In the 15th century the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is facing a hard struggle against the neighboring Teutonic Order.Frequent clashes between the two powers finally culminate in 1410 with the Battle of Grunwald.
Aleksander Ford's successful entry into the annals of The Polish Film School
It's almost impossible to watch this movie without it's director in mind. Aleksander Ford was commonly known as "The Car". From 1945 to 1968 he was the most influential filmmaker in the country. Due to his efforts Polish film industry became more professional and efficient than it ever was before World War II. Only he could afford to direct big-budget, lavish movies, like "Chopin's Youth" (1952). Thanks to this, he was very popular and recognizable. But as a director he was rather conservative. That became evident with the rise of The Polish Film School. The likes of Andrzej Wajda and Andrzej Munk brought new quality to the cinema. Their movies, fresh and powerful, deservedly won the international acclaim. In comparison with them the works of Aleksander Ford looked very old-fashioned, even naive.
Ford, who wanted to be in the center of attention, was jealous of his former pupils' artistic successes. He tried to make his own contribution to Polish Film School movement. The first attempt - the screen version of Marek Hlasko's popular novel - wasn't too successful. "The Eighth Day of the Week" (1958) was first bashed by the author of the book, then banned by the authorities as subversive. Ford has rehabilitated himself in the eyes of communist regime by making "Knights of the Teutonic Order" (1960), big-scale historical spectacle and instant hit. But he still wanted to direct a movie similar to the great works of The Polish Film School. What was the result of his second try?
First of all, Ford was more cautious. Learned from mistake, he didn't choose contemporary settings. Instead he decided to adapt Leon Kruczkowski's play. According to the title, "The first day of freedom" was set in 1945. Kruczkowski asks here about about possibility of coexistence between two former enemies: Polish and German nation. For Aleksander Ford it was the excellent choice. The subject was ideal for Polish Film School movie, and yet still unexplored by any director. And completely safe from political point of view, so this time there was no need to worry about censorship.
"The first day of freedom" is all about the painful confrontation. The group of Polish officers, freshly freed from the camp, arrives to the small German city, completely devastated by the war. One of the few remaining citizens are the German doctor, Mr. Rhode (Tadeusz Fijewski) and his two young daughters, Luzzi (Elzbieta Czyzewska) and Inga (Beata Tyszkiewicz). Especially the latter is less than happy with the end of the war. Her fiancé, SS member, has now become the criminal in the eyes of the law. And in the last day of war she was raped by former prisoners. When her father gives shelter to the Polish officers, led by honorable Jan (Tadeusz Lomnicki), she doesn't hide the hostility toward them. By contrast, her sister adopts rather quickly to the situation and falls in love with one of the officers. Will Inga accept the reality and overcome her prejudice? Her dilemma seems to be typical for both German and Polish nation, who must learn to live in peace. After the five years of hatred and killing one another, it won't be easy at all...
As an faithful adaptation of Kruczkowski's work, this movie works fine. Most of the time it succeeds in avoiding the static, theatrical feeling of the play. Ford was acknowledged master of the spectacle, and it shows here. Some of the scenes are impressive. Probably the most noticeable part is the prologue set in prisoner camp, where Polish officers, gathered in large barrack, are waiting to learn their fate. This scene, played mostly in silence, is very suspenseful. The look on the faces of the prisoners is more telling than words. The dramatic finale is almost as good, and it contains Ford's usual trademark: the house with devastated, winding stairs. As a symbol it's in the right place, as it represents the sad aftermath of war. All in all, "The first day of freedom" is maybe not a masterpiece of The Polish Film School, but a quite satisfying entry.
Unfortunately, this was Aleksander Ford's last Polish movie. In 1968 he was condemned by authorities because of his Jewish origins and expelled from the country. This fall from grace has the devastating effect on him. He has never recovered from depression, and all his foreign, ill-fated movies are the testimony to it. Once a Car, now an outcast, he committed suicide in 1980.
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