Kanal (1957)

Genres - Drama, War, Action, Adventure  |   Sub-Genres - War Drama, Resistance Film  |   Release Date - May 9, 1961 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 96 min.  |   Countries - Poland  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Tom Wiener

Few filmmakers got off to the career start that Andrzej Wajda did with his wartime trilogy, a set of stories vigorously shot and pointedly written to reflect a skeptical view of wartime heroics and postwar politics. Kanal, the middle feature, is perhaps the most famous, if only because it offers one of the more physically harrowing stories from a war packed with them. Polish people of the Communist-dominated 1950s were hungry for stories of glory about their efforts against the Nazis in WWII, but they didn't get them with this film. The nominal heroes, a band of partisans who take to the sewers in the final days of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, have fought bravely against the German occupiers of their city, but what's onscreen here is a fight of another kind, one for pure survival. Reduced to wading in waist-deep filth and peeking out from beneath manhole covers only to face sniper fire, the freedom fighters soon realize that the world has turned upside down and that darkness is their friend and light their enemy. Kanal does not depict the death of heroes, only those of men and one woman -- interestingly, she is the strongest character -- who have lost touch with their ideals and have been reduced to basic instincts.