Based on autobiographical stories by Tadeusz Borowski, Andrzej Wajda’s Krajobraz po bitwie opens with an irritating long sequence, silent but set to raucous music, portraying the American liberation of a German death camp in 1945. The prisoners appear exceptionally well fed, perhaps on unlimited quantities of wiener schnitzel and polish sausage. As the men peel off and burn their prison garb, there isn’t a scrawny backside among them. This poorly serves the memory of Borowski, who appears in the film as Tadeusz, the bespectacled young intellectual, his arms overflowing with books, who was forced into slave labor and endured Auschwitz, Dautmergen and Dachau, and who committed suicide as a “liberated” man of 29: a reminder of the long, often lethal shadow that dogged “survivors” of the Nazi death-camp ordeal.
The U.S. liberation of the camp, the central joke of this film runs, maintains the status quo. As refugees, the camp inhabitants are moved into a former SS barracks, having now become the detainees of the Americans, who warn them to obey the rule of law for which—it is hideous to hear an American officer say this—they (the Americans) and “the people of Europe” fought together. “Everything’s in order,” Tadeusz notes. “You can’t leave, [and if you try,] they’ll shoot you.” The “they” are no longer Nazis; they are Americans. Sardonic humor is a Polish national trait; but Wajda is no Andrzej Munk, and there’s little to commend this strained though famous film of his.
One brief shot haunts: birds lighting on a roof and taking off—an evocation of all the souls the Germans dispatched. And wonderful Daniel Olbrychski plays Tadeusz—twenty-five at the time, and with an ongoing career.
At film’s end, Tadeusz escapes—to write down the stories he lived.
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