Landscape After Battle
Vanguard // Unrated // $29.95 // August 26, 2003
Review by Don Houston | posted October 13, 2003
Highly Recommended
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Movie: Most of the movies I've watched over the years regarding WWII dealt in some way or another with the direct fighting done, not the aftermath of the destruction. This makes sense because lets face it, seeing tanks, bombers, and men with machine guns attacking one another is pretty interesting to a degree. As my tastes have evolved, I've tried to find movies that made more sense about the human aspects of war, those aspects that get lost in gloss propaganda films made by Hollywood. Well, I found a film that really transcended the WWII experience in terms of the underlying human conditions war brings. The movie, Landscape After Battle (Krajobraz Po Bitwie) is a Polish film by famed director Andrzej Wajda made in 1970, at the height of the Vietnam War, and looks at the results of prisoner of war camps on the human spirit.

Okay, the lead character of the movie was a man named Tadeusz (Daniel Olbrychski) who has been warehoused in a P.O.W. camp for quite some time. A cautious man, he lives solely for books and literature in order to escape the day-to-day torment of the camp. The movie opened with the camp being liberated by the American army but none of them are free to leave, in part because it was winter and leaving would result in the death of the most of them (there's no food available as the landscape has been depleted by the Germans over the years) as much as the fear by the Americans that the prisoners would resort to lawlessness, pillaging in order to survive the harsh realities of a post-war Europe. In short, it's safer for everyone to stay put while the details are worked out. Safety comes at a cost however, as the end result gives the appearance of one set of masters, the Germans, for another, the Americans; both imposed order, just one was a bit easier to live with than the other.

Tad struggles to regain what he has lost over the years in terms of his soul and humanity, so long suppressed, but the harsh conditions of the camp, even a liberated camp, are very unforgiving to the residents. Some of the men steal food rations, others are brutal thugs who take advantage of the American leniency, and still others are indifferent to one another as they all seem to treat one another with a level of varying contempt. Everyone complains about the situation but the few who try to improve conditions are routinely mistreated or looked upon with suspicion by the majority of the camp.

Then, a ray of light comes into the camp in the form of some women. The men haven't seen a woman in a long time and generally, act like it towards the visiting gals. One gal, Nina (Stanislawa Celinska) takes a shine to Tad and the two start to fall in love, despite their own hardened hearts. As their love blossomed, the walls they built up to protect their sanity begin to crumble but both seem to understand that the chances of anything coming from such a liaison is doomed from the start. What happens from there would require too many spoilers to continue but suffice it to say, the movie is a bit dark in terms of how it views war and the aftermath of war.

I liked the movie a lot, especially in terms of how it applies to some of the events going on throughout the world these days. The themes of lost freedom, order vs. freedom and change as it related to events outside our span of control all contributed to my appreciation of the movie. The direction was quite solid as was the acting and the viewpoint seemed very clearly from the perspective of someone who'd been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt to quote a popular saying these days. As such, I'm rating it as Highly Recommended for all it's technical limitations. If you get a chance to see this foreign-made movie from 1970, do so.

Picture: The picture was presented in 1.85:1 ratio widescreen color. The biggest limitation was in the source material with all its scratches and minor defects but they weren't so bad that a thinking person would focus on them rather than the movie. There was some grain and the colors were faded a bit on occasion but that actually worked in favor of the themes presented. I didn't see a lot of artifacts or other problems with the dvd transfer, which helped make the movie easier to watch.

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.

Extras: The primary extra was the plethora of interviews by the cast and crew. In all, there were seven, which is amazing considering the usual lack of such interviews on older films. There was a section for trailers of other releases, 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 is dark and were it not so accurate in its depiction of our inhumanity towards one another in times of war (and after war), I'd have thought it a downer without a purpose. Sadly, as a whole, people are very much like Wajda depicts throughout the world and I'm kind of surprised he was allowed to make such a movie given the Communist rule at the time he did so. For all its flaws, the movie was well worth seeing and not just in an artsy-fartsy sort of way that only highbrow people could appreciate.

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