"Watch them closely, for these are the last hours of their lives," announces a narrator, foretelling the tragedy that unfolds as a war-ravaged company of Home Army resistance fighters tries to escape the Nazi onslaught through the sewers of Warsaw. Determined to survive, the men and women slog through the hellish labyrinth, piercing the darkness with the strength of their individual spirits. Based on true events, Kanal was the first film ever made about the Warsaw Uprising and brought director Andrzej Wajda to the attention of international audiences, earning the Special Jury Prize in Cannes in 1957.
Fatalistic vision of Warsaw Uprising
- Andrzej Wajda: Canal review by JO
A story set during the last days of the Warsaw Uprising in September 1944. Lt Zadra is in charge of a company of 43 men, soldiers and civilians. Following an air raid by German bombers they move to a new position in the city. The Nazi forces advance and surround the company. Zadra is ordered to retreat and escape the Nazi onslaught by heading for the city through the underground sewers. The company slog through the filth and darkness.
Wajda' s film is full of despair and the mood is fatalistic throughout, making this a tough watch. The first half of the film has poignant moments: a scene in which the artist Michal seals to his wife on the phone and hears that they are coming for her next is heartbreaking. However, the second half in the sewers is uncompromisingly bleak as the soldiers scrabble through the labyrinthine sewer system like rats while the German forces plant booby traps to kill them or wait for the rebels to surface so they can shoot them instantly. Wajda focuses on the dehumanising effects of war, particularly when a soldier betrays Zadra by telling him that the company are right behind him when in fact they lost them a long time ago. Film is brilliantly shot and edited with exciting and vividly recreated war scenes. The film deserves credit for showing the courage and bravery of the Warsaw Uprising, who defiantly carried on until the end.