1957, Movies

Kanal (1957, Andrzej Wajda)

I am watching Wajda’s trilogy backwards, for some reason, but I don’t think it matters. I don’t how much of an actual “trilogy” it is; I think it’s likely an imposition by film critics because all three films are about Warsaw in WWII. Anyway, this is film two of three of this theoretical trilogy; it’s the second I’ve seen, and the first one I saw was the third. Got it?

I don’t think it matters much because I don’t think it’s the same characters as Ashes and Diamonds and it’s different source material. I don’t think this is quite the film as Ashes and Diamonds for a number of reasons, but it’s still a remarkable film for 1957, utterly unlike anything in the West.

We’re plunged right into the middle of the Warsaw Uprising, though narration helps orient us. It’s shot on location and the lighting is relatively natural. Though the score starts out quite aggressive once the characters head into the titular sewer it gets much more subtle. At first it’s not even present, I think, and I’d appreciate it if it cut out completely, but it’s still a better decision than to keep the score muted.

They try to do some interesting things with sound in the sewer but they don’t age well. For one thing, the water often doesn’t have any noise when other things are amplified. That’s for effect but it doesn’t make a ton of sense.

But I can’t help admire the bleakness of this film. And how it feels so much more connected to potential reality than contemporary English-language war films. I understand that some Poles don’t love how this movie treats the Uprising but I don’t have anything to say about that. All I can comment on is what’s on the screen, and what we have is a war film that starts out bleak and gets bleaker. It may have some minor technical issues, but it feels so much more “true” compared to western war films of the era.

It’s not Ashes and Diamonds, which, in my opinion, is a masterpiece. But it’s still a pretty great film. Well worth your time.


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