A Generation (Pokolenie) [DVD]
Director : Andrzej Wajda
Screenplay : Bohdan Czeszko (based on his novel)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1955
Stars : Tadeusz Lomnicki (Stach Mazur), Urszula Modrzynska (Dorota), Tadeusz Janczar (Jasio Krone), Janusz Paluszkiewicz (Sekula), Ryszard Kotys (Jacek), Roman Polanski (Mundek), Ludwik Benoit (Grzesio), Zofia Czerwinska (Lola), Zbigniew Cybulski (Kostek)
A Generation (Pokolenie) was Andrzej Wajda's directorial debut, the first of an unintended trilogy of films made in the late 1950s (including 1957's Kanal and 1958's Ashes and Diamonds) about the Polish resistance against the German occupiers during World War II. Wajda, who led the renaissance of Polish political filmmaking in the 1950s and 1960s despite never having intended to be a filmmaker (he had wanted to be a painter), was himself a member of the Polish resistance during World War II, and his firsthand experiences add a level of gritty verisimilitude to his lyrical sensibilities.
Like other painters-turned-filmmakers, Wajda has an eye for beauty in even the harshest environments, and A Generation's depiction of war-torn Poland is replete with elegant tracking shots and precise compositions. Wajda's expressionism is a powerful force, even if his symbolism veers from the tacky (a love-struck character visually isolated inside a heart-shaped frame at a carnival) to the profound (a spiral staircase that leads to a man character's martyrdom).
Wajda's protagonist is Stach (Tadeusz Lomnicki), a young man living in the poor outskirts of Warsaw during the war (the story is set in 1943). When the film opens, his life is aimless and apolitical. He spends his days knocking about with his friends, playing knives and stealing coal from German trains. The film's first shock to the system comes within the opening moments, when one of Stach's friends is killed by a German train guard, thus thrusting a stark reminder of the dangers of living in an occupied country directly in Stach's face. It is the beginning of the end of his innocence.
He takes a job working as a carpenter, and slowly his political consciousness is raised by others around him. His first influence comes from a fellow worker, Sekula (Janusz Paluszkiewicz), who opens Sach's eyes to the writings of Karl Marx. When a beautiful young resistance leader named Dorota (Urszula Modrzynska) makes a speech at his school, encouraging the students to join the underground fight against the Germans (which would become "the Ghetto Uprising"), he takes the opportunity to join up. This is partially due to his increasing political awareness, but also because he has fallen in love with Dorota and wants to be as close to her as possible.
A Generation was based on the novel by Bohdan Czeszko (who also wrote the screenplay), and the film's title is a harsh reminder that events like World War II and the German occupation are more than just historical facts to remember; they shape an entire generation, isolating it from those that came before. Sach is the obvious stand-in for the generation who came of age under the dark cloud of fascism's attempt to take control of Europe, and the fact that the film ends with tears in his eyes suggests that every victory the film chronicles pales in comparison to its cost.
Some critics have accused A Generation of being too sentimental and naive, particularly in the way it holds high socialist ideals of solidarity and equality as the answer to fascism, as we know now that communism became its own form of fascism. Yet, such a reading ignores Wajda's clear juxtaposition of idealism and the realities of war, not to mention his sly undercutting of so-called "socialist realism." While the beaming faces of a new group of underground fighters at the end of the film blatantly suggests the continuation of the noble fight against Nazism, the subtext is that they are but more lambs to the slaughter.
The inclusion of romance may seem like a distraction, but it is actually integral to Wajda's vision, as it makes clear that political victories are meaningless without a human face. Fighting the Nazi occupiers is not just about abstract, large-scale notion of nation and freedom, but about small-scale love and compassion between individuals. As a first stab at feature filmmaking, A Generation is an impressive work, an emotionally stirring reminder that we should never forget the humanity in the larger fight.
|A Generation Criterion Collection DVD|
|A Generation is available exclusively as part of The Criterion Collection's "Andrzej Wajda: Three War Films" director-approved three-disc box set, which also includes Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds.|
|Audio||Polish Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection / Home Vision Entertainment|
|SRP||$79.95 (box set)|
|Release Date||April 26, 2004|
|The transfer of A Generation was taken from a 35mm fine-grain master positive struck from the original film negative and was then digitally restored using the MTI Digital Restoration System, but don't expect the flawless presentation so often associated with Criterion. The original elements must have been in fairly poor condition because, even after the digital clean-up, the image still shows a fair amount of light scratching, which is particularly evident during the many fades to black. The image is slightly soft at times, although detail remains acceptably high. This is not a film of stark black-and-white contrasts; rather, it resides largely in the grayish mid-tones, which contributes to the apparent softness.|
|Like the image, the audio is somewhat below what Criterion is usually able to deliver, even after digital restoration. The monaural soundtrack maintains good fidelity and there are no distracting pops or cracks, but there is some noticeable ambient hiss throughout.|
|The disc includes an informative, 34-minute interview with Wajda (conducted in late 2003), in which he discusses his filmmaking influences and life growing up in Poland. Also included is Ceramics From Ilza (Ceramika Ilzecka), Wajda's 1951 film school short, and an extensive stills gallery of behind-the-scenes production photos, publicity stills, posters, and original artwork by Wajda. The lengthy liner notes in the insert booklet by film scholar Ewa Mazierska are particularly illuminating in terms of placing A Generation within the context of Polish cultural and political history.|
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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