Eroica (Heroism) (1958)
Director: Andrzej Munk
Starring: Edward Dziewonski (Dzidzius Gorkiewicz), Barbara Polomska (Zosia, Dzidzius' Wife), Ignacy Machowski (Major), Leon Niemczyk (Lt. Istvan Kolya), Kazimierz Opalinski (Polish Commandant), Zofia Czerwinska (Jogodka), Eleonora Lorentz (Old Woman), Emil Karewicz (Polish Officer), Tomasz Lengren (Boy Scout), Jerzy Turek (Polish Soldier), Roman Wilhelmi (Polish Soldier), Tomasz Zaliwski (Hungarian Officer), Jerzy Felczynski.
Polish reaction to Nazi occupation
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Part I. Scherzo Alla Polaca.
A man is teaching the new recruits how to march together. A fellow named Dzidzius sees an airplane in the air and tells the corporal that there's a plane in the air. The corporal says a good soldier stays quiet and follows orders. The plane circles around and starts coming towards them. The corporal asks Dzidzius if that's the way he's supposed to stand at attention? But Dzidzius can't perform the motion because he is still looking at the plane. He tells the corporal to look again. The corporal looks and then yells: "Take cover!" The men dart away from the street.
Dzidzius works his way over to the corporal. He tells him that this is not for him and he takes off. The corporal doesn't say a word. Dzidzius starts walking away. He sees a woman washing her clothes and asks her if the Germans have left Warsaw yet? She says that they are now in Wilanow. She adds that he can sneak by them.
Dzidzius reaches his home. He finds his wife laughing with a soldier. When the wfie sees Dzidzius she rushes up to him to give him a hug. Dzidzius tells his wife that it sure looks like she's been having fun in his absence. The wife explains that the soldier is a Hungarian Hussar lieutenant, who is an aide to the General. His name is Lt. Istvan Kolya. Dzidzius now asks for an introduction. The men shake hands. The husband asks in Polish where did she find a Hungarian army officer? She says it wasn't hard since the whole Hungarian army is in Zalesie. She had no choice since one of their rooms has been requisitioned for the lieutenant.
Dzidzius keeps making verbal digs at his wife. He notes that she has a spread of salami and ham, along with liquor. She says it was a gift from the general. He asks her if she is sleeping with the lieutenant. The wife acts shocked. Dzidzius tells her: "I know you. You couldn't resist a man like him." The wife acts way too cozy with the officer. A little later the officer takes Dzidzius out walking. In Polish Dzidezius says out loud: "He'll kill me because of that slut." He makes a run for it but gets himself entangled in the camouflage netting over one of the artillery pieces. The officer now says that his wife Zosia told him that the guns were from Warsaw. And now he asks: "Officer of the Uprising, aren't you?" Dzidzius says to himself in Polish: "That bitch!"
The officer tells Dzidzius that Hitler is finished and they want to help the Polish patriots now. The Polish fellow is so relieved that he brings out the liquor and tells him: "Drink, brother!" He then says to himself in Polish: "Or rather, brother-in-law."
In the morning the officer is driven by a driver of a horse and buggy. A German asks them where is headquarters? Over there, to the left. After the German leaves in his car, Dzidzius stops being the driver and hops down. He takes off his Hungarian uniform. He tells the officer: "Send my love to Zosia!"
Dzidzius sees that the partisans killed the German in the car and are taking his weapons. He asks the fellow in charge to take him to the Mokotov District Commander. Two of the partisans escort him. On the way he runs into a woman he knows named Lola. She calls him by his nickname: "Ninny". She says: "Ninny working for the underground. I had no idea." He asks her where he can meet with her later? She says at the liaison center and her codename is Berry.
Dzidzius speaks with the colonel. He says that the Hungarians want to help the Polish partisans with weapons, including artillery. The colonel is shocked to hear this. He tells our hero to sit down and tell him the whole story from the beginning.
Dzidzius sits on the bank of a river talking with a major in civilian clothes. He tells Dzidzius that if they are separated, they will meet up in Zalesie. Dzidzius says that the uprising is turning into quite a mess. He asks where the heck are the Reds, anyway? It's been a whole two weeks and still they have not arrived in Warsaw. The major says that the Germans pushed them back.
The two men in civilian clothes join together with other refugees and they all start walking on the railway line. A German guard grabs Dzidzius and takes him over to an older lady. He indicates that Dzidzius is to carry the woman's duffle bag. Dzidzius throws the bag over his shoulder but it's very heavy and he has to walk bent over. He complains to the woman about the heaviness of what he is carrying. Dzildzius gives her money so he won't have to keep carrying the heavy bag. The woman agrees.
One of the refugee men makes a break for it but is shot down by the German guards. Taking advantage of the confusion, Dzidzius and the major hide behind a bush. After the refugees all pass by them they start walking to Dzidzius' home. He tells the major to come with him and stay in his house for awhile. Later they can go for a swim in the pond. The major says they have to go speak to the Hungarians first.
The major goes over to the Hungarian headquarters. The major tells Ninny to wait outside for him. Waiting there Lt. Kolya comes out of the front door of Dzidzius' house. He then sees his pretty wife in a bikini up on the second floor of the house. Then a second officer comes out of the house.
The major comes out and tells Dzidzius that he will have to go to Warsaw because the Hungarians must have an answer by dinner time tomorrow. Dzidzius tells the major that he is not a messenger boy and he is not going to Warsaw. The major says he can't walk to Warsaw because of his war wound that makes him limp. Dzidius walks the mayor over to his house and Zosia comes running up to greet her husband. He introduces the major to Zosia. He says the "professor" is going to move into their house for awhile. He tells her the major will have plenty of war stories to tell her about. He takes the major inside. His wife shouts: "Ninny, I don't think you love me anymore!"
At night Dzidzius starts walking to Warsaw. A German guard stops him and tells him to turn around. The Pole says his mother is very sick. The German doesn't care. Turn around! So Dzidzius gives him the last of his two gold coins. Now he can walk to Warsaw. And now he gets stopped by the partisans. They don't believe his story and accuse him of being a spy. They turn him over to the police.
Now a fellow interrogates Dzidzius. He asks what was he doing during the occupation? Dzidzius replies that he peddled whatever he could get his hands on: gold, wood and even watch hands. The interrogator asks if anyone can confirm this? Yes, the interrogator's colonel can confirm it. "Tell him Gorkiewicz is here on behalf of the Hungarians." The interrogator has Dzidzius thrown into the cellar.
Much later a soldier comes to tell Dzidzius that he will get to see the colonel now. The colonel gives a note to Dzidzius and tells him it has to reach the major tomorrow before 4 o'clock. Dzidzius tells him he could be shot on his way back to the major. The colonel says that Sadyba will be told to let him through. Dzidzius wonders to himself why is the colonel so reluctant to work with the Hungarians?
Back in his home town, Dzidzius goes to see Berry in the liaison office. He tries to kiss her but she says she's engaged. She also tells him to get some coal for the fire. Dzidzius starts looking around. He finds some bottles of champagne. Then he finds whiskey, Dubonet and Tokay from Prince Hochenloe's cellars.
Dzidzius is quite drunk now. Lola is also drunk. Dzidzius asks her why didn't he marry Lola instead of the Zosia? A woman comes in and tells Lola that it is already 4 o'clock. Lola leaves. Dzidzius grabs some bottles and says that he has to go too. Soon enough Dzidzius is underneath a huge archway still drunk as a skunk. A bullet hits one of his last bottles of liquor and smashes it to pieces. A bunch of partisans pass by him and he yells that he has to see the Hungarians.
Dzidzius follows after the partisans. He stops to urinate and is left behind. Bullets are being fired at him, but they don't hit him. He starts running again trying to get away from the firing.
Now Dzidzius sits on the riverbank once again. A tank comes up very close to the top of the riverbank. A round is fired, scaring the hell out of Dzidzius.
A man with a wagon has come to drop off Dzidzius at his home. Zosia makes a big fuss over him thinking at first he is dead and then that he is wounded. Dzidzius wakes up and asks what time is it? It's two o'clock. He remembers that he has to give his message to the Hungarians. He runs into the house. He filnally gets over to the Hungarian headquarters. The major tells him: "There you are, at last." Dzidzius gives the major the message. The major reads it and then shakes his head to the Hungarians. No deal! Now Dzidzius wonders why he ever got involved in all of this?
The major and Dzidzius watch as the Hungarians leave. Zosia tells her husband to come into the house. Dzidzius thinks about it and then just takes off running to go with the major. His wife begs him not to leave her all alone, but Dzidzius doesn't return to his wife.
Part II. Ostinato-Lugubre.
There is an abandoned sanitarium that the Germans have taken over. Soldiers are bought to the POW camp. Inside, the prisoners are told that they will go to the steam baths first.
A bit later the new prisoners are shown to their barracks. Lt. Marianek welcomes Second Lt. Szpakowski to the barracks. Then he greets Lt. Kurzawa. The fellows now meet Lt. Korwin-Makowski and Lt. Dabecki. Then a fellow named Zak comes up to introduce himself to the newcomers. The other men include Krieger and Second Lt. Turek.
The guys all sit down for a meal and Lt. Kurzawa tells Lt. Marianek that they have met before. Lt. Marianek says he remembers. Lt. Kurzawa says they parted company on the last day in September, 1939. The Germans had driven them back to Skierniewice. He adds that he hid in a store and got back to Warsaw at night.
The one fellow who seems to be the odd-man-out is Zak. Lt. Marianek has even asked the man not to speak to him. Zak says he wishes he could be alone somewhere. The men talk about their hero, Zawistowski. He is the only fellow in the camp who escaped. Zak says he would like to escape. It's easy to escape from the camp, but where does he go from there? One of the other fellows asks for Zak to go ahead and escape. Zak returns to his big crate where he can close the half-door on top.
Lt. Kurzawa gets up at night and goes to get some water to drink. He goes into another part of the barracks where the water and coffee are. Lt. Turek says he's up all night because he sleeps during the day. Another fellow asks the lieutenant if he would like to be awakened for mass tomorrow? Kurzawa is having nothing to do with that and he immediately leaves to go back to his bunk. Lt. Turek scolds the religious fellow that he drove the lieutenant away. He tells him to leave the man alone. "You went crazy after three years. This is only his first day."
Kurzawa can't sleep so he goes back for some more water. He sees Lt. Turek, the man with the insomnia, doing something secretively with the panels in the ceiling. Lt. Turek asks him if he will have some coffee with him? He says yes. Mr. Insomnia decides to tell Kurzawa what he was doing. There's another man living up there and he and Krieger share their food with him. The man up there is none other than their "first escapee" Zawistowski. The Gestapo was looking for him so he had to go into hiding.
The next day at roll call, Zak gets two men to pretend like they are arguing with each other. When the guards are distracted by this, Zak slips out underneath the wires. When he gets some distance away, the two guys stop fighting and start looking at Zak. The guard notices them looking at something. A woman walking around the camp shouts that there's prisoner here. The guard shoots Zak.
In the barracks they hear that Zak is recovering in the prison hospital. Lt. Marianek says that they are going to change their attitudes toward Zak. He will even withdraw his complaints against Zak from the Officer's Court of Honor. Marianek goes on to say that Zak actually made fun of the German army.
Zac returns to the barracks. He returns to his box and closes the upper-half door. Kurzawa goes up into the crawl space and talks with Zawistowski. The "escapee" says it's miserably hot in the summer here and miserably cold in the winter. Kurzawa gives him some cough drops and some sleeping pills. He tells Zawistowski that next time he will bring him chocolate, peanuts, margarine and meat because they got a parcel.
The guys are making a real racket one day and Zak asks them to quiet down. Marinek tells him to get out, if he doesn't like it. The laughter continues. After a short while, someone asks where is Zak? Then it occurs to the men that Zak actually went outside, where he is sure to be shot and killed. They rush downstairs and see that Zak has just walked out onto the courtyard. He stands there until he is shot. He goes down and appears to be dead. Zawistowski saw the whole thing and he says "Zac" three times out loud. Zac was his best friend.
Marianek and Dabecki are moving to another barracks, because someone stole the 1,000 cigarettes that Zak had won in a bet. The two men demanded that the cigarettes be returned by a certain time, but the cigarettes do not pop up. A Dr. Kaliszewski now wants to move into the barracks. The other fellows tell him it's quite all right with them.
Kurzawa goes to pay a visit with Zawistowski. When he returns from the very short visit, he informs the other two men that know about Zawistowski, that the man is dead. Kurzawa wonders if they will ever get to live like human beings again? He also is worried that the myth of Zawistowski will die. Mr. Insomnia says he will try to prevent that from happening. He will speak to a high officer he knows and they will figure out how to get the body out of there without anybody seeing it.
The Germans call all the prisoners in the barracks to fall into formation at the courtyard. When everyone stands there the Germans sneak the body out in an old boiler. Everyone is now informed that they can go back to their normal routine. The men walk around a wide circular path.
These are two different films, although they are both set during World War II. The hero of the first one is a bit of a whiner and a reluctant patriot. He joins up with the partisans, but decides to leave them on the first day because he does not want to continue with all this learning how to march stuff. The fellow is also cursed with a wife that is very unfaithful to him. Even though he doesn't like military life, he keeps reluctantly getting involved in missions to help the Polish partisans and his country. So, yes, he's a hero for taking on dangerous missions. But on the other hand, he does whine a lot. Perhaps we could call him the reluctant hero.
The second story deals with Polish POWs. Here the heroes are also reluctant. Except for one man, no one has escaped or even tried to escape from the POW camp. Only one other man tries to escape, but he is not so much escaping from the camp as trying to escape from his fellow POWs. The POW would rather be in solitary confinement than to be with his fellow Poles. His fellow prisoners celebrate his attempt to escape, but the poor man still can't be rid of his bunkmates. So this heroism can also be said to be reluctant heroism.
It's like the Poles have been attacked so many times, that they take these wars with considerable patience and stoicism. One fellow even thinks about the war that is going to come following WWII.
I like the first story better. It is a bit of a comedy because our hero is such a sad sack. Barbara Polomska is pretty and does a good job of acting. Edward Dziewonski is also good as the sad sack hero.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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