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The First Polish 3D Feature Film! Poland's winning battle against Soviet Russia as seen through the eyes of two young protagonists, Ola and Jan. She is a Warsaw cabaret dancer, while he is a cavalry officer and poet who believes in socialist ideals. Written by
Unrefined and rough but mostly riveting (see it in 2D)
My starting point for this film was no knowledge of this famous battle (and I imagine a good many people from outside central/eastern Europe know little about it either), which made this film a real cultural education.
If films were like singing, this film would be a rowdy pub singalong rather than a finely nuanced choral mass, but by the end of it, I didn't mind one bit. There are a few functions it should fulfill: to tell the amazing story of this battle (I had to educate myself afterward, and it really is an amazing episode) as well as to say something about Poland's place in the world, and explain something about Polish mentality, particularly with respect to Russia. It more or less succeeds on all fronts, even while lurching from almost slapstick comedy (a beloved art form in Eastern European film) to the horrors of war to the important military strategising scenes.
The nightclub scenes are really well done, with some great stage numbers, which although incidental to the main story, lend authenticity. The two leads - one a soldier, one the night club star singer are warm characters, and the rest of the cast are good too. The war scenes are not only visceral and realistic, but historically fascinating. At the point in time of this battle, the old technologies of canon and horse were competing with machine guns and armoured cars. But in 1920, machine guns often jammed (the downside), but were becoming lighter and nearly portable (the upside), while armoured cars were not much more than a T-model Ford covered in steel sheets, undoubtedly with limited range and speed. This meant that no single technology was decisive: in the end, a Polish cavalry charge is what sends the Bolsheviks fleeing, even though they had greater numbers and more 'new' technology.
Some scenes are set in the halls of the Kremlin and involve the conversations of Lenin, Stalin, and others as they plan the attack, justified by what seems today an absurd concept of a pan-European (and then global) socialist nirvana. It's hard to believe anyone could even think in such abstract terms, with a complete disregard for real human lives and indeed entire countries and cultures, but we know of course that it was only too real.
It would have been easy for this film to be a breast-beating Polish nationalist pride statement, but it absolutely avoids that stance, and in doing so I suspect would make many Polish people proud of what their forebears achieved in this battle, and how they are perceived today. For me, with little knowledge of Polish culture, it was a real eye-opener into issues such as the historical antipathy for Russia, and the insecurity of even being Polish during a century of invasion. The Polish general Jozef Pilsudski is portrayed as a real person, rather than a heroic personification of his erstwhile legend, and in doing so, allows us to reconstruct the legend for ourselves.
One complaint: the 3D is terrible (I didn't realise it was 3D until too late). I really hate 3D, and I found it terribly disturbing when trying to focus, particularly on battle scene long shots. Let's give this 3D mania up now before too much money is spent on it - it adds nothing, and detracts from the great cinematography.
I recommend anyone who doesn't know much about Poland to go and see this film - you will learn a lot. And anyone who likes cinema with real heart and soul should see it as well. As for Polish people reading this, all I can say is that I am glad to see such an important episode in your history finally on the big screen.
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