First, what was the home field response to the film? Here’s Krzystof Metrak writing in “Film”, February 1969:
Everything for Sale is, in my opinion, an excellent and exceptional, not to say (I hate the word) a ground-breaking film(…) And also the most personal film that creative cinema has known. (…)
Philip Strick, writing in the Monthly Film Bulletin in 1969:
In Everything for Sale, there is a recurrent, abrupt cessation of action. The screech of train wheels in the opening scene echoes throughout the film as cars, projects, parties and relationships shudder to a halt. At the same time, there are two images which by contrast are emphatically continuous: the spinning roundabout on which Ela imprisons the sophisticated film crowd she loathes, and the surging gallop of horses (also running in circles) which punctuates the film and eventually brings it to a close. Wajda’s comment is one of paradox: that although everything stops when a man dies, everything also goes on, like it or not. (…) So the second stage of Everything for Sale is a definition of the film director in general and of Andrzej Wajda in particular. (…) Everything they had (or imagined they had) was for sale and they sold it; now Wajda even sells Cybulski’s death, and his own loss of direction, for the sake of the cinema.
It took nearly 20 years for the film to make its way to the US. Unfortunately, it was greeted with a scathing review by the New York Times’ Vincent Canby:
Everything for Sale is a sorry mess – a movie supposedly made in homage to Zbigniew Cybulski, the phenomenally popular young Polish actor who was killed in 1967 while attempting to jump onto a moving train. Mr. Wajda obviously felt deeply about the actor, who became a star in his Ashes and Diamonds¬†and appeared in over 40 films in 12 years.
It’s apparent that the actor’s life and career inspire extremely mixed emotions in Mr. Wajda. However, few of these are sorted out in Everything for Sale, a mind-bendingly trendy (late 60’s-style) movie about the tribulations of a director attempting to make a movie with a Cybulski-like star who never shows up. By mixing (and confusing) scenes of the film itself with those from the movie within it, it’s also making some not-very-interesting observations about the nature of ”film” and reality.
Was the film confused, or was Canby? More recently Fernando Croce of Cinepassion had this to say:
Andrzej Wajda arrives late at the meta-rumination party of Fellini, Godard, and Antonioni, with a motive of his own: The untimely death of rascal-superstar Zbigniew Cybulski, the auteur’s Ashes and Diamonds muse. His fatal train accident is coincidentally enacted in the studio by the filmmaker (Andrzej Lapicki), who is filling in for the missing leading man; Altman’s The James Dean Story provides the structure, built around a void filled with self-reflexive gleanings (“It’s your film but our lives,” the auteur’s wife protests). The main actress (Elzbieta Czyzewska) is also married to the elusive star, neglected at a trendy bash she offers herself to the camera, Lapicki’s assistant is in the closet, jotting it all down (“What incredible dialogue”). Wajda plunks the rowdy revelers in a carousel and spins it faster and faster until they’re part of a mesmerist wheel, before going back to his essayistic games — twin actresses warring before a blank wall acknowledge Bergman, warriors on a snowfield reflect Kurosawa, and possibly Eisenstein… The scenario is faddish as all get out, yet the ambiguity of the situation (the title exacerbates the artist’s tendencies to exploit his subjects) refreshingly takes Wajda away from his habitual ponderousness and toward more ad-libbed territory, more open and elastic.