I've just watched a profoundly bleak Polish war film, Kanal. This is an impressive film on many levels and I'm completely astounded by it. A few months ago the library splashed out on the entire Criterion Collection, which means that I have access to war films from the occupied countries. Andrzej Wajda's Kanal is a brilliant example. This film was made in 1957 and is an extraordinarily bleak and honest film. It's interesting to compare is to the mock heroics of American war films of the same era. And this film IS bleak. After a marvellous opening tracking shot we are introduced to a platoon of the Polish Resistance, in the dying end of the Warsaw Uprising. We are watching their final days. And the sense of doom is palpable. These men and women face certain defeat, and they know it. There are no blind heroics here. Just blind panic and fear. Surrounded by Germans, out gunned and without hope, the group flee to the sewers. There is a painful scene as Resistance members enter the sewers while panicked civilians are held back. And we already know their fate. The Germans are clearing the city building by building, shooting those they find. The cinematography is fantastic. Long tracking shots of a ruined city, as if the destruction is so complete, so vast that the camera can't take it all in. The scenes in the sewers are suitably claustrophobic. The group disintegrates. They get lost, delusional from fumes and lack of oxygen, with Germans gassing the tunnels, throwing down hand grenades and shooting those that emerge. There's a bit of what seems like gratuitous baring of skin - there are women messengers and in this it is accurate - but this only serves to highlight their desperation, and the depths to which they have sunk as Daisy's loveliness is besmirched by the shit she wades through. The group's goal becomes simply to breathe clear air and see sunlight. And the Germans deny them even that. The screenplay was written by a Resistance member - whose character appears as the leader of the Resistance group- and there is a confronting honesty to it. In all, a masterpiece. It's part of a war trilogy and I can't wait to see the others.
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