Friday, November 14, 2014

Stones for the Rampart (orig. Kamienie na szaniec) [2014]

MPAA (UR would be R) (8/10)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* (M. Steciak) review* (A. Łysakowska) review* (M. Wachnicki) review* (J. Dudkiewicz) review* (T. Sobolewski) review*

Stones for the Rampart (orig. Kamienie na szaniec) [2014] [IMDb] []* (directed by Robert Gliński [IMDb] []*, screenplay by Dominik W. Rettinger [IMDb] []* and Wojciech Pałys [IMDb] []* based on the Polish war-time novel [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* [WCat-Eng ed.] [GR-Pol. Ed] [WCat-Pol Ed.] by Polish scout leader [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* and during WW II Polish resistance leader Aleksander Kamiński [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]*) is a very tough and, at times, honestly (though INTENTIONALLY) painful-to-watch film about a group of Polish boy scouts, hence TEENAGERS, who participated in the "Szare Szeregi" (lit. Grey Ranks) [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* "youth arm" of the Polish Home Army (partisan) resistance [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* to Nazi occupation.

The film played recently at the 26th Annual (2014) Polish Film Festival in America held here in Chicago.

The bravery of these Polish teens (and their families) is undeniable and puts to shame various Hollywood highly fictionalized "Y/A" depictions of "youth defending their homeland" (one thinks not only of the, in comparison, utterly ridiculous Red Dawn [1984] [2012] films, but even the better but still necessarily invented Hunger Games [2012] [2013] [2014] [2015] series of current popularity).  

Still, Gliński's [IMDb] []* film did cause something of a stir in Poland, because unlike Kamiński's [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* original novel, which written and published UNDERGROUND during the War was INTENDED TO BE PATRIOTIC AND ENCOURAGE POLES, YOUNG AND OLD, TO KEEP-UP THE RESISTANCE TO THE HATED / VICIOUS NAZI OCCUPIERS, the current film CAN NOT BUT RAISE QUESTIONS, among them, the most key: WAS IT WORTH IT?  (Honestly, it is worth here to read through some of the POLISH reviews of this film LISTED ABOVE -- If one reads these reviews using the Chrome browser, one can get a pretty good English translation of them by simply clicking the appropriate button).

I write this because THE CAUSE WAS UNDOUBTEDLY JUST, and these YOUNG SCOUTS (and their families) were UNDOUBTABLY BRAVE ... BUT THE COST ... WAS SO, SO HIGH.

To the film ...

After setting-up the story, introducing the group of scouts in a random Polish city during the Nazi occupation, the film centers on a particular action that this scout unit undergoes:  One of the unit's leaders, Rudy (played by Tomasz Ziętek [IMDb] []*) is captured by the Nazi authorities and held, and more to the point TORTURED, at the local Gestapo headquarters.  What to do?

The Scouts, led by Rudy's BEST FRIEND Tadeusz nicknamed "Zośka" (played magnificently by Marcel Sabat [IMDb] []*) WANT TO RESCUE HIM.  Insane?  NOT REALLY.  No they weren't planning to simply storm the police station BUT they had the place staked out.  They even had people, neighbors, WORKING in that police station -- Who was typing out all the police reports coming out of that place?  CERTAINLY NOT GERMANS ... but rather POLISH SECRETARIES (where did they live?  IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD.  Hence they'd be FRIENDS / NEIGHBORS of the Scouts and even of Rudy's own family).  So the plan was to AMBUSH the truck that would EVENTUALLY take Rudy off to some Concentration Camp.

BUT ... TO DO SO would require "Home Army" permission.  After all, these young Scouts are constantly reminded by "the higher ups" that they "can't just do whatever they wanted."  They are supposed to be PART OF AN ARMY.

AND THERE WERE SELF-EVIDENT RISKS.  SO they HAD TO WAIT.  But "DAMN IT, HOW LONG?"  Until (local Underground, deep-cover hidden) Major Jan Kiwerski (played by Andrzej Chyra [IMDb] []*) gets permission from even "Higher Up."  WHY?  Well, ANY SUCH OPERATION WAS INEVITABLY GOING TO RESULT IN NAZI COUNTER-ACTIONS and EVEN REPRISALS.  A unit sets out to "save one person" and the Nazis go berserk and the Home Army ends up LOSING the ENTIRE ORGANIZATION in that part of Poland.  SO ... the "higher ups" really needed to think this thing through.  PLUS, the "mission" was being "planned by mere kids" here ...

ON THE OTHER HAND, this film portrayed REMARKABLY WELL, the "UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL" NATURE of a partisan resistance: 

While "waiting for the go-ahead," Zośka has to deal with Rudy's family.  They live a few houses "down the street."  Then there's Rudy's girlfriend Hala (played magnificently by Sandra Staniszewska [IMDb] []*).  At one point, she comes to Zośka's family's apartment WITH A REVOLVER threatening to go down to the Gestapo HQ herself, and shoot her way in.  "Sure I'll almost certainly be killed, but AT LEAST I WILL HAVE DONE SOMETHING.  HOW CAN YOU LIVE WITH YOURSELF, WITH YOUR BEST FRIEND OVER THERE, BEING TORTURED AND ALL YOU'RE DOING STANDING AROUND WAITING HERE?  WAITING FOR WHAT?  UNTIL HE DIES?"  (Honestly, PERHAPS that was EXACTLY what the Home Army higher ups were waiting for ... because this situation COULDN'T POSSIBLY END WELL ...).

Anyway, word does come that Rudy is going to be moved.  The Scout detachment gets the go-ahead to launch the ambush from "the higher ups."  ... Do they succeed in freeing him?  (MILD SPOILER ALERT) They do.  

But does it matter?  Of course not.  Why?  (I'm not going to tell you ... but think of the time, think of the nature of the Nazi occupation of the Slavic lands, and come to your own conclusion).  


This is often simultaneously a ghastly and a great film, IMHO near perfectly capturing the central dilemma of the Polish Resistance of the time.  What the heck to do when no matter what one did, the consequences would be all but unbearable.

Sigh ... what a film and what a story.

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

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  1. Misleading title. The Battle of Warsaw was in 1944. The events in the film precede this.

    Polish TV's Czas Honoru covered the whole period in 7 series. Used some of the same locations too.

  2. The title of the film is from the wartime novel that was published (underground) already in 1943. The events (fictionalized) described were not of the Warsaw Uprising but of wartime resistance that preceded it.