“They’re starting politics early, this generation.”
Adapted by Bohdan Czeszko from his novel, Andrzej Wajda’s first feature film, Pokolenie, begins in 1942 in Warsaw and concerns itself with an underground youth resistance movement hoping to deliver Poland from the current Nazi occupation to its Soviet-allianced postwar communist future. Wajda has said that this distortion of history—such activists generally sought national sovereignty—was dictated by the Soviet Union for the benefit of its own propaganda. This proved an immense help to the film, giving it a deep vein of irony pertaining to the disconnect between youthful idealism and political realities. Pokolenie has remained one of Wajda’s most riveting and satisfying works.
Stach Mazur is an impoverished hooligan, just out of his teens, who becomes a member of the youth resistance group after a friend is killed while attempting to steal coal from a German supply train. His hatred of the Nazis becomes decisive for anti-communist Jasio Krone’s also joining the cell, in which capacity he assists Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto during the 1943 uprising before reaching his own spectacular end. Stach’s girlfriend, Dorota, seems similarly fated after her arrest. (Earlier, anticipating his own death, Stach had told her: “I’m not brave. I’m scared all the time. I’m scared of being shot in the back. Most of all, I’m scared of not seeing your face again.”) Stach is all alone at the end of the film when a batch of Poles even younger than he approaches him with the requisite passwords for entrance into the Resistance. Hope for the future thus sustains Stach, whose face at the same time, a tragic mask, indicates anguish.
Despite Wajda’s denial that this was his intent, Pokolenie is widely regarded as the launch of a black-and-white “war trilogy.” The second film, though, is a harbinger of artistic problems for Wajda; for while Pokolenie is fresh, vibrant and volatile, anticipating even the nouvelle vague in France, Kanal (1957) is poetical, unconvincing, grandiose. Throughout his ongoing career, Wajda has made both beautiful films and terrible films.