Wajda’s first feature is a modest story of sorrow and youth resistance in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, promising great things to come for one of Poland’s greatest filmmakers.
Cast: Tadeusz Lomnicki, Urszula Modrzynska, Tadeusz Janczar
Plot: Stach is a wayward teen living in squalor on the outskirts of Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Guided by an avuncular Communist organizer, he is introduced to the underground resistance—and to the beautiful Dorota. Soon he is engaged in dangerous efforts to fight oppression and indignity.
Source: Wytwornia Filmow Dokumentalnych i Fabularnych (WFDiF)
Subject Matter: Moderate – WWII; Resistance
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Viewed: Criterion DVD
First Published: 3 Jul 2009
Andrzej Wajda’s A Generation or Pokolenle is the great director’s first feature-length film and is also the first installment of a ‘War’ trilogy that brought the world’s attention to Polish cinema as never before. The two other similarly-themed films in the series are Kanal (1957) and Ashes and Diamonds (1958).
A Generation tells the story of Stach, a wayward teen living in a slum on the outskirts of Nazi-occupied Warsaw. He works as a carpenter in a small, local factory making bed frames and doors, and earning a pay of paltry proportions.
He is then introduced to an underground resistance group comprising of youths which is led by Dorota, a confident young woman who wants to fight for the freedom of her homeland.
A true believer of Communism, Stach matures from a lazy kid living a life of emptiness to a leader of a patriotic cause worth dying for.
A Generation opens with a wide panning shot that slowly swivels from a barren, quiet open field to a small village with joyfully loud children playing. Yet there is something disquieting about the shot. The stark photography induces a feeling that we may never hear these voices again.
“No one ever stands alone in a just war.”
Wajda’s filmmaking style is simple; he never indulges in fanciful camera tricks or long technically-demanding takes. Here he is focused on telling Stach’s story with a certain immediacy.
Supporting characters are introduced and established with consistent pacing; Wajda allows each key supporting role to have enough one-to-one time with Stach so that an emotional bond is developed between them.
In only his first feature, Wajda has shown that he has what it takes to become a master filmmaker. A Generation may not feature the best in acting, but Wajda’s careful direction behind the camera allows the characters to breathe life into Stach’s story of sorrow.
Wajda’s realist, social dramas have not only become the singular voice of postwar Polish youths disaffected by their mournful past, but also, in his later works, become a voice of a nation struggling for identity amid a thick haze of political and economical uncertainty.