Thursday, May 29, 2014

Eroica [1957]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (2 Stars)

IMDb listing
Filmweb.PL listing* listing* listing* article article*

Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema: [MSP Website] []

Eroica [1957] [IMDb] []*[en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* (directed by Andrzej Munk [IMDb] []*[en.wikip] [pl.wikip]*, screenplay by Jerzy Stefan Stawiński [IMDb] []*[en.wikip] [pl.wikip]*) which played recently at the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago as part of the Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema film tour playing in various parts of the U.S., proved to be a frustrating film for me.

On the one hand, I can immediately see how someone in film school in the United States in the late-1960s (during the height of the Vietnam War and its attendant with anti-War protests) would find this film appealing along with the apparent general thrust of the "1950s Polish Film School" with its rather iconoclastic / deconstructive portrayals of "old school" patriotism / war-time heroism.  I can easily imagine Eroica [1957] presented at a symposium or festival alongside similarly iconoclastic American films like Stanley Kubrick's Doctor Strangelove [1964], Mike Nichols' Catch-22 [1970] and Robert Altman's M.A.S.H. [1970] (and it's entirely possible that any or all of these American films could have been even been influenced by Andrzej Munk's film).

However be that as it may, as someone who does come from a former Soviet-bloc ancestry (as readers of my blog would know, my family was mostly Czech, my parents having left Czechoslovakia during the Communist Era), it's clear-as-day to me that even if this film was made sincerely (and Poles suffered enormously during World War II, hence there could have been plenty of Poles who had seen many/most of their relatives killed and almost everything that they held dear destroyed in the war who would have had no great love for "wartime valor") that this film which largely lampoons pre-Soviet Era (STILL INDEPENDENT) Polish nationalism more-or-less OBVIOUSLY worked to further the aims of the PRO-SOVIET POLISH COMMUNIST REGIME THAT WAS IN POWER IN POLAND WHEN THIS FILM WAS MADE.

And let's face it, it would not have been easy to make MEANINGFUL FILMS in post-WW II Poland that would still defend / further the aims of the post-WW II Soviet imposed Polish Communist regime.

Why?  Well the Soviet Army SLAUGHTERED 5,000 POLISH OFFICER P.O.W.s in the forests of Katyń [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* [ru.wikip]* (while Stalin was still AN ALLY OF HITLER'S) and then STOOD BY AND WATCHED THE NAZIS SLAUGHTER 200,000 Poles mostly civilians in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* [ru.wikip]* (even though it had called on the Poles to rise against the Nazi oppressors).  So how does one go about trying to set-aside this ABSOLUTELY HORRENDOUS HISTORICAL FACT?  Well ... one tries to portray the Polish Home Army [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* [ru.wikip]* that led the revolt as hopelessly disorganized, led by self-serving even egotistical Polish officers, who did not want to cooperate with others (including presumably the Soviets who, well, given that kind of leadership ... "presumed not to help" ...).

This film, in two parts, lampoons (in Part 1) the disorganization of the Polish Home Army [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* [ru.wikip]* during the Warsaw Uprising [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* [ru.wikip]* and (in Part 2) the egotism and pettiness of Polish officer Prisoners of War (the officers who presumably led Poland's army as WW II began and the officers that the Soviet NKVD put bullets into the heads of out in the forests of Katyń [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* [ru.wikip]*).

Now honestly, in war, just about everything gets FUBAR.  That's true.  But note WHO IS NOT CRITICIZED AT ALL IN THIS FILM... the "Glorious Soviet Army."   And one would have to be an idiot to not see that as INTENTIONAL (after all, the Polish Communist security apparatus was looking over the shoulders of the Polish film makers making this film ... and the NKVD was looking over the shoulders of the Polish Communist security apparatus ... SUCH WAS POLAND IN 1957).

Then ... honestly, during the Vietnam War when all kinds of well-meaning, idealistic AMERICAN FILM STUDENTS WERE PISSED OFF AT THE U.S. GOVERNMENT / MILITARY FOR SCREWING THINGS UP IN VIETNAM ... A POLISH FILM LIKE THIS COULD HAVE BEEN REALLY APPEALING ("Hey those guys ... all the way in Poland .... understand").

But ... once more, honestly, what's missing in a presentation like this is a recognition that while films from the Polish Film School of the 1950s MAY HAVE INFLUENCED AMERICAN FILM MAKERS LIKE Stanley Kubrick [IMDb], Francis Ford Coppola [IMDb], and/or Martin Scorsese [IMDb] IN THE 1960s and 70s ... THE POLISH FILM SCHOOL APPARENTLY DIDN'T HAVE ANY MEANINGFUL IMPACT AT ALL ON SOVIET (or even TODAY'S RUSSIAN) FILM MAKERS.

Just about every country in the world seems to be capable of making films critical of its government / military EXCEPT THE RUSSIANS.

And as we applaud the ingenuity of the "Polish Film School" that had been struggling under the constraints of Soviet Domination, we should honestly ask why, a generation after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russia, which used to dominate Poland during the Soviet Era, while geographically "smaller," remains artistically as oppressive as it's always been.

When will a Russian "Eroica" or "M.A.S.H." be made??

One final question: How to get this film?  In the United States many of the films being shown as part of Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema can be rented through the mail-rental service offered by Facets Multimedia in Chicago.  Many of Andrzej Munk's films can be purchased (though often only in PAL / Region-1 format) via

Additionally, excellent films / documentaries on the Warsaw Uprising [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* [ru.wikip]* and the Katyń Massacre [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* [ru.wikip]* include a joint BBC / Polish documentary directed by Wonda Koscia entitled Battle for Warsaw '44 [2005] (available presently, probably w/o permission, on YouTube) and Andrzej Wayda's Oscar-nominated Katyń [2007] available (presently FOR FREE) on IMDb via

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser. 

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