A Generation (1955)
Director: Andrzej Wajda
Cast: Tadeusz Lomnicki, Urszula Modrzynska, Tadeusz Janczar
Plot: Story of youths during the German occupation of Poland in the World War II who come to adulthood through love and adversity.
Genre: Drama / War
Rating: PG for some violence.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: YES)
Andrzej Wajda’s A Generation or Pokolenle is the great director’s first feature-length film and is also the first installment of a ‘War’ trilogy that brought the world’s attention to Polish cinema as never before. The two other similarly-themed films in the series are Kanal (1957) and Ashes and Diamonds (1958). These three films combined remains to be one of the finest collective works to come out of Eastern European cinema in the 1950s.
A Generation tells the story of Stach, a wayward teen living in a slum on the outskirts of Nazi-occupied Warsaw. He works as a carpenter in a small, local factory making bed frames and doors, and earning a pay of paltry proportions.
He is then introduced to an underground resistance group comprising of youths which is led by Dorota, a confident young woman who wants to fight for the freedom of her homeland. A true believer of Communism, Stach matures from a lazy kid living a life of emptiness to a leader of a patriotic cause worth dying for.
A Generation opens with a wide panning shot that slowly swivels from a barren, quiet open field to a small village with joyfully loud children playing. Yet there is something disquieting about the shot. The stark photography induces a feeling that we may never hear these voices again.
Wajda’s filmmaking style is simple; he never indulges in fanciful camera tricks or long technically-demanding takes. Here he is focused on telling Stach’s story with certain immediacy. Supporting characters are introduced and established with consistent pacing; Wajda allows each key supporting role to have enough one-to-one time with Stach so that an emotional bond is developed between them.
Wajda has a strong sense of location. In the film’s most powerful sequence, one of Stach’s close friends finds himself separate from the group after they encountered Nazi resistance. Armed with a pistol, he tries to outrun the Nazis but ends up in a building with a spiral staircase. He climbs up helplessly, ducking sprays of bullets that seem to come from all corners.
His pistol is now emptied but at the top he sees a door. Sensing salvation, he opens the door only to find a locked gate behind. A sharp ray of hope becomes a painful stab to the heart. Realizing his impending doom, he unwillingly jumps to his death.
In only his first feature, Wajda has shown that he has what it takes to become a master filmmaker. A Generation may not feature the best in acting, but Wajda’s careful direction behind the camera allows the characters to breathe life into Stach’s story of sorrow.
Wajda’s realist, social dramas have not only become the singular voice of post-war Polish youths disaffected by their mournful past, they have also, in his later works, become a voice of a nation struggling for identity amid a thick haze of political and economical uncertainty.
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