Sunday, 22 February 2015

Miasto 44 - film review

A long-belated post… I should have written it some four months ago, when I watched the film and took down my reflections worth sharing on the blog, but each week some more important stuff came into the foreground. Poor timing of many posts (i.e. commenting on many events with a delay of at least a few days) is in my view the biggest drawback of this blog. If I am to resolve to mend my ways, realistically it will not happen before 6 June 2015…

The first question about the film that naturally comes to mind concerns accuracy of depiction of the Warsaw Uprising. Virtually all films focusing on the theme of the uprising touched upon values associated with that historical event: patriotism, heroism, sacrifice, etc. All previous films played a part in shaping the “proper” picture of the Warsaw Uprising in minds of young people, while Miasto 44 is dissimilar to what audience have got used to. The picture is naturalistic and niftily illustrates what summer of 1944 in Warsaw was. It takes just a single word to describe it: a carnage.

The uprising is seen from a young generation’s perspective, hence instead of patriotism and sacrifices, the film dwells on ordinary lives of juvenile insurgents and things of central importance for people in their late teens. Thus the war intertwines with love (and sometimes making love), hatred, family lives, friendships and common human instincts, such as survival instinct. Moral dilemmas of characters are in the forefront, yet hardly ever they are shown in the broader context of the whole uprising or future of post-war Poland. Their choices relate to personal lives of specific persons, not their homeland. Personally, I favour such picture, ruthless and cruel, yet closer to the truth than fairy tales of women ceasing to menstruate during the uprising.

The cruelty and naturalism of the film were one of the reasons why film director, Jan Komasa, faced a barrage of accusations from insurgents. Youngsters definitely have to be taught what the Warsaw Uprising was really about and despite not being wholeheartedly enchanted by the film, I appreciate the director’s intention to shoot a film which would truthfully show wretchedness of those days. Some insurgents claim the brutality in the film tarnishes the memory of their valiant battle. Faced with such arguments, we must ask ourselves whether we want to rewrite the history. Making ten-year-old boys wear helmets, handing them dummy guns and telling them to run around and play the uprising is for me an actual slap on the face and a blatant distortion of the carnage, since wiping out Warsaw from the map of Europe and death of 200,000 people was nothing else but a gruesome carnage. I prefer repulsive sights of heaps of corpses and disfigured bodies of the alive to plain cult of brave insurgents.

The film selectively shows historical background of the uprising, however the selection of facts, adroitly highlighted between the lines, deserves commendation. It is underlined when the uprising broke out, Poles hoped it would last two or three days, before Soviet army came and cracked down on the Nazi occupier. Hopes for aid from Soviets was the main reason why most mutineers were unprepared and too often unarmed. On the other hand at the beginning of the film the viewer is told after five years of being humiliated and put down by Germans, lust for fight among inhabitants of Warsaw was too strong to be tempered. The march of Soviet army was by all characters treated with proper reserve. Advance of Red army gave hope for liberation from one occupier and relief from hardships of war, yet by no means Soviet were our friends. Tactic alliance in that situation was the lesser of two evils, but everyone knew Soviets did not give a damn about Warsaw… The film also reminds some soldiers from the Berling Army seeped to the left shore of Vistula and attempted to fight in the Warsaw uprising, yet given their inexperience in fighting in the city, they dropped like flies.

Special effects come in abundance in the film, most probably to appeal to younger audience. Nonetheless, I have found plenty of them gratuitous and detracting from authenticity of the picture. Some scenes in the film are totally out of place, with two taking the biscuit: one showing intercourse in the rhythm of techno music and the other of massive slaughter taking place when a slow-tempo ich liebe dich German ditty resounds in the background. I have found the former scene most misplaced in the film, not because I have something against sexual scenes, but because sight of two emaciated, unwashed for many days and wounded young people, who all of the sudden indulge in passionate intercourse which requires some fitness, simply does not fit the story. The scene was hailed controversial, since many uprising participants claimed nobody in that time thought about any closer relationships with representatives of the opposite sex, not to mention making love…

Miasto 44 inexorably prompts ponderings upon how human psyche can be affected by such traumatic event as the Warsaw Uprising. Each of the young people who spent almost two months in Warsaw Uprising witnessed scores of human deceases and tremendous suffering. Many times their survival instinct telling them to save their lives at expense of other people’s lives, conflicted with decency telling them to make sacrifices to rescue fellow men… Human psyche combats trauma by increasing resilience. Thus, in such extreme situations, in order to not to go insane, human beings naturally grow indifferent and insensitive to what they should be sensitive under normal circumstances… The question how humans cope with traumas of such kind is unlikely to be fully answered, since most people who lived through such slaughter unconsciously try to erase memories of distress. My maternal grandmother who spent almost the whole Warsaw Uprising hidden in a basement with her sister (their mother was killed in bombardment when she ventured above ground to come by some nutrition on 6 August 1944) and was driven away to Pruszkow by Germans, refused to talk about the uprising.

Despite not being a masterpiece, the film is worth spending two hours to watch it. You may be captivated by it or not, but it does a great job of giving testimony of one of the biggest humanitarian disasters in the history of mankind without resorting to disproportionate martyrdom. And finally, although during the last thirty minutes the depiction of carnage is grisly, the last scene, with special effects falling into place, makes up for all previous flaws of the film and renders without a glitch how the last days of the Warsaw Uprising looked like. As my grandparents confirm, the glow of burning capital was visible in late September 1944 even thirty kilometres away from the blaze.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have watched just Miasto 44 on DVD - with English subtitles. Its certainly different to "Kanal", or "Is Paris Burning", to which some viewers may make comparisons. The producers have made a huge effort for period authenticity in the settings, the vehicles, clothing, uniforms and military vehicles. However, the lack of ANY historical, political or military context really detracts from the huge effort....and then the characters....

I appreciate the need for the movie to appeal to a younger "MTV" generation, but the result here is inconsistent and surreal - especially the opening half hour, which give the impression young Warsavians could go out at night partying, and swim in the river cheering the sights and sounds of the approaching Soviet Army...ah....didn't the Germans maintain the same savage curfew and military security zones in Poland that they did in say, Holland, where my step-father spent the war as a teenager (and forced labourer in the last eight months of German occupation).

People may have found time for desperate sexual trysts during the Uprising, but really, why depict it in music video like style in this movie? What does it add?

Seriously, Miasto '44 is a lost opportunity...I'm not certain how its regarded by Polish audiences, but for Western audiences, perhaps not familiar with Polish history, it would be confusing at best, and at worst, cheapens the sacrifices of the AK and people of Warsaw.