Art House & International movie directed by Krzysztof Kieslo …
The American troops have just defeated the Nazi army and there is a frenzy of freedom as the concentration camps are releasing prisoners. Still, American troops are uncertain what action to take with in Poland, so the U.S. takes control of the Polish … see full wiki
Andrzej Wajda won an honorary Academy Award in 2000. I had never heard of him at the time, and when I was going through my Netflix list, after having seen the Polish film In Desert and Wilderness, which I loved, I remembered Mr. Wajda and decided to add some of his films to my list. The first one of these to make my mailbox was Landscape after the Battle.
This is not a plot driven movie so I don’t think what I’m going to mention in the summary and analysis would give anything away. But in case you disagree, I will just say it is just a half step shy of brilliant.
The movie begins in a concentration camp in Germany on the day it is liberated by the Americans. Everyone in this part of the camp anyway is Polish and all are political prisoners (red triangle) and are not as emaciated as other groups—the politicals were always treated a bit better than the other groups. As they begin to notice that the liberation is real, they begin to break windows and generally damage all they can. Some run for food and one man gathers books from a fire some of the released prisoners use to keep themselves warm. An American officer makes a speech that the now freed prisoners will be vindicated but warns them against vengeance. From here they are taken to a DP (displaced person) camp. Here there are several character studies of various Poles not one of whom is given a name. The focal character is the man who pulled the books out of the fire; he is both a poet and an intellectual. What happens in the camp is at times absurd in a way that marries Kafka with Camus. The absurdity isn’t so much cruel as just shy of being senseless. I will leave out the climax just in case someone would consider it a spoiler; I will also leave it out of the analysis for the same reason.
I cannot think of a film that is not about a musician or composer where music played such a central, and in this case almost always, ironic role.
As the inmates begin to destroy the camp, the soundtrack is from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (I believe it is “Spring”). The music is beautiful and totally at odds with the wintery landscape and the sense we are going to get seeing a concentration camp in any fashion. I’m not sure it even fits what has to be a bitter happiness for these political Poles, but it should instill in the audience a sense of pure joy. This ripped at my mind as much as my heart. It was beautifully confusing.
A narrator explains that the victors in the war had no idea what to do with the mass of humanity who survived the German assault and had no homes to return to. They were all put into camps again so they wouldn’t threaten the shaky peace and create an even larger humanitarian crisis than was already widespread. For some, this detention lasted a couple of years while European states and the United States tried to divvy up and find homes for the survivors. The poet calls the condition of this softer but nevertheless true concentration camp that the inmates are neither free nor prisoners. This creates a pocket of unreality. In 1970 Poland (when and where the film was released) this unreality would likely have made a level of sense that it is difficult for an American audience to understand. I think we can understand it philosophically but not with the same visceral reaction of those on the other side of the Iron Curtain. It is this pocket that most of the events occur.
Mild anger and an emotion I cannot name tied to the memory of the concentration camp (something closer to helplessness than anything else I can think of) pervade the film. This becomes most apparent when the intellectual poet is faced with death for the first time sense his “liberation.” His face goes from the mild anger and even confusion to something totally blank, in an instant. Speaking of faces, the film is certainly influenced by Mr. Fellini and his tight close-ups of faces. I have only seen one thing like the sudden change that occurs here. There is no way the actor was old enough to have seen any of the events that occur in the film, but given the way his face goes from expression to blank is heart rending. The opposite effect happens in Sidney Lumet’s The Pawnbroker where Rod Steiger is emotionally dead until the end of the film when he shows a silent scream that is so powerful I had to turn away the first time I saw it The Pawnbroker.
There is a motile tableau that the camp shows to the Cardinal of the area. It is a slow ballet showing a medieval Polish victory. The music here is nearly as odd as Vivaldi. I don’t think the music the actors played against was the one on the soundtrack: Chopin’s most famous polonaise which morphs into the Polish Anthem. This is vague, but apparently not everyone in the camp could see the performance which was slated to be performed again even still there is a mini riot. If you are neither free nor a prisoner, what is the point of following laws—or in a more existential sense, do laws even exist? Given the behavior of the Poles and the American’s responsible for this DP camp, I think the answer is that along with being in a non-state, they are also in an area of non-law (this is no more the same as lawlessness than the status of the people in the camp is that of prisoner).
I couldn’t help but think that there were many metaphors and symbols of Polish history, both recent and ancient in the film, but I am no expert in this area at this time, so I would have to leave this portion of the analysis to someone who is more familiar with Polish history in general.
The film ends in a way much like it began; it also has one of the most interesting title sequences I’ve ever seen. The poet is on a train very much like those used to bring “undesirables” to the death camps. Again, we are given Vivaldi (“Winter” this time and I think the symbolism here has nothing to do with Polish history). This is also when the credits “run.” Names and titles are painted on the doors of the train; I cannot remember when I saw something as mundane as the title sequence that is nearly as symbolic as the music and everything said in the film.
The film quality for 1970 is astounding. It looks as crisp as a film made today—so many American movies at the time had a grainy quality that makes them look either like porn or slightly professional home movies. The sound is a bit difficult. Again, like Fellini, it seems that all of the actors’ voices are dubbed from time to time—sometimes the mouths do not match the words for lengthy periods, so it cannot be blamed on poor looping and the sound for these portions is significantly louder than at other times. This is a minor annoyance.
Unless you are just totally against reading a movie; this should be near the top of your list.
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