Polish Cinema: Codes (Wojciech Has, 1966, Poland)

Wojciech Has’s Codes is a remarkable piece from the heyday of the Polish new wave. Befitting its title, Codes plays out as a mystery. The film concerns a Polish Army officer - Tadeusz - who returns home after 20 years to find out what happened to his missing son, Jedrek. What Tadeusz has been doing abroad for 20 years is one of the many mysteries presented in Codes. Tadeusz’s return forces a reckoning with the people he left behind - his son Maciek, played by the great Zbigniew Cybulski, and wife Zofia. Maciek is a lost and weary soul, directionless in life. His conflict with Tadeusz - and the deeply different way they experienced the war - represents the generational conflict ever-so-present in Polish films from the 1960s. Meanwhile, Zofia has become mentally unstable. We learn that she became romantically involved with Marian, her cousin and a partisan in the Polish resistance, after Tadeusz left.
As Tadeusz tries to piece together the events surrounding his son’s death, Has introduces several dreamlike flashbacks. The legendary Krzysztof Penderecki provides an eerie soundtrack to various scenes of a young boy walking along a battlefield in the snow. In one of the films many ambiguities, it is unclear whether these visions are of Tadeusz’s own childhood during the first World War, or that of Jedrek. The visions become more disturbing as the film progresses, including the sight of mass graves. Has was interested in the Holocaust and Jewish iconography, and there are many allusions to the Holocaust in Codes - although it seems that Tadeusz’s family are not Jewish.
We eventually learn that Jedrek was not killed by Germans, but by members of the resistance after a fight with Marian. While the film does seem to have a happy end - Tadeusz seems to have reunited with his family - there are enough loose threads and ambiguities in Codes to render it worth multiple viewings.


8/10

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