Sunday, June 24, 2018


Some weeks back, TCM ran the early Andrzej Wajda film A Generation in the TCM Imports slot. The movie is available on DVD from a Criterion Collection box set of three World War II movies Wajda directed, so I sat down to watch A Generation and do a post about it here.

Stach (Tadeusz Łomnicki) is an idle youth in the slums outside of Warsaw in 1942. You'll note from the year that this is during the Nazi occupation, which is an everyday presence in the lives of everybody in Poland. Stach and his friends play teenage games, but do their bit for the resistance effort by trying to hop on coal transports and throw lumps of coal off the coal cars for the people to use instead of the German war machine. This time, however, it costs on of Stach's friends his life.

Stach is basically forced to find work, which he does as an apprentice in a woodworking shop making bed frames for Nazi barracks. Not that the boss wants to; when Stach goes into the storeroom to get some glue he accidentally knocks over one of the barrels of other stuff and finds that a pistol falls out. It's later revealed (not to Stach) that the boss is running weapons for part of the Polish resistance.

However, Stach isn't making much money, and one of his co-workers, Sekula, tells Stach that Marx pointed out how workers were exploited by their bosses in just the way that Stach and his co-workers are being exploited by their boss. (Sekula fails to include the cost of materials and overhead/capital in his example, of course.) Later, at school, Stach hears from a young woman named Dorota (Urszula Modrzyńska) mentioning the name of a Communist resistance group, and how people can learn more. It seems very dangerous to mention it so openly, but that's how it happens in the movie. Stach joins up, and falls in love with Dorota.

Of course, being in the resistance isn't easy. There's always the threat of being caught by the Nazis. And Stach is in a Communist group, which causes other problems since the Communists hate the non-Communist resistance groups probably as much as they hate the Nazis. Stach's old boss is part of one of those non-Communist groups, and when the boss finds that pistol missing, Stach's involvement in a Communist cell is going to be revealed.

A Generation is a pretty darn good movie about a part of World War II that gets little attention in Hollywood cinema, which probably has a lot to do with the fact that Poland wound up behind the Iron Curtain after the War. Wajda shows himself to be an excellent director of the camera in an opening tracking shot, and there are some other very striking scenes, such as one involving a spiral staircase in the Jewish ghetto when they revolted in 1943. The acting is acceptable but not memorable; I'd guess that had to do with not having a particularly big talent pool to draw from.

There are some scenes that to me are cringeworthy, but those scenes kind of had to be put in the movie to get past the Communist censors. I already mentioned the reference to Marx; there's also the whole idea of the Communist resistance cells being somehow superior to the non-Communist cells. (In fact, when the 1944 Warsaw Uprising occurred, Stalin specifically ordered Soviet forces not to help because if the uprising had succeeded, it would have helped the government in exile in London remain the legitimate government after the war, and Stalin wanted a Communist puppet regime. Letting the Poles die was no big deal to him.) But I can't really blame Wajda for these problems; without Communist propaganda in the movie it never would have been released.

Still, A Generation is certainly worth watching. It's just too bad that foreign films usually get relegated to pricier DVD releases.

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