Jeszcze tylko ten las (Just Beyond This Forest) (1991)
Director: Jan Lomnicki.
Starring: Ryszarda Hanin (Kulgawcowa), Joanna Friedman (Rutka / Janina Zofia Jamrůz), Marta Klubowicz (Jaska Kulgawcowa), Marzena Trybala (Rutka's Mother), Marek Bargielowski (Traitor from the Train), Boguslaw Sochnacki (German Soldier Hans).
a Jewish woman in Warsaw hires an Aryan woman to take her young daughter to the countryside until the war is over
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Warsaw Ghetto, Poland. 1942. A group of men on a work detail are accompanied by three German soldiers with two German shepherd dogs. A non-Jewish elder woman namedKulgawcowa has a pass to enter the ghetto. The woman walks by people who are slowly starving to death or have passed away from starvation and other causes.
She watches as people in the ghetto try to get far away from two German soldiers. One man did not move away and so the guards make him do squats while holding a brick. When the fellow falls down, the soldiers kick him back and forth on the ground.
There are quite a few people on the streets who look like they have gone mad.
Kulgawcowa knocks on an apartment door and a Jewish woman, Mrs. Stern, welcomes her into the apartment. The Jewish woman is paying Kulgawcowa a nice sum of money to get her perhaps twelve-year-old daughter (Janina Zofia Jamrůz or Rutka) out of the ghetto and take her into the countryside where she will be safer from the Germans.
Kulgawcowa is a strange woman. Sometimes she acts like a good Samaritan and other times she seems to want to denigrate the Jewish mother. She can be sweet and she can be petty and cruel. There are quite a few Jewish residents in the apartment.
Kulgawcowa looks over at Rutka, but doesn't say anything to her. Rutka does not give any acknowledgement to Kulgawcowa. The mother asks two of the Jewish residents to move to another room or rooms so she may speak in private with Kulgawcowa.
Rutka's mother asks her daughter to at least say hello to Kulgawcowa. She then tells Kulgawcowa that Rutka has forgotten who she is. Mother turns to Mrs. Kulgawcowa and asks for confirmation that they have a deal. Kulgawcowa is a bit mean and says she doesn't really know. After all, she can return the money to Mrs. Stern. She is upset about Rutka's failure to be polite to her. She just doesn't like Rutka's appearance.
Kulgawcowa can also be a bit anti-Semitic. She says: "Money. What makes you think I need money? Typical Jewish thinking." They are interrupted by the arrival of the tea tray. Mrs. Stern tries to butter up Kulgawcowa to improve her rather sullen attitude. She says that she has known Mrs. Kulgawcowa long enough to know that she is a good, decent person. Cynically, Kulgawcowa replies: "So is everybody." She then asks Mrs. Stern if she knows the penalty for hiding a Jewish person? Of course, Mrs. Stern knows. She asks Kulgawcowa not to be mad at her. It's just that Rutka is her only child.
Kulgawcowa sees Rutka looking at a photo album. She takes the album and looks at some of the photos. Kulgawcowa says that the album is full of Jews and this is no good because it could give Rutka's identity away. She says to Rutka: "Hey, little one, if you want to die, it won't be with me." Mother tells Rutka that she can have the album after the war. She adds that this terrible war will be over soon and the Germans will clear out.
Mrs. Stern is worried about what kind of people will her daughter stay with. Will they be kind to her Rutka? Kulgawcowa seems like she is exasperated with Mrs. Stern. She is a bit nasty to the worried mother. She knows she's got power over Mrs. Stern because of the terrible situation. I guess she figures she can be as impolite as she can be because of the situation. She says: "Mrs. Stern, this wasn't my idea." The mother apologizes and Kulgawcowa yells at her: "Lay off me! I'm not made of stone! Questions , suspicions. A thief gets less of a going over!" Mrs. Stern knows she has to tolerate this abuse for the safety of her daughter.
So Mrs. Stern starts giving Kulgawcowa some of her clothing to wear. Kulgawcowa does not act grateful in the least. She tells Mrs. Stern that she is not a down and out person.
Kulgawcowa asks about the papers for Rutka. The mother hands over to Kulgawcowa the papers in a nice leather pouch. Kulgawcowa looks over the paper. She notices that the girl's name of Janina is the same as that of her adult daughter. So she will call Rutka, Jancia. She also tells Rutka to forget the name Rutka. After all, Rutka is a Jewish name and she would be signing her own death warrant.
To sweeten the deal, mother gives Kulgawcowa a nice watch. She says that anyway, after the war, she can return the watch. And here comes the knife: "Who to, I wonder." This remark referting to the fact that Mrs. Stern might not be alive after the war is over hurts Mrs. Stern, but she tries to act stoically.
Kulgawcowa indicates that it's time for them to be going. Mrs. Stern starts to cry, gets down on her knees and starts kissing Kulgawcowa's hands. This just irritates Kulgawcowa and she says that Mrs. Stern can thank her later.
While the two women are occupied with saying goodbye, Rutka takes an obviously Jewish photo of her family and puts it in amongst her papers. The young girl does not fully understand the peril she's in.
Kulgawcowa now takes the papers from Rutka. She assures Mrs. Stern that everything will turn out fine. Kulgawcowa seems a bit naive about this subject. They leave now.
Now Kulgawcowa is a bit nasty to Rutka. Rutka doesn't really want to be leaving. Kulgawcowa has to drag her along. Not getting much cooperation, Kulgawcowa tells her: "Listen, Rutka. If they get on to us they may let you live, but they will take Mrs. Stern." This sobers up Rutka quickly.
The pair go through a revolving door, but Rutka keeps walking along with the door and misses the exit. Kulgawcowa comes out on the other side, but she doesn't see Rutka. This alarms her. Then she sees Rutka coming around again. She grabs Rutkta and says: "What are you doing? You stick with me all the time, you hear me?"
The pair try to avoid the Germans while leaving. She takes Rutka to her own apartment. There Rutka meets Kulgawcowa's grown daughter. Jaska Kulgawcowa is not happy about having Rutka in the apartment. She asks her mother: "Why did you bring this Jewish girl here?" Her mother tells her not to use the word "Jewish" around here.
Mrs. Kulgawcowa has to run a little interference between the two younger females. Otherwise, Jaska might be too hard on or nasty to the young girl.
At supper Rutka has no appetite to eat. So her surrogate mother puts Rutka in Jaska's bed. The two will have to share the bed.
When everyone is in bed and the lights are out, Jaska wants to know from her mother how much money did Mrs. Stern give her? Mother is not going to tell Jaska how much money she got. So Jaska tells her mother to take Rutka back to her mother. But Mrs. Kulgawcowa has no intention of doing that. Jaska suggests that they could always turn the Jewish girl over to the Germans. This makes her mother mad and she tells Jaska to shut up or she'll strangle Jaska. She adds: "Jesus and Mary! You're so thoughtless."
Jaska suggests that her mother is a Jew lover. She adds that her mother has already slaved enough for them. Why stick her neck out for the Jews? Mother tells her just to stop running off at the mouth. So Jaska now asks her where did she hide the money she got from Mrs. Stern? Mother says Jaska will never find the money!
Of course, Rutka has heard all of their conversation.
The next morning Mrs.Kulgawcowa rises early. She hides the money in her clothes.
She gets Rutka up. The older lady goes over the material that Rutka is supposed to have memorized. She is going on a trip to visit her godfather. Rutka is able to rattle off the names of the members of godfather's family.
The pair gets dressed. Mrs. Kulgawcowa downs a bit of liquor. Her daughter says she shouldn't be drinking on an empty stomach and certainly not before a trip. After a bit more arguing, the two travelers leave.
A man at the station notices the pair and is a little too interested in them. He asks them where are they going? To the countryside. He helps them get onto the train and he gets on with them.
On the train the over-friendly man gives Mrs. Kulgawcowa some vodka to drink. And then he periodically encourages her to have some more. Is the man deliberately trying to get her drunk? He turns to the man sitting next to him and says: "I'm the one talking to the lady. Get me?"
The stranger asks Kulgawcowa if she has any food in her basket. She won't answer the question.
There's quite a lot of curiosity about the young girl with the older lady. The stranger asks if the young girl is Kulgawcowa's daughter. No, her granddaughter. The "friend" observes: "That's why she's so unlike you. Kind of dark."
Kulgawcowa takes more liquor and Rutka is starting to worry. Grandmother asks if Jancia is watching over her? She tels Jancia not to get above herself. A woman remarks that the granddaughter looks "untypical" The man next to the stranger sings a little ditty: "Behind the squire comes a Jew, hop, hop. And behind the Jew his little Jewish daughter."
Kulgawcowa objects to the man touching Jancia's hands while he sings. Grandmother says what does she care about Jews? The man says the Jews crucified Jesus and that's why the Germans are punishing the Jews.
Now their "friend" asks the grandmother for her address. Kulgawcowa has no desire to give him their address. But the fellow persists in repeatedly asking her for the address.
The train stops a little ways from what appears to be a German check point. The passengers start getting off the train to avoid the Germans.
Kulgawcowa and Jancia get off the train and start walking. And right behind her comes the stranger. Grandmother starts running with Jancia to try to get away from the pest. They walk over to a path in the nearby woods and continue running.
And yet out of the woods comes that pest once again. Now they learn what the stranger wants from them. All her money. She starts calling him all kinds of nasty names. He, however, knows that the girl is Jewish and the "grandmother" can't afford to call out for the police. He threatens her that he will smash her teeth in.
The older lady goes back to calling him names for what he is doing to them. One of the men from the train hears the crying and he comes close to see what's going on. He hears the invectives thrown at the stranger. He comes over and somehow Kulgawcowa concludes that the two men are working with each other. So she starts to tell off the other fellow.
The man has a knife with him and he threatens to kill the stranger if he does not leave the area. The guy starts leaving.
The man with the knife tries to tell Kulgawcowa that he is not a thief. He tells her to get out of here before the Germans catch them. He notes that the girl is obviously Jewish and they will be in deep trouble if they find the pair. Kulgawcowa tries to give him part of her money. Insulted, he tells her: "Put it away and you know where!" He also calls her crazy. He leaves and the women continue their journey.
They stop for lunch along the path and Kulgawcowa has lots to eat and drink. She then takes a nap while Jancia keeps watch. Jancia gets interested in a snail she finds among the flowers.
When Kulgawcowa awakens she eats a hard boiled egg and talks with Jancia about her future. Jancia indicates that she is very worried about this new place she is going to. She asks what are the place and the people like?
No she won't have her own room, but it will be fine. The people are good. Now Kulgawcowa is being much nicer to Jancia, but when Jancia calls her Mrs. Kulgawcowa, the woman gets angry and says if she calls her Mrs. Kulgawcowa again, she will wring her neck. Jancia calls her Mrs. Kulgawcowa again and the woman tells her not to tempt fate.
The females talk about flowers and the times when Kulgawcowa was being courted by different men. Kulgawcowa shows Jancia a few dance steps from her youth.
They start walking again. Someone from behind them shouts: "Halt! Come here Jew." Kulgawcowa tells Jancia to start running and keep running. Jancia runs. Kulgawcowa turns around and finds out the the voice came from one of two small boys. Now she really gets mad. She slaps the older boy and tells them off. She then tells them to run after the girl. The boy says that the girl looks Jewish. Kulgawcowa says the boy looks Jewish too. The boys start running after Jancia.
A German soldier with his left around Jancia's right arm catches up with Kulgawcowa. The woman shows the soldier her own papers and says she it taking her granddaughter to see her aunt. Jancia says: "I don't know this lady." Kulgawcowa gets mad at Jancia for denying her grandmother. The soldier asks if the child is Jewish? Kulgawcowa says no and then she yells at Jancia to tell the man who she is. Jancia just says: "Go. I don't want you. I don't."
Grandmother goes over to Jancia and tells her in a low voice: "Damn you! Cut it out or I'll whip your ass." Now the soldier asks for the documents for the girl. Under pressure, Kulgawcowa forgets that she has the papers. She asks Jancia for the papers, but Janica tries to tell her, that she herself actually has the papers. Kulgawcowa remembers, opens her purse, digs out the papers and gives them to the soldier. Just then the soldier hears shots fired and runs to check on his partner.
Once the soldier is out of sight Jancia puts her arms around grandmother's neck. But grandmother is furious at her and starts pushing her and finally pushes her to the ground. She cries and laughs over the child. The couple start back on their trip.
After awhile they stop for a rest. They talk about what they will spend the money on after the war is over.
The soldier returns and hands over the girl's papers. But a photo falls out of the leather pouch. Grandmother tries to pick it up, but the soldier steps on her hand. He picks up the photograph and now realizes that the girl is definitely Jewish. Kulgawcowa gives him several stories about her picking the photo up on the train or at home where there are lots of Jewish people around. That doesn't work, so she tries to bribe him. She offers him jewelry, but he can't be bribed.
Kulgawcowa tells Rutka to tell the soldier something. Rutka says she doesn't care anymore. Kulgawcowa says: "We're done for! Curtains!"
The German soldier walks behind the two women. Rutka asks if death hurts? Kulgawcowa says she won't feel a thing. Rutka replies: "Good."
Kulgawcowa tries again to bribe the fellow. No dice.
Kulgawcowa has a whole range of reactions. She is nice and then mean, tries to console Rutka and then again not. She gets very down and says: "A good Hitler is what you need. Goddamned Jews!" Rutka calls her grandmother and asks, she won't leave her, will she? Now Kulgawcowa switches to being nice and says no, she won't leave Rutka.
They keep walking followed by the German soldier.
The focus here is more on the disappointing performances of the non-Jewish people of Poland in regard to the Holocaust. An older woman says she will take Mrs. Stern's young girl Rutka to the countryside where she will be safe from the Germans. The woman helping to save the girl, however, is both nice and mean. She alternates between good and bad. The woman's grown daughter is totally opposed to helping a Jewish child. All she really cares about is the money Mrs. Stern gave to her mother. She's also pretty mean to the young Jewish girl.
On their trip into the countryside, there are more wolves to deal with -- men trying to get money from the females who are in a tough situation.
What was the most disturbing matter was that literally everybody was very conscious of the ill-treatment of the Jews at the hands of the Germans and how often they recognized the young girl as being Jewish. And they were shooting off their mouths about it. Even a small boy recognized Rutka as Jewish.
No matter how little the older woman cared for Rutka at the start, the pair still started developing a tight relationship over a difficult journey. Grandmother comes through for the Jewish girl.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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