Andrzej Wajda's "Krajobraz po bitwie" / "Landscape after battle" was a ground-breaking film discussing the personal stories of the inmates of a WW-II camp. The film also draws inspiration from one of Poland's most iconic paintings.
The screenplay was mainly based on Tadeusz Borowski’s story, "Bitwa pod Grunwaldem" / "The Battle for Grunwald", as well as, to a lesser extent, on a few other stories by the author. The authors of the script were - Andrzej Brzozowski, the co-writer of, among others, "Pasażerka" by Andrzej Munk and a known film documentarian, as well as Andrzej Wajda.
The film’s protagonist – just like in the original story by Borowski – is a former concentration-camp prisoner, Tadeusz (Tadek) – a poet and intellectual, and a young Jewish girl, Nina. The action takes place after the end of the war, in a displaced persons camp, where former inmate of concentration camps resided temporarily following the end of the war. Tadek, a prisoner who has been in the camp for a long time, has seen all the atrocities one person can do to another. He falls in love with Nina. This love blooms among the beautiful and thrilling autumn surroundings.
There is another artistic layer in the background. It is the famed painting by Jan Matejko "Bitwa pod Grunwaldem" ("The Battle for Grunwald") being recreated by the Poles residing in the camp. The film, therefore, has two points, the intimate one – the relationship of Tadeusz and Nina, and the political one – the inmates' attitude towards the new Poland, where the dilemma is all about whether to return to Poland or stay in the free world. Autumn of 1945 is not a time of national consent and each character has his or her own opinion of the matter, often one which is hurtful to others.
The film begins and ends with dramatic events: in the prologue, former prisoners cruelly murder a prison kapo, and at the end of the film, Nina dies when she is accidentally shot by an American guard. That death makes Tadeusz regain his feelings. One might say the humanity which he was deprived of by the camp, returns to him. After a grotesque, nearly patriotic spectacle recreating the events pictured by Matejko, Tadeusz decides to return to Poland.
Wajda himself emphasized the connection of "Krajobraz po bitwie" / "Landscape after battle" with another of his films – "Popiół i Diament" / "Ashes and diamonds" (1958). The end of the war opens new paths for the characters, faces them with often dramatic choices and makes it necessary to make peace with terrible experiences, as well as offers the possibility of getting back to their normal lives, love, family and their homeland.
In one of four interviews accompanying the creation process of "Landscape after battle" Stanisław Janicki asked about references to "Ashes and diamonds" and the director said:
"I think the discussion about Poland will be revitalised, about the way it should be. We will see [in this film] times when this matter was vividly discussed, because everything was coming into existence, beginning to bloom. People had to decide which side to stand by, had to make a choice [...]. The main protagonist will also be a reference to "Popiół i Diament" / ("Ashes and diamonds") [...]. Apart from the tragedy that takes place before our eyes, the main protagonist is what attracts the most attention. He wants to, and has the right to live. Such thing is not present in "Krajobraz po bitwie" / ("Landscape after battle") but who knows if behind all this malice, aggressiveness, this exposure of everything around, isn't there something vivid and healthy? It is heavily justified and consistent with the tradition of Polish literature, as it is connected with the attitude of a Polish intellectual, an artist" ("Kino", 5/1970).
Bolesław Michałek pointed out these imposing similarities between the two films and the characters within them:
"The same memorable year of 1945 when, at the threshold of a new era, Poles had to make an irreversible choice. The same can be said for the main character, who is scarred by the war, yet in the face of a short yet intensive love affair, he tears off his shell of past experiences, an sets forth with new perspectives of life, events, aspirations. In both cases, the love ends tragically: just when that barrier begins to crack, death comes – an accidental, unnecessary, absurd death. In both cases, real events, ordinary gestures grow to the size of a struggle with the ending world, with oneself" ("Kino", 6/1970).
The similarities do not end with that, however, and "Krajobraz po bitwie" / "Landscape after battle" has different meaning than the adaptation of Jerzy Andrzejewski’s "Popiół i Diament" / "Ashes and diamonds". It was pointed out not only by Bolesław Michałek who emphasized the fundamental difference between the literary prototypes of both films. In "Popiół i Diament" the main protagonist is vivid and the occurring events logically lead him towards this particular ending and not some other. In Borowski’s stories there is no such character. He is both the narrator and commenter of the events and the plot arises from the clash of the protagonist with those events.
As Bolesław Michałek wrote:
"Wajda had to make a choice between a ruthless, cold, analytic version of Borowski's vision and the hot, emotional narrative built among the events and, most importantly, around the protagonist: his psyche, his transformation from insensitivity to pain, from indifference to the self-determination. He chose the latter." ("Kino", 6/1970).
He was seconded by, among others, Andrzej Werner. According to him, the film was created merely "on the basis of Borowski’s stories and was not a film transposition" of his world. It was Wajda’s film. Andrzej Werner warned students not to get familiar with the writer’s prose by means of that film and he titled the film’s review rather ironically "Krajobraz po bitwie z... Borowskim" ("Landscape after the battle with…Borowski").
"Borowski asks about the genesis of evil and the present, Wajda [...] about the result of a bad past." (Film, 37/1970)
Wajda himself declared the following towards the end of the film's production:
"I would like the film not to be about the camp but its consequences. [...] If you’ve seen hell and its picture has stayed in your head, you will carry it in you for the rest of your life," because, as he had said a moment previously, "the horror of the camp does not let one go". ("Kino", 5/1970, interview 4).
"Krajobraz po bitwie" / "Landscape after battle" contains both stagnation of the original and dynamism introduced by the director regarded a member of the romantic and expressive trend of Polish film school.
Wajda built the film together out of several stories, mainly the one called "Bitwa pod Grunwaldem" / "The Battle for Grunwald". The director could not repeat Borowski’s theme for, as he mentioned himself, the viewers would think it to be a…continuation of "Krzyżacy" by Aleksander Ford. He was aided by the writer Roman Bratny, who came up with the title. In one of the interviews carried out by Stanisław Janicki during the film’s production, Wajda said:
"When Roman Bratny came up with the title 'Krajobraz po bitwie', it opened my eyes: it is not only a good film, but a key to it. Before a landscape, one stands and watches it peacefully [...]. I know I’m getting calm. A film has to be dynamic" (Kino, 5/1970).
And a dynamic film is what he made. As Aleksander Jackiewicz wrote:
"The poet and Nina are 'angrier’ in Wajda's work than in the written story, but more poetic, too. They are surrounded by nature, violent and lyrical, just like themselves. Wajda substituted the summer that is present in Borowski’s story to the hot Polish autumn [...]. The writer’s dry little landscapes are a far cry from those paintings! In Wajda’s case, the trees burn, the lovers burn with the pink, yellow and red [in the background]" ("Moja filmoteka. Kino polskie", Warsaw 1983).
Wajda's has to be looked at as a spontaneous work. Just as Bolesław Michałek did in the aforementioned text, where he called "Krajobraz po bitwie" / "Landscape after battle" a film about love and Polish identity. Love is tragic, yet liberating. Polish identity is … as everyone sees it. It was not the first time Wajda spoke about the Polish identity, which can be appealing, albeit also grotesque and disgusting.
Critical reaction to "Krajobraz po bitwie" was varied. Some were enthusiastic (the film was awarded a Golden Duck by the readers of a weekly magazine "Film" as the best film of 1970, and it was awarded a Warsaw Mermaid award by critics who spoke of the film in a similar manner). However a number of critics claimed the film to be inconsistent in its structure. The ending was unmotivated (the main protagonist’s return to Poland appeared to be just a case of the director giving back to Caesar what belonged to Caesar – that is to the communist authorities who keenly observed the creation of the film).
"Krajobraz po bitwie" / "Landscape after battle" is said to be Wajda’s unsuccessful work that was not fit for its time. As Tadeusz Lubelski wrote a few years ago in his book "Wajda. Portret mistrza w kilku odsłonach" (Wrocław, 2006), the film does not have the "artistic force which 'Popiół i diament' had".
"Krajobraz po bitwie" / "Landscape after battle" received numerous film awards, including a Warsaw Mermaid – an SDP Film Critics Club award for best Polish film of 1970 – and a Golden Duck from the readers of a weekly magazine "Film". The director was also given the most prestigious awards at film festivals in Milan (1971) and Colombo (1972). In Lagow, at Lubuskie Film Summer (1971), Wajda was given the award for best director and the audience award, Stanisława Celińska was also appreciated for her acting.
- "Krajobraz po bitwie" / "Landscape after battle" entered theatres on the 8th of September 1970. Directed by Andrzej Wajda. Screenplay by Andrzej Wajda and Andrzej Brzozowski, Cinematography by Zygmunt Samosiuk, art direction by Jerzy Szeski, editing by Halina Prugar. Cost: Daniel Olbrychski (Tadeusz) and Stanisława Celińska (Nina), Aleksander Bardini (the professor), Tadeusz Janczar (Karol), Zygmunt Malanowicz (the priest). Produced by "Zespół Filmowy Wektor".
Author: Jan Strękowski, December 2010