. Although they get too drunk to make love, for one night they find their fantasy of modern comfort and privacy. Accidentally stuck in the wine cellar as the store closes, they wander into the housewares department where the crystal chandeliers unexpectedly burst into technicolor. For the next four minutes, before the film returns to black and white, everything turns playful. A river of loose cans and beach balls sweeps the couple down a ramp, and shiny escalators lead them up to a section devoted to newlyweds. They chase each other around a rotating platform with cartoon drawings of happy domestic life, and Agnieszka falls asleep on a soft bed in the middle while Piotr collapses on the floor. The scene is like a pure fantasy.

If Piotr’s vision of a better life is linked with modernism, Agnieszka’s hopes are linked with the sun. On the final evening she gets drunk toasting the sun, and she chooses the nickname “Słoneczko” (little sun). The sun itself appears in the film almost as rarely as modern architecture, only during the couple’s two visits to the riverbank, which like the department store are fleeting moments of delight.

The Eighth Day of the Week - Ósmy dzien tygodnia - Aleksander Ford - Sonja Ziemann - Agnieszka - train station

It’s plain that The Eighth Day of the Week is made for an audience accustomed to hard times. Poland was still recovering from World War II, and there was not enough housing to accommodate the population. The lead couple have no place of their own; in Agnieszka’s home everyone gets in each other’s way, and the neighbors outside get on each other’s nerves. Each character is beset by hardships: Agnieszka’s mother is sick, her father is frustrated, Grzegorz is an alcoholic, and their lodger is unsure of his fiancée. The streets are dangerous at night, and Agnieszka’s friend turns to prostitution. The dark photography and bad weather materialize a shared hopelessness.

The movie knows its audience’s hardships, but it’s not so ingratiating as to reassure them with a forced happy ending. The ending is open – the viewer must decide whether to believe it’s tragic or hopeful, but in the context of the whole film we should recognize something therapeutic in the way it closes. The openness, after all, is an improvement over the beginning. The same shot of Agnieszka running after Piotr on the dark street in front of her home brackets the movie. When we see it behind the opening credits, it’s hard to see it as anything but desperate, but by the end its flavor has changed. All the conditions for happiness are there, and with Agnieszka calling for Piotr on the deserted streets, it seems more than likely she should be able to catch him. Moreover she holds the key to his new flat, and this large key reads as a sign of hope.

The Eighth Day of the Week - Ósmy dzien tygodnia - Aleksander Ford - Zbigniew Cybulski - Piotr - bed

Right before bringing us to this ending, however, the movie does something bold. Agnieszka loses her virginity to a stranger from the bar, who, taking her for a prostitute, violates her while she’s passed out in his apartment. In the code of a traditional masculine-dominated society this would make the couple’s happiness irrecoverable, and there would be no way to read the ending except as the triumph of despair. Agnieszka herself senses this, and she lies to Piotr, falsely confirming his fears that her love has been fake. But to regard a woman as ruined by a sexual encounter, especially one beyond her control, is not only sexist but also absurd, and after letting Piotr go, reality hits her – she knows, by all the signs we’ve seen, that Piotr is better than that. In contrast to her family’s lodger Zawadzki, who suspects his fiancée Maria of cheating, Piotr doubts only his own luck, not Agnieszka herself. His love is genuine.

The story spans five days, and the movie takes care to establish that they’re consecutive, from Wednesday to Sunday. Its open ending leaves us at the uncertain threshold of what would be its sixth day, but on the calendar, where in Europe Sundays are the seventh day of the week, the story ends on the cusp of where the eighth day – the day when dreams come true – should fall. In the most subtle way the number “8” brackets the story: it begins at 8:00 in the morning, and it ends as the 18th day of the month begins. The insinuation is that this impossible eighth day really exists in the couple’s immediate future… that their dreams may in fact come true.

The Eighth Day of the Week - Ósmy dzien tygodnia - Aleksander Ford - Zbigniew Cybulski - Sonja Ziemann - Piotr - Agnieszka - wine cellar

Of course this is not a fairy tale, and if there’s room for hope at the end – if there’s room in the week for an eighth day – it doesn’t mean everything will turn out right. It’s a more adult kind of hope, the notion that however hard life may be, we can appreciate it if we only look at it from the right perspective. The couple have a new flat, they have each other, and that should be enough reason to carry on. To people weighted down by the pressures of life, satisfaction can seem as impossible as an eighth day in the week, but the movie’s goal is to make that satisfaction feel tangible.

As the title indicates, time itself is the substance and currency of people’s hopes, and the movie constantly alludes to time. Piotr has a pendulum wall clock that stops its noisy ticking right before his building starts to crumble, as if acknowledging that time seems to freeze during a calamity. Agnieszka usually wears a watch, and it’s so important to her that when Grzegorz takes it she follows him to a dive bar to get it back. Whenever Agnieszka waits for Piotr at the train station we see close-ups of a clock biding the passing minutes. References to time pepper the dialogue: “Come back in three weeks.” “I’ve been married for 20 years.” “We’re closing in 15 minutes.” Grzegorz notes that their faucet drips once per second, turning the sink into a kind of clock. When Piotr awaits Agnieszka in bed he taps his foot, marking the seconds like the dripping faucet. All of these reveal an oppressive sense of time as something to be gotten through, which describes the dominant mode of life in this weary and disillusioned city. In contrast, the “eighth day of the week”, the sun shining outdoors, and the bright future of modern architecture all represent a different view of time as something worth savoring.

The Eighth Day of the Week - Ósmy dzien tygodnia - Aleksander Ford - Zbigniew Cybulski - Sonja Ziemann - Piotr - Agnieszka - restaurant

Attitudes to sex parallel these attitudes toward time. For the journalist, for the drunks on Agnieszka’s street, for the squatters at the construction site, or for Ela’s clients, sex is something to be gotten through, merely an itch to scratch. When Agnieszka tells Piotr to punch the painter, she says it’s for disrespecting flora and fauna, but what really bothers her is his vulgar attitude toward sex – he expects her and Piotr to use a nearby bed while he takes advantage of his model (who later proves to be Zawadzki’s fiancée) in the same room. Unlike all the people around them, she wants her first experience with Piotr to be special, much like the vision she and Piotr share of a better kind of time.

Both time and sex, in this regard, are metaphors for life. When Agnieszka speaks of “flora and fauna” she means that the painter doesn’t have any love for life itself. The Eighth Day of the Week was shelved by censors, even in relatively permissive Poland (compared to its Eastern bloc neighbors), presumably for its unflattering portrayal of contemporary life, but it seems unlikely that Ford, a committed socialist, wished to criticize the regime. Instead the movie points us to a more hopeful view of life that can save people from despair, a view urgently needed in both capitalist and communist societies.


Modern Times – Couple suffering through hard economic times finds a semblance of happy domestic life in a department store

Casablanca – Numerous allusions to time in dialogue

The Burmese Harp – Bracketed by same/similar shots which feel different by the end

Cléo from 5 to 7 – Story of despair turning to hope; journey through a city; scene where numerous people on the street stare at a woman; brief color; line about glasses

Hands Over the City – Collapse of a tenement building

Stalker – Movie places viewer in a position where dreams can come true

Melancholia – An ideal represented by a non-existent extra number: 8th day of the week, 19th hole of a golf course


The Eighth Day of the Week is currently available for free worldwide streaming at Be sure to set up subtitles using the controls if needed; they are not shown by default. The Cinematograph highly recommends that site for its excellent selection of classic Polish films.