Impetuous, Seminal Anti-War Rumination From Mid-Century Poland


The fumigation of the New Wave basement continues with Facets’ DVD-ization of Andrzej Munk, the Sturges-cum-Tati satirist of Polish post-war cinema. Three of his five features—he died in a car wreck weeks before his 40th birthday—are hitting the tarmac, most notably Eroica (1957), an impetuous, seminal anti-war rumination that plays to a degree like a parody of Wajda’s early films, which were contemporaneous. A “heroic symphony” sardonically divided into two halves—the first a “scherzo,” the last “lugubre”—examines first a glib, rakish opportunist ducking out of military service and buffoonishly navigating the Nazi-occupied landscape half in service of the resistance, half in a restless search for a place to hide with a girl and a bottle. Then Munk switches gears, to a P.O.W. camp full of stir-crazy Polish personnel, adrift in a no-exit combat of personalities and dreaming obsessively of escape only because it’d free them from each other.

Munk was capable of locating ink-black humor in the Nazi legacy years before anyone else on the planet; Bad Luck (1960) is a veritable Keaton comedy in which the pratfall-prone hero (Film Polski stalwart Bogumil Kobiela) trips through 20 years of Polish history, attempting and failing to assimilate into every social upheaval, from pre-war anti-Semitism to military service to, most hilariously of all, paranoid Communist culture. The Man on the Tracks (1957) is more conventional, a narratively backtracking investigation into an old man’s suicide that backlights issues of traditional individual worth versus the collective. All three were written by Jerzy Stefan Stawinski (also a Wajda collaborator), but Munk’s visual savvy and screwball daring are unique. The spare additionals include filmographies, posters, and the like.

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