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Poland, during the World War. Lotna is a magnificent specimen of Arabian horse, the pride of her owner, too old to actually ride her but to whom she remains faithful nevertheless. The Polish cavalry army is also proud of their land, and loyal to rules, and custom. The German army is leading an overwhelming speed attack with tanks, an almost unheard of weapon, and bringing a way of life to an end. It's the last battle between Lotna (speed horse) and Blitzkriega (speed war). Written by
Andrzej Wajda directs "Lotna". Set during the second world war, the film revolves around "Lotna" ("The Swift One"), a Polish war horse who is passed down from soldier to soldier, like the winchester in Anthony Mann's "Winchester '73", as his owners are systematically killed in combat by invading German forces. It soon becomes clear that the horse, in Wajda's hands, becomes a shifting symbol: initially that of patriotism and defiance, but then finally death, betrayal and defeat. By the film's end the horse has been blamed, due to her conspicuous markings, for the Germans discovering a band of hiding Polish troops.
The film is episodic, the horse introducing us to various sub-characters and sub-plots as it ambles across war-torn Europe. Moments of horror and violence at times give way to more light-hearted sequences a budding romance, a village priest taming the horse etc but the film's overall arc, like most of Wajda's works, is that of tragedy. The film's aesthetic itself seems to move progressively away from colour, to muted browns and greens, to murky blacks and whites; life sucked out of Europe until the landscape seems to match the horse's own complexion.
Though set in the Second World War, "Lotna" at times feels more like a fable caught out of time, Wajda's tone frequently mystical, hallucinatory, surreal and even satirical. The film is often viewed as a piece of Polish propaganda (thanks largely to dreamy sequences in which Wajda's epic tracking shots glide with Polish horses as they gloriously charge German tanks), but Wajda is doing something completely different. Indeed, what the horse does is crystallise Poland's own backwardness and vulnerabilities, slowly shifting away from a figure which leads and inspires to one which charges uselessly with an outdated calvary towards fleets of German tanks. Jean Renoir's "La Grande Illusion" seems to be the chief influence, the horse and her original owners representative of a dying aristocracy whose entrenched Old Order fizzles out. Lotna broken leg coincides with Poland's end.
So a sense of defeat and despair suffuses the film, a mood which Wajda contrasts with shots and compositions designed to conjure up glorious images of Polish soldiers, men and animals. Frequently Wajda has his characters loom proud, preternaturally or heroically over his camera, before "pulling" back to reveal dark, wet or smoke filled skies. Like Jancso's "The Red and the White", its a parodic marriage of patriotism with a more dispassionate, distanced view of conflict. The film's famous tracking shot, in which Polish horses charge German tanks, is less a moment of national pride than the wedlock of stupidity, nationalism and slaughter. Like "Kanal", another war-themed Wajda film accused of being "patriotic" (it's not), "Lotna" is devoid of anti-German sentiment. Wajda's aim is always closer to home.
Wajda's films tend to be heavy with visual echoes and symbolism. It's the same case with "Lotna", shots of white veils contrasted, the spasms of a horse mirrored to that of twitching fish etc. In each case the effect is that of a movement toward oblivion. The film's acting has been criticised; during this period, Wajda favoured somewhat stylised, grotesque performances.
7.9/10 - Not as good as Wajda's war trilogy ("Ashes and Diamonds", "Pokolenie", "Kanal"). "Lotna", as well as "Winchester '73" and "Lassie Come Home", would form the basis of Spielberg's "War Horse". Worth two viewings.
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