Archival Reels Capture Life During Wartime in Warsaw Uprising


In August of 1944, the Soviets halted their march to Warsaw. Residents were up in arms within the walls of Poland’s German-occupied capital city, fighting to liberate their home. The insurgents had timed the revolt to coincide with the arrival of the Red Army, hoping that the ensuing chaos would work to their advantage, but instead found themselves spending 63 days under siege, and ended up in defeat.

Those days are the focus of the new film Warsaw Uprising by Jan Komasa. All footage in the film comes from original archival reels made by reporters and documentarians during the uprising. Colorized and tinted toward realism, backed by dialogue derived from expert lip-reading, and voiced-over with commentary from fictitious U.S. airmen and reporters, Warsaw Uprising quickly becomes hyper-real, a fast-moving photograph of idyllic street scenes — pinkened lips, sepia stone — that turn to rubble.

The end of the film — and of the uprising — is no surprise. What is: The lovers giggling and teasing one another while discussing the war with a reporter is not staged, demonstrating that life continues despite war and deprivation, that it includes these things. Despite its context in a global conflict, Uprising is a strangely intimate film.

The imposed commentary by reporters and airmen, though occasionally stagey and self-conscious about the idea of film and documentation, is also messy and tender. This film is an important reminder for us to remain so.