Polish Cinema: HM Deserters (Janusz Majewski, 1986, Poland/Hungary)

Director Janusz Majewski has had an incredibly prolific career, starting in the early 1960s and spanning until the present day. The film he is probably most known for outside of Poland is H.M. Deserters (C.K. Dezeterzy), a Polish-Hungarian co-production from 1986. The film was a success upon its initial release, winning the "Golden Duck" award and even spawning a sequel - Gold Deserters (1998) - also directed by Majewski. The film tells the story of a group of soldiers of mixed nationalities in 1918 conspiring to desert the Austro-Hungarian army. The main character in the film is the Pole Jan Kaniowski - otherwise known as Kania - who is played by veteran Polish actor Marek Kondrat. Kondrat's career has been as long and as prolific as Majewski's. 

It is easy to understand why the film was a success. The film has a very bawdy sense of humor, relying often on dirty jokes (brothels play a particularly large role in the film). Much of the humor is had at the expense of the Germans who are running the show. We see the Poles here - as represented by Kania - as being cleverer than the Germans and able to outwit them at their games. One unique aspect of the film is the presence of multiple nationalities within the ensemble cast - in addition to Kania, we have a Hungarian (Benedek), a Jewish tailor (Haber), an Italian prisoner (Baldini), and a Czech painter (Chudej). Much of the film's humor relies on the interplay between the various personalities and their different national characters.

While H.M. Deserters does feel overlong at a whopping two and a half hours, it is nevertheless an enjoyable way to pass the time. It is unique also for being a film to portray the Polish experience of the first world war, and for this is it is worth watching.


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