A story about Polish patriotism which sacrifices reason for courage by director Robert Gliński based on Aleksander Kamiński's Kamienie na szaniec / Stones For the Rampart.
Marcel Sabat, Tomasz Ziętek and Kamil Szeptycki in Robert Gliński's "Kamienie na szaniec" / "Stones for the Rampart", photo: Monolith.
Putting youth on a pedestal, Gliński shows the Polish underground scout movement (the Grey Ranks) which fought against the Nazi occupation. In a tale in which adventure overpowers reason, youth, love and friendship take the foreground against a backdrop of patriotism.
The price of re-invigoration
When, in 1943, Aleksander Kamiński published his book, the work intended to reinvigorate a crippled national spirit. 70 years later, the story of Rudy (played by Tomasz Ziętek), Zośka (Marcel Sabat) and Alek (Kamil Szeptycki) frightens rather than fortifies. The story shows what it meant to be a hero in occupied Poland - where profits and losses were obscured by pompous displays of heroic duties.
The cinematic Kamienie na szaniec feeds the romantic mythology. Gliński's protagonists are human because they are courageous, though their brand of courage is blind and often aimless. It seems to be forgotten that the small acts of sabotage carried out by the scouts had a high price. The tearing down of a propaganda poster results in the death of one of the boys. Rudy and Zośka risk their lives for a symbolic jest - tearing down a Nazi flag. Is the symbolic act worth the high price?
Those are not questions that Gliński asks himself. The director, whose mother died during the war as a member of the Gray Ranks, makes a tale about the war into a hagiography. Nevertheless, his film urges us to consider the limits of heroism. Kamienie…. tackles the same national myth which 60 years ago Andrzej Wajda exposed in Lotna. It was Wajda's directorial goal to remove mythological elements in order to discover the underlying meaning. Gliński's process of demythologising on the other hand, isn't one of his goals, but an involuntary development that happens on the margins of the main story.
Before Kamienie… made it into the cinemas, it aroused controversy. Historians accused it of factual inaccuracy, scouting associations of slandering (sic!) the protagonists' reputations. The reason for this is the coming of age aspect of the Glinski's story. In the film, the young soldiers Rudy and Zośka, are also portrayed as ordinary boys who fall in love and experience sex for the first time (the latter in particular was said to tarnish the moral impeccability of the boy scouts).
Gliński untarnishes Kamiński's tarnished statues of heroes. His film resonates with rock songs which sound like rebellious Cool Kids of Death songs. Boyish adventures are dressed in the form of an eye-catching video clip. The boy's youth and its aspects (outbursts of feelings of love, bravado) blur the differences of character between them. Rudy, Zośka and Alek remain characters without individuality. Although in an interview Gliński declared that the plot was to be based on the conflict of world views and character between Zośka and Rudy, on the silver screen the dichotomy is barely visible. It doesn't work as a starting point for a dramatic tale of characterological face-off.
The spark only appears once in the film. During a scout meeting, two worlds clash - youngsters from well-educated backgrounds meet a simple boy from the Praga district of Warsaw. The well-read patriots are confronted with a different type of patriot, one belonging to the proletarian class. An exchange of short retorts follows. But Gliński pays no attention to these sparks. He chooses the safe version of history, in which handsome boys and girls with rascally natures throw themselves into the whirl of battle. They fight for our freedom and yours, trudging to their deaths one after another like "stones thrown by God for the ramparts".
- "Kamienie na szaniec" / "Stones For the Rampart", dir. Robert Gliński, script: Dominik W. Rettinger, Wojciech Pałys, cinematography: Paweł Edelman, music: Łukasz Targosz. Cast: Tomasz Ziętek, Marcel Sabat, Kamil Szeptycki, Magdalena Koleśnik, Sandra Staniszewska, Wojciech Zieliński, Andrzej Chyra, Krzysztof Globisz, Artur Żmijewski, Danuta Stenka. Distribution: Monolith. Duration: 112’. Opening: March 7th 2014.
Author: Bartosz Staszczyszyn, translated by Mai Jones 06/03/2014