Polish Cinema: A Generation (Andrzej Wajda, 1955, Poland)

A Generation, the first feature from Andrzej Wajda, is one of cinema’s great debuts. While it is clearly the film of a first-time director, Wajda already showcases many of the trademarks that would go onto define his greatest works - moody black and white cinematography, stark and stunning shots of broken cities and abandoned war-torn landscapes, and naturalistic close ups on Polish faces. Unfortunately, the film is perhaps the most propagandistic of any Wajda ever made, lacking the subtlety and moral complexity of later works like Ashes and Diamonds. Still, it is a strong entry in the Wajda canon.
Set during the German occupation of Poland during WWII, the film tells the story of Stach. Working in brutal conditions in a German factory, he is soon introduced to the work of Karl Marx by a fellow factory worker. Eventually, he becomes radicalized and joins a communist resistance movement - the Fighting Youth. 
While the film tends to overly romanticize the communist resistance, it succeeds the most when not propagandizing but humanizing its characters. The romance that develops between Stach and the leader of the Fighting Youth, Dorota (played by beautiful actress Urszula Modrzynska), is one such example. In another example, one member of the resistance - Jasio - is shown having doubts about the movement.
The film vacillates stylistic between naturalism and neorealism, to full blown action. There are many sequences of chases and gunfights with Germans, which demonstrate Wajda’s acumen as a director. Well the plot of the film feels somewhat slight, it is never boring. At under 90 minutes, it moves along very quickly. The film also introduces the trademark symbolic shots that would come to characterize Wajda’s career, including an incredible shot of smoke from the burning Warsaw Ghetto rising above a carnival. Overall, A Generation is a minor but solid entry in Wajda’s filmography.


7/10

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