FIVE FROM BARSKA STREET (Aleksander Ford, 1953)

Born Mosze Lifszyc in Kiev, hence Ukrainian, Polish filmmaker Aleksander Ford won the directorial prize at Cannes for Piątka z ulicy Barskiej. It is based on the 1952 novel by Kazimierz Koźniewski, who helped Ford adapt it. Ford imbued this color film, ironically, with a fatalistic mood; it is, after all, a film about postwar Poland’s building a symbolical highway to the future. Thus was Ford also able to express hopefulness coinciding with his Communist faith.
     Warsaw, 1947. Five teenaged boys are in juvenile court; they have engaged in criminal activity, including robbery, but their sentence to two years in a reformatory is suspended. Perhaps they will redeem themselves by contributing to Poland’s rebuilding.
     The boys are older than those in Oliver Twist, but doubtless Dickens’s novel—or perhaps David Lean’s recent film version (1948)—acted as a springboard for Koźniewski’s novel. The five’s Fagin is their criminal boss, the shadow of the past, much as their probation officer lights the path to their possible future. These boys have been morally twisted by war. In a bravura passage both real and surreal, one boy seeks another in a bombed-out apartment structure, scaling steps with only fragile traces of walls, when suddenly a panoramic view of the city outside appears: Warsaw ravaged—a place of ruins. The shot doubles as a reflection of the boys’ interiority, the discombobulation that war has wrought by disrupting their lives and overturning their moral education.
     Although occasionally blighted by emphatic music, the film makes extraordinary use of silence that is shockingly disrupted by sounds of breakage, for instance, shattered glass: another symbolic gauge of the boys’ interiority.
     Perhaps intolerably burdened by survival in the face of so many Jewish deaths in the Holocaust, Ford committed suicide in 1980.

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