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Polish Cinema

Stones for the Rampart (Kamienie na szaniec, Poland 2014)

The 'Grey Scouts' attempt to rescue a prisoner of the Gestapo

The ‘Grey Scouts’ attempt to rescue a prisoner of the Gestapo

Unlike several other recent mainstream Polish films in the UK that have been released ‘on date’ with Warsaw, Stones for the Rampart had to wait over a year after its Polish release. An adaptation from a 1943 ‘patriotic novel’, the film directed by Robert Glinski offers a story about older teenagers who are members of a clandestine Scout troop known in English as the ‘Grey Ranks’. Worried by the possibility that the boys’ actions against the Nazi occupiers of Warsaw might create more trouble than it is worth, a group of the Scouts are recruited into the ‘Home Army’ – the official Polish resistance. There are a number of links/categories that this film brings to mind and, although it is clearly a very specific context, it does reveal generic features. The most obvious link is to Andrzej Wajda’s trilogy of war-time films produced in the 1950s and in particular the first part A Generation (1955). This too was based on a novel about teenage resistance fighters in Warsaw (with Roman Polanski as one of the younger boys). The new film also relates to Hollywood’s attempts to enable familiar genre films to appeal to younger audiences through stories featuring younger versions of generic characters, e.g. in films like the Westerns Young Guns (1988) and Young Guns 2 (1990). Finally we might consider this Polish film as another example of European film industries re-visiting the Second World War and national myths about resistance to occupation (or in the German case, resistance to Nazi ideologies such as in Sophie Scholl (Germany 2005)).

Probably the first point to note is that in re-visiting the resistance struggle in Warsaw, contemporary filmmakers are working in a very different context to Wajda in in the 1950s. They are not under any pressure to highlight the importance of the communist resistance groups – indeed they may feel pressurised not to mention them. I confess that I do not have the historical knowledge about the Polish resistance in Warsaw to know when the communist resistance becomes important. The Home Army with its allegiance to the Polish government-in-exile in London was certainly the much larger force and I didn’t register any direct references to communist activity. The sensitivity of these issues makes it very difficult for non-Polish speakers to decode all the subtitled dialogue and written texts shown in the film. I’m not surprised therefore to discover what seem to be very negative comments about this film. In the review in the Polish version of Newsweek, Michał Wachnicki lambasts the film for poor dialogue and lack of realism. Google Translate itself offers only a rough approximation of Wachnicki’s arguments but he seems to be quoting Hollywood films such as Saving Private Ryan and Full Metal Jacket as successful war films. I would have thought that a film like Rossellini’s Rome Open City would have been a better benchmark. By contrast, the most positive English language review is from an American priest. Father Dennis Zdenek Kriz from Chicago suggests that the film offers important moral questions about the sacrifice of young lives in a just cause.

What do I make of all this without the language and cultural historical knowledge? The young people depicted are on the whole middle-class with all the resources that implies. The air of ‘amateurish’ resistance is contrasted with the brutality of the Nazi occupiers towards the working-class people on the street who are randomly executed in retaliation. In some ways the film is quite ‘realist’ in showing credible psychological reactions to events – the ending of the film is poignant in the confrontation between a young German soldier and an equally inexperienced ‘scout leader’/student. The complex relationship between the Home Army leadership, the scout troop and the other more isolated ‘agents’ (including the parents of the boys who have roles their children don’t know about) isn’t perhaps as clear as it might be. What is clear, however, is that the Home Army is a much more substantial force in 1943 than the resistance in many other Nazi-occupied countries. The inclusion in the narrative of the relationships between the young men of the scouts and their girlfriends is potentially problematic and this is perhaps where I feel most inadequate to deal with the dialogue.

I’m glad I saw this film and I wish it had found a wider audience in the UK. As far as I know it has only been seen at selected Cineworld cinemas. It is certainly an interesting addition to the increasingly large collection of WWII stories of resistance.

Trailer (no English subs):

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