Polish Cinema: Men of the Blue Cross (Andrzej Munk, 1955, Poland)

Men of the Blue Cross is the first narrative directorial effort from Andrzej Munk, one of the leading lights of the Polish National Film School in the post-Stalinist era - the same school that gave birth to Wajda, Polanski, and countless other Polish auteurs. While Munk is not as well known as those other directors, he was a tremendous talent and would have likely had a long and illustrious career had he not died tragically in a car accident in 1961. 

Coming from the world of documentary, Men of the Blue Cross is a hybrid-style docufiction that attempts to retell a story from WWII. The film employs non-actors and actual participants in the events. The film shows the exploits of the Blue Cross, a ragtag group of partisans in the Tatra Mountains. Quick to show the multi-ethnic nature of the group - participants include Poles, Russians, and Slovaks - the film is narrated by an omniscient narrator who recounts the missions of the Blue Cross in a documentary style. As with many films in the immediate aftermath of Stalinism, there is very little subtlety or ambiguity on display here. The omniscient narration is intrusive, telling the viewer exactly what to think and when to think it. As a result, there is very little narrative weight here. The characters are hard to distinguish as well.

That said, the docu-style on display here is impressive. The Tatra Mountains are captured beautifully. Munk also has a knack for capturing faces, grizzled and young, female and male. There are some impressive set pieces, including a rescue mission and shootout with Germans, as well as an avalanche. While Men of the Blue Cross pales in comparison to Munk's latter films, it is worth watching for those interested in the trajectory of one of Poland's greatest auteurs. 



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