“Warsaw 1944” (“Miasto 44”)
Love, Courage and Sacrifice
Polish director Jan Komasa brings us a universal story about love, courage and sacrifice set during the Warsaw Uprising. Stefan (Jozef Pawlowski) and Ladybug (Sophia Wichłacz) meet and fall in love at first sight. Then on August 1st, 1944, they along with friends were placed under the command of Cobra (Tomasz Schuchardt).
Komasa described the Warsaw Uprising (the ill-fated 63-day struggle led by the Polish resistance Home Army to liberate the city from Nazi occupation) as “a massacre.”
“Everybody thought it would only take three days to beat the Germans,” said Komasa, “Everyone expected the Western countries and the Russians to help. Hitler apparently wanted to destroy Warsaw and kill everybody.”
The film coincides with the 70th anniversary of the surrender of the Home Army and was culled from six hours of original silent newsreel footage shot by teams from the Home Army’s Bureau of Information and Propaganda. Komasa and his team edited this down to 87 minutes and restored, colorized and augmented it with new sound effects and dialogue.
The process was not easy as you can imagine. Military, clothing and architecture consultants, Warsaw experts and historians were consulted to make the colorization authentic. Because so much of the silent footage features people talking, the filmmakers hired a deaf lip-reader to translate what the people on screen were saying, as well as voice Then Komasa took this real footage and blended it with a fictional story about two young brothers from the propaganda bureau and a U.S. airman recently escaped from a German POW camp who are filming the conflict. Though they are never seen on camera, they provide the voice-over commentary on the uprising, as well as their own lives. The result is a hybrid documentary-narrative feature that is totally amazing not to mention important.
Be upset umbrage with the vintage black-and-white being colorized, used in order to make the film more appealing to contemporary audiences and “to break the barrier between us and 70 years ago.”
Komasa and his editor spent a year watching the six hours of footage and selecting shots to create a movie with a cohesive storyline. “Then step by step, you see the city being destroyed, people are losing their smiles and then the city we had was erased.”
In Los Angeles the director met several Warsaw natives who participated in the uprising, including Zbigniew Petryka, 84, and Andrzej Stefanski, 89. Both have seen “Warsaw Uprising” and have vivid memories of the conflict to compare against the film.
Stefanski was 18 when he fought in the uprising. “We were having training in small groups. If the whole group gathered, Germans would know it. Many people were arrested and killed or put in concentration camps and exterminated.” Food was scarce during the conflict. And on one occasion, Stefanski and a fellow soldier risked their lives one night to dig up vegetables that were planted in front of a German fortification. “We had to crawl and dig with our bare hands. We came back alive from this excursion, but two days later, my partner was going on another excursion, was injured and died the next day. Several people were killed. I was very fortunate.”
Stefan and Ladybug are brave and believe in the cause, as they journey past the face of horror and cruelty of war, in an apocalyptic setting their burning city. Miasto 44 is not a film about politics. It is a film about love, youth and courage. This is the story of
young Poles entering adulthood in the cruel days of German occupation. Despite the war raging around them, they are full of life, passionate and impatient, living as though each day was their last. Here is a plot synopsis:
“The main protagonist, Stefan looks after his mother and younger brother after his father, a Polish Army officer, died during the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. Stefan works in the Wedel chocolate factory and finds it increasingly difficult to bear the humiliation he suffers at the hands of the Nazis at every turn. When the opportunity presents itself, he joins the underground Polish Home Army, encouraged by Kama (Anna Próchniak), a childhood friend and next-door neighbor. Kama is secretly in love with Stefan. But it is a subtle and sensitive girl named Biedronka (played by Zofia Wichłacz) who becomes Stefan’s first love. But then the Warsaw Uprising breaks out. The uprising was staged by the underground Polish Home Army in an attempt to drive German forces out of Warsaw before the approaching Red Army entered the city. During the fighting, which lasted for 63 days, about 16,000 Polish soldiers were killed or went missing, 20,000 were wounded and 15,000 were taken prisoner. As a result of air raids and artillery shelling as well as harsh living conditions and massacres staged by German troops, anywhere between 150,000 and 200,000 civilians died”.
Although it takes place during a war, this is the story of people and not of armies or barricades. The movie is not meant to an argument in the ongoing debate in Poland about whether or not the decision to stage the uprising was the right one. Rather the film conveys emotion.
This is not a perfect film by any means but it is worth seeing. It gives testimony of one of the biggest humanitarian disasters in the history of mankind without resorting to disproportionate martyrdom. Although the last thirty minutes is bloody, the last scene makes up for all previous flaws of the film and shows what the last days of the Warsaw Uprising looked like.
It is an epic love story set to the background of war and the way the young lovers perceived the occupation surrounding them. There is violence and gore that de-romanticizes the period but that is integral to what we see here.