23 January 2006 | bensonj
Little-known, Thought-provoking Wajda Film about Moral Choices
During the Nazi era, a Jewish woman on the run takes a trolley which passes near the Warsaw ghetto, where the uprising battle is taking place, and some passengers are struck by stray bullets. They take temporary refuge in an empty building, and there she has a chance meeting with her ex-fiancé. He offers to put her up--that is, hide her--for a few days. He's now married, a professional who lives in an idyllic suburb reached by a trolley that runs through the woods. His wife seems more committed to putting up the fugitive than he is. The story involves the neighbors, the building owner who avoids involvement and seeks solace in classic poetry, and the super and his suspicious wife.
This is certainly one of Wajda's major films, but it apparently did not get a favorable reception from any faction (Jews, Poles, etc.) and one can see why. It isn't an easy film: it tackles a difficult subject and doesn't provide any facile answers or try to provoke a simple emotional response. And the characters are not especially likable.
The central character is a man who knows what's right and even DOES what's right at the cost of his life, but still isn't very sympathetic. He has no zest for taking a principled stand, and he has a certain lack of empathy. A key scene is where his younger brother, romantically attracted to the underground, goes off to his possible death fighting in the ghetto. The husband doesn't understand why his wife is crying, and only sees his pesky younger brother's unexplained (to him) departure as a relief. In short, he's like a lot of us. In films where characters are faced with strong moral choices, right and wrong are usually clearly defined. Wajda understands that it's not as simple as that. I saw this film 9 years ago, but this character often returns to my mind.
Wajda is not badly represented in the DVD/tape market, but the emphasis is on his earlier films. This is one of the later ones that's sadly not available. It deserves a wider audience.