Monday, October 17, 2016

History of Swarm (orig. Historia Roja) [2016]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* (A. Woch) review* (H. Jędrzejczak) review* (K. Piskorski) review* (K. Polaski) review* (Ł. Adamski) review*

History of Swarm (orig. Historia Roja) [2016] [IMDb] []* (written and directed by Jerzy Zalewski [IMDb] []*) played recently at the 2016 Polish Film Festival in Los Angeles.  It is THE FIRST FILM OF ITS KIND -- about a leader of the ARMED POLISH ANTI-COMMUNIST RESISTANCE after WW II -- ever made (this 27 years after the fall of Communism in 1989).  As such, the film was greeted with much anticipation in Poland and afterwards with much disappointment and controversy.

Basically, from a technical, and then IMHO from a specifically screen-writing, point of view, the film disappointed:

I have to say that I found the first 30 minutes or so of the film very confusing.  I found it very hard to distinguish between the various factions -- the pro-Soviet factions and the nationalist (generally anti-Communist) ones.  (Interestingly) all the factions appeared in uniform (even those who were presumably born of various partisan movements, possible but I did not realize that this would have been the case, but perhaps it was).  The different factions distinguished themselves by the insignia that they wore on their uniforms and the differences were honestly quite subtle.  For instance, I would have thought that the groups that had been allied to the Polish Home Army would have been the ones wearing white and red arm bands (symbolizing the colors of the Polish flag), BUT in the film it appeared that the pro-Communist Polish military wore those arm bands (perhaps to distinguish themselves from the Soviet army itself).  The non-Communist factions appeared to wear uniforms with insignia that were black (like that shown in the film's poster above).  Further, I would swear that there other factions presented in the that wore other colored insignia -- gold or green for instance -- and all this made it _really hard_ for me, a clearly a layman in such Polish WW-II era military matters, to distinguish who was actually who in the early stages of the film, especially during the first 30 minutes of it.  As time went on (and the film progressed) the sides appeared to coalesce into more recognizable groups.

The confusion of the first 30 minutes of the film (which also corresponded to the first several years of the post-WW II period -- from 1945 to, let us say, 1947) while perhaps irritating to the Viewer, MAY actually reflect the confusion existent during that time when honestly few would really understand who was on whose side...Various films over the years have sought to portray the "Fog of War" (or the "Fog of Insurgency").  So portraying this "Fog"  _may_ have been _part_ of the intent of the film-makers here.

Indeed, North American Viewers could consider approaching this film in much of the same spirit as approaching the Liam Neeson-starring bio-pic Michael Collins [1996] about the famous Irish Revolutionary who helped lead (at least) Southern Ireland to Independence only to watch the whole country plunge into a post-Independence Irish Civil War where again the competing factions (and there, the motivations of the leaders of the competing factions) became quite entangled / confused. 

In the case of Poland, North American Viewers would need to remember that in 1939 Poland was invaded and dismembered by both Nazi Germany (invading from the North, South and West) and the Soviet Union (invading from the East) with the Soviet Union actually having taken a larger portion of Polish territory.  During the subsequent years in which World War II played out, the dominant force of Polish resistance on the ground was the Polish Home Army which pledged its allegiance to the Polish Government in Exile in London.  The goal of the Polish Home Army was first to resist occupation (presumably in both the Nazi/Soviet zones) and then liberate as much of Poland _on its own_ (without Soviet help) as possible (Readers here remember that the Soviet Union already annexed the eastern half of Poland as it is).  The conflict, or at minimum clear _lack of cooperation_, between the Polish Home Army and the Soviet Red Army during the latter part of WW II played itself out most obviously in the Soviet Red Army's refusal to assist the Polish Home Army during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising result in the deaths of 150,000-200,000 Poles, mostly civilians, and the destruction of a good portion of the Home Army's strength. 

This film concerns itself with what followed the Soviet Union's subsequent "liberation" (or over-running) of the rest of Poland on its way to defeat Nazi Germany.  Across Poland (behind Soviet Red Army lines) were all kinds of non-Communist Polish resistance units, most of which had been part of the Polish Home Army and loyal to the Polish Government in Exile in London.  For reasons given above, these groups did not trust the Soviet Union and certainly did not want to be under the yoke of _its_ occupation or for post-WW II Poland to become (what it became) a Soviet Puppet / Satellite state.  On the flip side was of course the sober reality that the Soviet army had pushed all the way to Berlin / Eastern Germany and that it was not going anywhere ... soon.

The question then was what to do?  Well, SOME of those resistance units, under the banner of the National Military Union (Narodowe Zjednoczenie Wojskowe) [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* again still loyal to the Polish Government in Exile in London decided to continue the fight for a free Poland, free of now Soviet Domination.  ONE OF THE YOUNG (!) LEADERS of this organization was Sgt. Mieczysław Dziemieszkiewicz [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]* with the nom de guerre or "Roj" or "Swarm" (and played in the film by Krzysztof Zalewski-Brejdygant [IMDb] []*) after whom the film was made.

Some of the Polish reviewers above questioned the wisdom of making him (Roj/Swarm) the center of the film, one suggesting that perhaps the older, 40-something Cpt. Zbigniew Kulesza code-named "Młot" meaning "Hammer" (and played by Mariusz Bonaszewski [IMDb] []*) would have been a more interesting person to focus on.  In one of the more interesting / heartrending scenes in the movie, it's the 40-something Cpt. Kulesza who's led Dziemieszkiewicz' unit out there in the forests and hinterlands of Poland for 2 years since the formal end of WW II (it was basically 1946-47 when the scene is to have taken place) who his younger charges TO JUST GO HOME.  He tells them: "There's nothing but Death that will come to you if you stay here (in the Forest).  If you go home, yes YOU MAY DIE AS WELL, and more likely you MAY end up in Prison for some time, BUT you will HAVE A CHANCE AT A NORMAL LIFE a CHANCE TO INFLUENCE THE FUTURE OF POLAND of the next generations to come.  HERE, you will just eventually meet your Deaths."

But most of his younger charges, including Roj/Swarm, choose to continue fighting preferring "to face death with a gun in one's hand than to have a NKVD bullet put in the back of one's head."   And so the younger ones do ... continue fighting with ever diminishing numbers, and ever diminishing support from the local populace, which increasingly sees their continued fighting a lost / pointless cause:

Near the end of his story, in 1951 (!), when he and a buddy are robbing some rural bank somewhere in the Polish hinterlands (to "help finance the cause...") they call out at the end of their robbery: "Long live Free Poland" and even they are briefly startled at the bystanders (arguably their hostages) weary and arguably "rolling eyes" reaction ... A Free Poland wasn't going to happen any time soon, and just about everybody by then knew that.  Sigh ...

But the film makers do give Roy / Swarm a Che Guevara-esque end.  He and his buddy die in a shoot-out with Communist authorities.  His young, half-naked bearded body is rolled-out afterwards in the morgue for his by then already imprisoned mother (played by Magdalena Kuta [IMDb] []*) to identify.  "Is this your son?" the authorities ask.  She answers: "No it is not, and you'll never be able to capture him."  And so then, the Legend of a Zorro for Poland is born.

So I do understand why this film was made and why the film-makers chose to make Roj / Swarm its hero.  It's not necessarily a great film, and most of the Polish critics above hope that this film will invite MORE FILMS to be made about this period in Polish history.  After all, it is remarkable that Poland had an active anti-Communist armed resistance into the mid-1950s and arguably into the 1960s [en.wikip] [pl.wikip]*  And it is a remarkable story deserving to be told.

Warts and all, a pretty good and fundamentally informative / discussion producing film.

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

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