Polish Cinema: The Passenger (Andrzej Munk, 1963, Poland)

Andrzej Munk’s Passenger is one of the great “what if” films. Munk died tragically in a car accident during the film’s production, leaving a large portion of the film unfinished. While none of Munk’s associates attempted to finish his film, one - Witold Lesiewicz - pieced together the existing footage, with photos and narration, to render a semi-completed version of the film. This version of the film leaves significant ambiguities as far as characterization and the plot, although this is perhaps for the best. 
The film concerns Liza, a former Nazi guard at Auschwitz, who is traveling on board a luxury ship with her husband Walter. Liza spots a woman on board the ship who looks like Marta, one of the prisoners at her camp. Soon memories are conjured of her time at the camp, and she explains to Walter that she was not in charge of people, merely in charge of objects at the camp. The prior events are rendered entirely with narration and photos. Munk was disappointed was the footage he shot on the boat, and intended to reshoot it. 
One of the film’s themes - the subjective nature of truth - becomes visible as we experience the relationship between Liza and Marta at the camp. Liza initially presents herself as a savior figure for Marta, rescuing her from the worst of the camp. As the film progresses, it becomes abundantly apparent that there is a sadistic power game between the two women, with Liza craving control over Marta, and Marta continuously escaping her control - whether through her relationship with a fellow prisoner, Tadeusz, or various other activities. Munk does not shy away from the brutality of Auschwitz - he recreates humiliations and punishments in a gravely realistic manner.
The film leaves Marta’s ultimate fate ambiguous, and we are unsure if the passenger on board the ship is really her or not. The film closes with narration regarding the indifference to yesterday’s crimes - Liza will never be “challenged by the truths” of Auschwitz.



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