Warsaw entered its fifth year under German occupation in August 1944 with hopes for its final liberation. The Warsaw Uprising became the most intense and tragic of the revolts organised against the Germans in occupied Europe. In two months of fighting and mass murder, about 17,000 insurgents and over 200,000 civilians were killed. The Nazis destroyed nearly 90 per cent of the city, leaving Warsaw a sea of ruins by January 1945.
"We want to show the Warsaw Uprising to the world" - says Jan Komasa, who wrote and directed the film. Many are unaware that the Warsaw Uprising was the most intense revolt organized against the Germans occupied Europe. The director's wish is to "give the Warsaw Uprising its deserved place in world-wide consciousness". The authors of the film describe it as "a universal story of youth, love, courage and SACRIFICE, with special effects by Peter Jackson and Christopher Nolan's co-workers". The cast includes Józef Pawłowski, Zofia Wichłacz, Anna Próchniak, Tomasz Schuchardt, Maurycy Popiel, Antoni Królikowski, Grzegorz Daukszewicz and Jan Kowalewski.
The Uprising started on August 1st, 1944. The underground Armia Krajowa – the Polish Home Army – organized Operation Tempest, an endeavour to make Warsaw Polish again. On August 3rd, 1944, the Home Army succeeded at capturing several districts of Warsaw. Nevertheless, several key areas of the city, like bridges and transportation hubs, remained under German control. In various ways, the city gradually declined throughout the occupation, prompting the formation of a civilian resistance army, with over 4,000 women and children in its ranks for lack of men in fighting condition.
Using two captured German tanks, the Home Army's elite Zośka battalion freed about 350 Jews from the notorious Gęsiówka prison. From August 5th to 7th, 1944, the Germans counter-attacked with air strikes and artillery to force open a west-east corridor through the city. The Soviets, who were expected to help liberate the city, failed to move forward from Warsaw's eastern outskirts.
In accordance with Himmler’s order to spare no one, the Germans executed about 65,000 men, women and children in the Wola and Ochota districts. In two months of fighting and mass murder, about 17,000 insurgents and over 200,000 civilians were killed. Incensed by the revolt, the Germans defied the terms of the capitulation treaty and destroyed all that remained of Warsaw. With a methodical series of dynamite attacks and the burning of houses by street, the Nazis destroy nearly 90 per cent of the city, leaving Warsaw a sea of ruins by January 1945.
Warsaw 44 is a story divided into a couple of chapters and a road film. "Every scene practically only takes place once in that surrounding" Komasa, the director of the internationally acclaimed Suicide Room explains.
Biedronka, one of the protagonists, is an 18 year-old living in her family estate on the outskirts of Warsaw. "At the beginning of the story Biedronka is not affected by the war. In her warm and safe family home, she has everything she needs" - says actress Zofia Wichłacz, who plays the girl. "Yet she decides to leave everything. For the first time in her life she decides something herself - she's going to join the Uprising" – continues Wichłacz.
She encounters Stefan. The boy also comes from a good home. He stayed with his mother and brother after his father died at the start of the war. He wanted to take part in the underground movement and so, without his mother's consent, he too joined the Uprising.
To help the young actors prepare for their roles, Komasa recommended them a series of books about the Uprising. But what inspired Józef Pawłowski the most were conversations with its veterans. "That was an incredible experience, to meet these people personally" – Pawłowski, who plays Stefan, told the Polish Press Agency.
The other protagonists of Warsaw 44 are Kama, a liaison officer, a brave girl from the working class (played by Anna Próchniak); Home Army soldier Kobra (Tomasz Schuchardt), who gets married to Beata (Karolina Staniec) during the Uprising; and Home Army soldier Miki (Grzegorz Daukszewicz) a former student of the University of Technology.
During the occupation, Miki's family sheltered Jews, a deed they paid for with their lives. Miki's fate is closely connected to Adam (Jan Kowalewski), a 16 year-old Jewish boy whose family had been killed. Adam was sent from one camp to the next. Eventually, together with a group of Jews, he was placed in the building of a former school and detained and forced to work by the Germans. The group is liberated by a division of the insurgents and Adam joins the uprising.
Janek Góralski "Góral" (Maurycy Popiel) is a key figure in the film. He had just graduated from high school when the Uprising took place. Góral, an ambitious and strong-willed youth, becomes commander of a unit, the same one which the film's protagonist, Stefan, joins. Góral is the flamboyant yang to Stefan's yin. The two quarrel and drive each other forward.
Several scenes were filmed in and around Warsaw. The scene of the wedding ceremony between Kobra and Beata was filmed on Nowakowska street; the hospital scenes with wounded insurgents were shot in Konstancin-Jeziorna; and the scene of the lead characters walking through a canal was brought to life on Chełmska street, where a fake canal was built for the purposes of the film. One of the most dramatic moments of the Uprising - the explosion of the Borgward, a remote-controlled German mine, that took place on August 13th 1944 on Kilińska street in the old town, was filmed on Mostowa street in Warsaw.
Other re-enactments were recorded in Łódź, where the film-makers set up in an old factory on Piłsudski and Roosevelt streets. Those were the locations for the bank scene (its building provided shelter for insurgents and civilians) and the scene of the oath before the start of the Uprising at 5pm on August 1st 1944 (W-hour, "W" stands for Wybuch - explosion). This scene had 200 extras while the entire film required 3,000 of them.
The most spectacular scenes are battle scenes shot in Walim and Świebodzice in Lower Silesia with the aid of numerous stuntmen, reconstruction groups, military vehicles, and pyrotechnic and computerised effects (fires, explosions).
Behind the scenes
The old capital was reconstructed through computer generated imagery. Hollywood mastermind Richard Bain looked after the special effects. He's the man behind the visual effects of Casino Royale, Inception, King Kong and had worked with Christopher Nolan and Peter Jackson.
Warsaw 44 was filmed by Marian Prokop, who shot the film in the same number of days as the duration of the Uprising - 63. The set was built by 10 construction teams who used 5 tonnes of debris to portray the city as it looked in that period. The costumes were designed by Dorota Roqueplo.
The President of Poland Bronisław Komorowski is the honorary patron of the film. Warsaw 44 was produced by Akson Studio and co-produced by Narodowe Centrum Kultury, Telewizja Polska, Orange Polska and the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising.
Author: Bartosz Staszczyszyn, translator MJ 04/08/2014