At the turn of the century, Lodz, Poland was a quick-paced manufacturing center for textiles, replete with cutthroat industrialists and unsafe working conditions. Three young friends, a Pole... Read allAt the turn of the century, Lodz, Poland was a quick-paced manufacturing center for textiles, replete with cutthroat industrialists and unsafe working conditions. Three young friends, a Pole, a Jew and a German, pool their money together to build a factory. The movie follows thei... Read allAt the turn of the century, Lodz, Poland was a quick-paced manufacturing center for textiles, replete with cutthroat industrialists and unsafe working conditions. Three young friends, a Pole, a Jew and a German, pool their money together to build a factory. The movie follows their ruthless pursuit of fortune.
A savage attack on corrupt Polish capitalism of the 1880s
This epic film directed by the famous Polish director Andrzej Wajda is not nearly so widely known outside Poland as many of his other films, which have a broader appeal and are less disturbing and savagely ironical. The film is based upon a novel by the classic Polish novelist Ladislaw Reymont (who died 1925). The novel was published in 2 volumes in English in 1928 but is very difficult to find. Reymont is better known in English for his novel THE PEASANTS (CHLOPI), published in four volumes successively entitled Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. It is usually necessary when trying to acquire it to piece the volumes together separately from different booksellers, as I had to do. This story is harrowing in the extreme, and to a certain extent becomes a caricature of 'the evils of capitalists', primarily speculators. Of course, we all know today how dangerous speculators are, and every major bank seems to contains dozens of uncontrolled and uncontrollable 'rogue speculators', or 'casino gamblers' as they are often called nowadays, who keep bringing about disastrous losses and crashes which effect the entire globe. But this film is a historical drama limited to what took place in the Polish city of Lodz during the 1880s. One presumes that it must have a basis in truth of some kind, but being ignorant of the history of Lodz, I must confess I do not know. The film contains a few 'in jokes'. For instance, there is a scene where an uneducated Jewish moneylender is told that Victor Hugo has just died (which happened in 1885). He says, after looking blank at first, 'oh yes, he wrote that book OF FIRE AND SWORD some portions of which my daughter read out to me.' Polish viewers would laugh their heads off at this, as the book referred to is one of the most famous works of Henryk Sienkiewicz and has nothing to do with Victor Hugo. Wajda's rage when making this film was evidently so intense that he could not resist planting such small ironies as those within the dialogue. The film portrays the most vicious, corrupt, callous and inhuman greed and arrogance imaginable. Mill owners are shown saying: 'Let them die' when their workers are injured by the machines in their factories, and refuse to pay their widows a penny in compensation. They go round the factories choosing the young worker girls they want for sex and forcing them into it with the threat of firing them and their whole families so that they will starve if the girls do not agree. Mangled bodies and body parts flying through the air from whirling machines are shown in the factories without sparing our sensitivities. We see people being beaten to death in the street and no one even notices, we see several suicides by financial speculators and moneylenders who have been 'ruined'. Jews are portrayed very harshly as stock characters who are greedy, vengeful and lascivious. With the exception of one very nice and honourable aristocratic girl named Anka, who tries unsuccessfully to 'have concern for human suffering' by aiding a worker whose ribs have been crushed but is ordered not to do so, just about every character in the story is revolting, rotten to the core, and despicable. This is not an edifying film, and is very much a 'downer'. The title is clearly an extremely ironical one, as 'the promised land' dreamed of by one minor character as a Lodz where everybody gets rich and is happy, is in fact the most brutal nightmare and hell on earth. Wajda used his brilliant film making skills to create a highly watchable and rather mesmerising film, but it turns one's stomach. Of course, that is what he wanted to do. His message seems to have been: 'Can you watch this without being disgusted and horrified?' The answer is no. This story was filmed as a silent film in 1927, but I do not know whether that survives. Reymont's THE PEASANTS has been filmed as a feature film three times, in 1922, 1935, and 1973, and as a television mini-series in 1972. The Poles love their classic writers and poets. Even in the midst of the dialogue of this film, the name of the national poet Adam Mickiewicz bursts through in conversation. Especially at that time, it would have been hard to find a Pole who could go an entire day without referring to Mickiewicz, who was not only the national poet but a passionate supporter of Polish independence and freedom, who spent much of his life living on the Rue de Seine (see his plaque) in Paris as a political exile. With the Poles, their national literature is viewed as such an integral part of their national identity that it means more to them than probably any other European nation. To a large extent this can be seen to be due to the struggle which the Poles have had over the centuries in maintaining a national identity at all, what with the Swedish, German, and Russian invasions, not to mention their tiffs with the Lithuanians. In this film, there are many sarcastic references to and portrayals of Germans resident in Lodz at the time, and they come off worse than even the Jews, as the worst villains and scoundrels. This film pulls no punches, but lets rip in every direction like a mad dog that wants to bite everyone all at once.
- Jun 25, 2015
Contribute to this page
Suggest an edit or add missing content