Movie: Foreign movies are often an acquired taste. Some people watch them in order to see an outsider's perspective of life, myself included, but they can also provide new techniques by which to put on display a variety of similar ideas. One of the best directors Europe has produced in the last 50 or so years, Andrzej Wajda, has recently enjoyed a renaissance due to a deal with Vanguard Cinema that is releasing many of his classic films from the 60's and 70's. One of the best such films is called Promised Land: Director's Cut (Ziemia Obiecana).
The movie was made in 1974 during the height of the cold war in Communist Poland. It details the rise of a trio of men who aspire to own their own factory in the 19th Century. Poland is awash in greedy businessmen who plunder and treat their workers like cattle, if one gets hurt he's fired, people work many hours to scrape by and the only ones who get ahead are the owners. The trio, an aristocratic local, Karol (by famed Polish actor Daniel Olbrychski-a regular in Wajda'a works), a Jew, Moryc (Wojciech Pszoniak), and a German, Maks (Andrzej Seweryn), make up the unlikely trio of three men who do whatever is necessary to escape the uncertainties of working for someone else. The textile business has a lot of uncertainties that they learn about as they proceed with their plans, including politics, other businessmen and even their own self-destructive behavior getting in the way of their plans.
In the end, the best laid plans of the men ultimately prove to sour what could have been but the story, based on the novel by Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont, is a chilling indictment on capitalism and corporate greed. As a devote capitalist myself, having observed some of the excesses of this economic process first hand, I can attest to the fact that left unchecked, a pure market system could well end up like the story this was based on. The movie was re-edited by Wadja in order to provide a view more in tune with what the director wanted to show but was unable due to the ruling party when this was filmed. It's still a harsh look at capitalism but more balanced with this latest edit. While I would've liked to have seen both versions, the older one being substantially longer, I can appreciate the director's wishes in showing what he wanted to say rather than what he was allowed to say at the time.
With a rich tapestry of characters, all of who seemed to come alive as though the Polish City of long ago was trapped in a time bubble (during the interviews, it was mentioned that the city of Lodz really does look much like it did at the turn of the century, with all the old machinery still being used), the movie was a delight to watch, even with the heavy themes about Poland's rocky transition to capitalism so long ago (which was at least partially responsible for its eventual turn to communism). The direction was superb and the use of Lodz at a setting was brilliant. I liked this one enough to rate it as Highly Recommended based on all aspects of the DVD release. If you check it out, let me know what you think.
Picture: The picture was presented in 1.85:1 ratio widescreen color. The movie had a lot of grain, which stood out due to the darker material (many scenes were inside or at night), as well as print scratches and color saturation problems but the content was good enough that they could often be overlooked. Lastly, there were some moments of mosquito noise and pattern interference but I didn't really notice them until the second time I watched the movie.
Sound: The sound was presented in a remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital Polish track with optional subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Polish and Russian(?). It had some dropouts and flaws, it being so old and from a foreign source, but I was surprised at how cleaned up it was compared to some more recent releases by the folks at Vanguard. The subtitles were presented on the bottom of the screen, in the area where the "black bar" was, which made these new, yellow in color, subtitles stand out.
Extras: The primary extra was a bunch of interviews by the cast and crew. In all, there were eight, which is amazing considering the usual lack of such interviews on older films. There was a trailer, a picture of some postage stamps made in 2000 of the director, a copy of a letter by director Steven Spielberg, a short slide show of the director getting an award, and photos of his night at the Oscars.
Final Thoughts: The movie was nominated for an Academy Award in 1976 and is recognized as one of the director's best releases. The interviews, being fairly new compared to the movie itself, provided a lot of detail about what everyone involved was shooting for here and it all made a lot of sense. While I am not one to shout about the perils of capitalism and how it changes a community's values as a great topic for a movie, I did see a well-made film that deserves a wider audience.