Feature film directed by Andrzej Wajda, 1957. The tale about the last days of The Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Very soon everything will be dead and quiet.
The story starts in Mokotów, a district of Warsaw, on 25th September 1944, the fifty-sixth day of the Warsaw Uprising. The Uprising will shortly fall after sixty-three days of fighting. After a decimated resurgent detachment makes a failed attempt to break away from the German troops' encirclement, Zadra, the commander, orders them to get through the waste water piping to the city centre where the fighting is still going on. The group moves through the dark, winding underground system which is half filled with water and excrement, while the Germans guard at the manholes to throw grenades. Although the group breaks down, Zadra believes that the entire detachment follows him - a conviction which is fuelled by Kula, the head of the company, who fears that the commander will turn back to look for his dispersed people.
Meanwhile a second lieutenant Mądry, a musician who accidentally got involved in the uprising, and Halinka, a young nurse in love with Mądry, are looking for a way out on their own. The badly injured Korab and Stokrotka, the liaison officer taking care of him, also get lost and reach a barred exit... Mądry, who cannot bear the gruesome wandering any more, exits through a manhole guarded by the Germans... Only the commander makes it safely to the surface, but when realizes that his people have remained in the canals, returns to the hell in which they are.
"I first saw the destroyed Warsaw in the spring of 1945. Those pictures have stayed in my memory as evidence of a defeat which was stronger than a sense of a doubtful moral victory. This issue must have got emblazoned on my mind and on the minds of my peers, for it became the topic of Tadeusz Różewicz's poetry, Andrzej Wróblewski's paintings, Andrzej Munk's films and Tadeusz Borowski's prose... We knew that we were the voice of our dead, that it was our duty to give testimony to those horrible years, horrible destruction, horrible fate that befell the best part of the Polish nation.
During the war we passionately read Conrad's novels. The screenplay of 'Canal' is a paraphrase of 'The Shadow-Line', the story which tells about the commander's duties and responsibilities in a very similar way. Jerzy Stefan Stawiński very skillfully applied Conrad's motif of a lie. A young liaison officer, Stokrotka, helps a wounded, sight-losing insurgent to get to a pipe exit, which turns out to be barred. The girl sees that, yet not wanting the young insurgent to part with life without hope, tells him a beautiful lie about them getting out of the pipe in a moment and about the sky and green grass which can already be seen. This is exactly what Marlowe, the narrator of 'Heart of Darkness' does when, upon his return from Congo, he relates Kurtz's death to his fiancée in London" (Andrzej Wajda, "Moje notatki z historii" / My Notes from History, "Kwartalnik Filmowy" 1996/97).
"It is striking that in those countries where the Polish context stops working, my films are perceived as existential - in a universal dimension. This has been the case of 'Canal', 'Ashes and Diamonds' and 'The Man of Marble' " (Andrzej Wajda, "Kresy").
" 'Canal' can be seen as a work marking the birth of the Polish art of film-making. This is the first work of an artistic group which has turned film-making into a major area of Polish art and culture. The films of the 'Polish film school' were mostly of an imaginary nature, preferred creation to description, were an intimate and ecstatic confession and a manifestation of the current state of consciousness, fears and feelings of their makers. These were predominantly a sense of defeat, disappointment and horror over History which crushes individuals physically and emotionally... The early debates over 'Canal' were dominated by various inflections of the word 'bravado' accompanied by 'absurdity'. What they did not feature was the word 'fortitude' as understood by Zygmunt Kubiak, who in his 'Mitologia Greków i Rzymian' / 'Greek and Roman Mythology' emphasizes two fundamental qualities of the classical tradition which Poles - and others - have adopted, the first being realism [understood as non-submission to utopian myths], the second the nurturing of fortitude, i.e. enduring opposition to evil, oppression and extermination - to the nihilism which is latent in history" (Janusz Gazda, "Kwartalnik Filmowy" 1997).
- Kanał / Canal, Poland, 1957. Directed by Andrzej Wajda. Screenplay by Jerzy Stefan Stawiński based on his own short story. Director of photography: Jerzy Lipman. Editor: Halina Nawrocka. Sound by Józef Bartczak. Music by Jan Krenz. Production design by Roman Mann. Featuring: Wieńczyslaw Gliński (Zadra), Teresa Izewska (Stokrotka), Tadeusz Janczar (Korab), Emil Karewicz (Mądry), Władysław Sheybal (The Composer), Stanisław Mikulski (Smukły), Teresa Berezowska (Halinka), Tadeusz Gwiazdowski (Kula), Adam Pawlikowski (SS Man), Zofia Lindorf, Janina Jabłonowska, Maria Kretz, Kazimierz Dejunowicz, Jan Englert, Maciej Maciejewski, Zdzisław Leśniak, students of the State Film School (PWSF) in Lódź. Produced by: Zespół Autorów Filmowych KADR. Black and White, 35 mm, 97'.
- 1957 - Palme d'Argent - Special Jury Award for Andrzej Wajda at 10th Cannes Film Festival; Gold Medal for Andrzej Wajda as the best young feature film director, awarded at the World's Festival of Youth and Students in Moscow; Zlota Kaczka (Golden Duck) - "Film" readers' award for the best film of the year;
- 1961 - Diploma of Recognition at the IFF in Ibadan, Nigeria; mention of the Brazilian Film Critics Association in Rio de Janeiro.