Take a Drink: for dangerous games
Take a Drink: whenever a character does
Take a Drink: for smuggling
Take a Drink: for socialist rhetoric
Take a Drink: whenever Polanski does something cute
Do a Shot: for that damn clock
Do a Shot: for alpha mustaches
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
One of my favorite films of the year is the stunning black and white drama Ida, and I quite enjoyed Krzysztof Kieślowski’s The Decalogue, but I’ll be the first to admit that I have quite a bit to learn about the critically acclaimed but underexposed cinema of Poland.
I’d make a Polish joke, but it turns out they’re smarter just about everybody.
Any Polish cinema conversation won’t get far before turning to Andrzej Wajda, who’s been a force in the genre for 60 years. It all began with A Generation, though, a tale of a group of young men and women simultaneously drawn to Socialism and the resistance movement against the Nazis in the darkest days of World War II.
Wajda’s fascination with the Polish role in the Second World War has literally spanned his career, understandably as we discovered in 2007’s Katyn, where he dramatized the Katyn Massacre, where his own father was murdered by Soviet forces. A Generation, however, is more focused on living under, and resisting occupation. Wajda does a great job of communicating the squalor and desperation of those times, aided by Jerzy Lipman’s dark, grubby, noirish cinematography.
The other thing A Generation accomplishes extraordinarily well is delve into the psychology of the young people drawn to the resistance. These are just regular kids, attracted to the burgeoning Socialist movement for a variety of reasons, from youthful idealism to adolescent boredom and frustration driven to a frenzy by the harsh reality under the Nazis to the fact that the group leader’s pretty hot.
Marx me down for a date, baby, I’m Lenin towards lovin’ you.
When the guns start firing, Wajda also resists making this a Hollywood hero tale (even though that’s likely what his Communist producers were looking for). When his young protagonists first experience real violence, or have to take a life, their reaction isn’t strength or pride, but stunned laughter followed by waves of horror.
This was Wajda’s first film, and it definitely feels like it. He manages some interesting shots, like the heart frame wordlessly and funnily establishing two characters’ romantic stakes, but others feel too proper and schooled. He also has an inconsistent handle on pacing, with one action scene near the end impressively choreographed and energetic, but the rest rather unengaging, and other parts of the film dragging more than they should. The actors are no more experienced, which also occasionally shows, although seeing a teenaged Roman Polanski in short pants was worth the price of admission on its own.
Jack Nicholson had to learn about short-pants jokes the hard way
A Generation was commissioned by the Communist Party of Poland to be shown on its anniversary, and their influence can’t definitely be felt. Digressions into simplified Party rhetoric and dry political conversations sap the energy from the film whenever they crop up.
Ultimately, though, Wajda didn’t give the Party the film they wanted, and in the moments he touches on the more complex and universal, and less dialectic-friendly, something great emerges. A Generation is a great beginning to a great career.