Kanal (Andrzej Wajda / Poland, 1957):

Flames up above and smoky streams below, the inverted Hades of occupied Warsaw. Andrzej Wajda allows himself a bit of room after the opening credits, a four-minute lateral tracking shot through the capitalís rubble circa 1944 to introduce the characters (and give a glimpse of the pulverized piano never forgotten by Polanski). "Itís going to get cramped around here," muses the lieutenant (Wienczyslaw Glinski) to his depleted company, "no sense in philosophizing." German tanks disfigure the landscape, the last barricade falls, into the sewers the comrades retreat. The platoon aide (Emil Karewicz) and the impressionable messenger (Teresa Berezowska), the feverish cadet (Tadeusz Janczar) and the resolute guide (Teresa Izewska), the underground swallows them all. Pabstís Kameradschaft is the foundation, the connection to Dante is voiced by the unmoored artist (Vladek Sheybal), himself a note from Gorky. Bobbing corpses and distorted howls fill the labyrinth, its endless channels simultaneously like some infernal cave and the collective hardened arteries of national resistance. Tinged newsreel-gray in the bombed-out streets, Wajdaís camerawork grows baroquely bulbous in this purgatory, filled with tenebrous curves and diagonals straight out of Piranesiís Carceri. (When illumination pierces the murkiness, itís followed by a grenade blast.) The merciless development from gallantry to fatalism, an acrid touch ready to prick any hint of grandiosity. "Weíre walking through a dark, fragrant forest," mumbles the soldier waist-deep in slime, and his lover readily corrects him: "Weíre stumbling through stinking shit." What Wajda takes from Aldrich's Attack he passes on to Ten Seconds to Hell, in preparation for dismaying visions to come (Klimovís Come and See, Hirschbiegelís Downfall, Loznitsaís In the Fog). The suffocating punchline is that the light at the end of the tunnel is yet another prison, a very bitter toast to doomed Polish valor. (Ashes and Diamonds completes the requiem.) Cinematography by Jerzy Lipman. With Tadeusz Gwiazdowski, Zofia Lindorf, Kazimierz Dejunowicz, and Jan Englert. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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