Saturday, November 15, 2008

Oldie but a Goodie; The Promised Land

The Promised Land (1975) ***
Directed by Andrzej Wajda
Starring Daniel Olbrychski, Wojciech Pszoniak, Andrzej Seweryn

A few Sundays ago, I discovered that the Lincoln Center was having a month-long retrospective of one of my favorite directors, Andrzej Wajda. Not only do I enjoy his films, but I feel a sense of national pride in him as he is from Poland, and both my parents are too. His best films were the ones with a political message; Man of Marble, was basically an indictment of the Communist government of Poland, or Ashes and Diamonds, which made a hotel in a no-name town a microcosm for Poland on the last day of World War II. I decided to go see his 1974 epic, The Promised Land, based on the Wladyslaw Reymont novel, and was his first film to be nominated for an Academy Award. I must say, I haven’t been shocked by a film in a long time, and this film effectively did that.
The Promised Land is a period piece, set in the late 1800’s in the industrial century of Lodz, when there was no Polish country but was part of the so-called Congress of Poland, a puppet-state of the Russian Empire. It follows three aristocrats, a Pole, a Jew, and a German, as they pool in money together to open up a cotton mill. Over the film’s two and a half hours, we see gore, sex, and greed. It is a shocking indictment of the capitalistic decadence of the 1800s. The film does a damn good of job of shocking the audience. One notable scene where greed, sex and gore mixing together, was when a businessman confronts an engineer in a turbine room. The engineer is furious over the businessman because the he personally selected the man’s daughter to attend to him at an orgy. A brawl ensues and both men fall into the turbine and are shredded to pieces. The audience groaned in shock in unison. This also shocked me to as I was surprised that Wajda had made a film this graphic. I was used to his films being about true people being oppressed in some way by the government. This film was about the oppressors and their disgusting opulence. The Pole, Karol, was an adulterer and had an illegitimate child; The Jew, Moryc, was sneaky and would be doing backroom deals with others; Ironically, the German, Maks, was probably the only honest man in the world of capitalism. Each of the three men somehow betray their background and any honor they had in pursuit of profits. Karol moves his family from their mansion which was their for generations, to a dainty shack in Lodz. He also lies on while being swore on a picture of the Virgin Mary to the man with whom his wife was cheating on with him (of an important note, the Virgin Mary is of incredibly high importance to Polish Catholics). Moryc two-times another Jewish banker, who himself is an ass-kisser only concerned with profits. Maks’ atrocity is minimal; he is ashamed by his father for not updating his textile. After all the madness of stocks rising and falling, cheating, and betrayal, their factory is burnt down out of revenge and jealousy. Despite the fights and returning to where they were in the first place, the three men remain friends and business partners, looking forward for another endeavor.
The film brought groans and moans and uneasy laughs, but all in all, the film was a solid work by Wajda. I would recommend it to someone who has never seen a Wajda film before, or to someone who is a fan of There Will Be Blood. It has more cynicism towards Poland’s distant past rather than it’s present situation. Ironically, the film can be seen as propaganda, especially in this director’s case. However, the world of industrialism, everything and everyone was dirty. The business men may have looked clean, but deep down inside they were rotten to the core. Appropriately enough, the film ends with an image of man running with a red flag being shot down, a prediction of the future of the nation, and another revolution turning corrupt.

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