Kanal (1957) Poster


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Watch this film closely in the last hours of heroes lives...
Goodbye_Ruby_Tuesday8 September 2008
Did Andrzej Wajda predict the modern horror film? Or was he merely acting on--and manipulating--our fear of the big, scary monster? There are many shots in KANAL where the camera will simply stay on a passageway seconds after the survivors leave the shot. As a modern audience who has lived through horror films, we expect a Nazi or a monster to slip into the frame in the background, but it never does. KANAL truly is a horror film, but what's unbearable to us and the sturdy group of Resistance fighters isn't the Nazis above the sewers or the metaphorical monster, but it is the solitude and emptiness that drives them to insanity, death or a bitter end.

KANAL is Andrzej Wajda's dirty, bloody valentine to the heroes of the 1944 Warsaw Resistance as the film follows the last hours of a band of heroes in their ultimately futile attempt to escape the Nazis through the labyrinth of underground sewers. We are first introduced to them as strong, willful humans trying to survive in a world that's falling to ruins (One could also argue that Andrzej Wajda also created the first post-apocalypse film). They laugh, they love, they play music in the last happy moments of their lives. After they enter the sewers, we expect and want them to come out even more strong-willed than ever--how many people can face dead bodies floating in the water of a dirty sewer with the same calm defiance? But as time goes on and the group gets separated, it becomes more and more inevitable that these heroes are not meant for a Hollywood's movie's happy, redemptive ending.

Andrzej Wajda, like Roman Polanski, was a real survivor of the Nazi invasion of Poland during WWII, and both became filmmakers who brought their experiences to films, as Polanski did with Oscar-winning THE PIANIST. However, Polanski's film, though absolutely profound, doesn't have Wajda's eye for details--the scenes of ruined Warsaw, for example, seem almost CGI'ed and it's obvious that he's trying to go for more, while Wajda will focus solely on the dirty ground, the debris blowing in the wind, or the flames of a burning building in the background. With Wajda, less is much more effective. If there is a situation more dirty, awful, lonely, scary or haunting than these people making their way through the labyrinths, I have yet to see it.
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Dante in Warsaw
RMOba16 July 2004
That this movie was made is a near miracle, since it squeaked out barely 3 years after Stalin died; and the Polish film industry could even begin to suggest that Poles could struggle against the Germans without Soviet "fraternal" help. It looks likely that it was saved from oblivion by the Silver Palm (1957), at least in Poland. My suspicion that this got past the Party censors as a Dantean allegory about the worker and peasant struggles, with each character and episode exposing some lesson. However, like Ashes and Diamonds, much of the real message is just at the surface: regular Poles struggling for a better future.

The real hidden message of the film is a metaphorical struggle against Soviet oppression. Wajda seems to suggest this by quoting Szczepanski(1944): "... But know this: from our tombstones A victorious new Poland will be born And you will not walk this land You Red Ruler of bestial forces!" (1) Indeed the resolution suggests the Stalinist Inferno is far from over. Those who have tried to bring light to the world suffer a Promethean fate.

What seems remarkable to me is the positive spirit, humor, and love of life that most of the characters display in the face of their passage into the underworld. There is additional irony (humorous to me), for example, that the composer attempts to play a particularly patriotic Chopin, but is then ordered to play "something with feeling:" an inane dance tune. (By the way, the Beckstein piano that the composer tries to protect was made by a company that provided Hitler with crucial early support.)

It is also remarkable that such a dark, almost anti-heroic view of combatants was made only 12 years after the event. It is not so far from the spirit of Ernie Pyle, and just think how long it took to make Band of Brothers.

(1) Interview on www.wajda.pl
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A Few Additional Notes
warsawer19 January 2007
I think everyone who saw this film knows that it's a masterpiece, but maybe not everyone knows how authentic the film is. The writer of the screenplay - Jerzy Stefan Stawinski - is in fact the Lieutenant Zadra responsible for his platoon. Stawinski wrote down his own war experiences here with impressing honesty.

Another thing that may be interesting in this film is the main female character - Daisy. She isn't supposed to be a superwoman as some suggested. In fact there were several thousands of women fighting in this uprising. All of them that survived it were given the status of soldiers by Germans. It was the first time in the world's history when women received such a status. During the uprising many of them were carrying mail via sewers, so Daisy is rather a typical character in this role. It would be more surprising if the guide was a man.
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Resistance is Futile
begger24 June 2001
In many respects this movie is sheer brilliance. For starters "Kanal" describes the entire Polish Revolt in a single instance at the eve of its termination. But this movie is much more than a parable of Revolution and struggle. "Kanal" has great characters, great settings, great scenes, and, above all, an important message to be told.

What would it be like to fight an impossible battle against a larger force and be in the real world? What would it be like to face death at every turn and still travel on knowing defeat awaited you at the next bend? "Kanal" is the answer to these questions.
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A Great Film
info-39929 November 2001
A great film, at first viewing people may not understand some of the cultural references. The tall blonde brave sewer-runner is not a model of Aryan Uber Womanhood but that of a strong polish woman.According to the official line of Nazi Propaganda the metaphor for the Aryan woman was of a breeder , home maker not a woman that would take a pro-active role in dragging aman half way across the canals of Warsaw. I saw the movie as less of a metaphor for hell as that of an actual hell,the hell of siege such as stalingrad. Stalingrad was not a metaphor for hell it was hell on earth. As was Warsaw in the last days of organized rebellion.As much as Das Boot style brought across a sliver of the real life incident , Kanal's style brings across the desperation of the struggle in Warsaw. The optomistic saddness can be written off as slavic melancholy, or better described as the hope and sorrow of a nation that has many times been routed from the map of europe only to resurface strong and proud.Everything was taken from them and hope itself is in question as the final reel fades to black.
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Soicism in the face of fate
paul2001sw-118 March 2007
Watching Andrzei Wajda's war movie 'Kanal' one is stuck just by how short the interval was between the making of this film and the horrors it depicts. And while there were plenty of British and American war films made in the 1950s, it was perhaps easier to turn "our" story into the black-and-white banality of heroic fable, besides which, "we" could also make movies without communist censors looking over our shoulders. Wajda here chooses to fashion a tale centred on the collapse of the Polish resistance to the Nazis: the last survivors take to the sewers, the Germans pump gas down, and you know as soon as the film starts that there will be no happy endings, even for the survivors. It's a tale whose laconic nihilism would be remarkable in any era: I was reminded of the (much later) BBC nuclear-themed drama 'Threads', another tale of underground life facing extinction, while the dialogue, stoical in the face of impossible fate, offers more direct echos, for it made me think of the films of another Polish master, Krystoff Kieslowski. The most remarkable things in this film are the poetically bleak sequence of scenes that end it; it's biggest failing is the score, that (as with many films of this era) feels the need to describe the plot, and not merely to complement it. Occasionally other aspects of the movie also give away its age, but what's much more notable is the modernity (and hopelessness) of its approach to its material. A fine achievement, dating from an era when the events it portrayed were the present, not the past.
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awful and relentless as well as great
MartinHafer5 February 2006
This is certainly NOT a feel-good film, as it deals with the horrors of the Nazis and their crushing of the Warsaw uprising of 1944. After all, there is no way or reason to make this a nice or fun movie to view. It just isn't possible. BUT, we are treated to an intensely realistic and viscerally disturbing film showing the war in all its awfulness. The first portion of the film is set in crumbling buildings and the nobility of the cause is apparent. However, the vast majority of the film is set in the sewers (hence the title "Kanal") and the characters, over time, lose some of their nobility and just ache to survive. The film is intensely claustrophobic and the filth they move about in literally looks like raw sewage--so as the characters fight for life and, in most cases, give up hope, you find yourself being pulled into their world and their terror. A great, though intensely awful film to watch. So, it comes as no surprise that I would not recommend this film to children or people afflicted with claustrophobia.

PS--if the musician seems familiar, it's because Wladyslaw Sheybal (also known as "Vladek Sheybal") is one of the Bond Villains in the movie FROM Russia WITH LOVE.
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Fatalism in Post-war Poland
tutusaad27 March 2009
I saw this film in a film festival in Dhaka, in early sixties(Now Bangladesh, then East Pakistan). For me as a student, Sattayjit Ray's Apu trilogy was my only exposer to any kind of art film then. Visual realism was a new thing for us in Indian sub continent. Audience were so spellbound that they could smell sewage sitting in the cinema hall. I think like all great directors, Wajda had the cinematographic sense to create that environment where viewers reality could blend with creative fiction. In post war period of late forties and in early fifties like the School of Polish Posters, all creative mediums went through this fatalistic phase. It was grotesque but realistic.
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"Kanal" is a melting pot of people representing Poland
psagray7 November 2010
"Kanal" is a claustrophobic film of the great director polish Andrzej Wajda, which shows a metaphor for the Poland of the year of realization. It was his second work and belongs to a trilogy made on the W. W. II. The first is "Generation" of the year 1955 and the third "Ashes and diamonds" of 1958.

The film is a heartbreaking travel to the bottom of the war, represented here by the sewers Warsaw, a tour of the depths of human being, the Revelation of a world that played to an end. The beginning of the film is the antithesis of what we expected, a plane air where we see a city shattered by war, where the light as floods throughout, and where presents us with a battalion of polish resistance harassed by the Nazis to which a voice in off announces us fatalism saying "These are the protagonists of the tragedy".

The only light comes from small lanterns that makes only view between dusk accentuated by a mist from the vapors of gases of sewers. In the sewers air is dense, unbeatable, where the smell to the droppings is nauseating, fatigue makes it hard walk, the tunnels are transformed into a maze replete with junctions that do not know where van, where even float corpses. All this causes the characters are the limit and show the best and worst of each.

"Kanal" is a melting pot of people representing Poland, where the love,, the Honor, the survival instinct make presence and what may be the light that appears to the bottom of the galleries does not represent the end of the war, but grates that may represent the tragedy that still waiting for its to this battered nation.
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It is relentless
futures-126 December 2005
"Kanal" (Polish, 1957): This is the second of Andrzej Wajda's trilogy about WWII in Poland. I love the photography – the light, the angles, the flowing camera movements. "Kanal" is about a group of resistance fighters and civilians who, out of necessity, band together to fight (what appears to be a losing battle) against the oncoming Nazis. First set in an incredibly bleak ruin of Warsaw, the story and acting only intensify as they begrudgingly try to escape through the underground sewer system. This one will take it out of you. It is relentless. It is relentless. It is relentless. It is relentless. Relentless. Relentless. Relentless. Relentless. Relentless. Relentless.
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