published by Indigo Productions

 

1939. Secret of Westerplatte – Historic Film Review from the Polish Film Festival in America

We have always been interested in Polish Cinema which has a surprising amount of hidden gems to offer. Beginning with the silent films from the first decade of last century, through the Iron Curtain times, to modern Polish cinematography, Poland has managed to create many interesting pieces – and receive 12 Oscars in the process.

While the newer productions from Poland have certainly been heavily influenced by Hollywood, they always have this indie feel to them and often seem more realistic – and at the same time slightly less action-packed -than those made here in America (think Rambo).

The newest war drama directed by Paweł Chochlew is no different. As is the tradition in this genre of Polish cinema, “Secret of Westerplatte” tells the story of a heroic battle of the Polish Armed Forces against an overwhelming odds.

The story revolves around the first battle of the Second World War, that is the defense of Westerplatte, a Polish Army depot on a small peninsula in the Baltic Sea port city of Gdańsk (often known by its German name Danzig) against the onslaught of German troops. Some 200 Polish soldiers held out for seven days against 3,400 German soldiers backed by air support and heavy artillery fire from a German battleship SMS Schleswig-Holstein.

We went to watch the show in a movie theater as part of the Polish Film Festival in America. Our group composed of both Americans and Polish-Americans who were born and raised in Poland, thus having formal education in both Polish language, as well as Polish history. Regardless of the backgrounds, all members of our group enjoyed the film tremendously. What we all seemed to enjoy the most was the realism of the story and the action. The film very accurately portrayed not only the heroism of Polish soldiers but also their weaker points. While one group was helplessly, yet courageously, charging through sandy dunes of the Baltic coast against the rain of bullets from German machine guns, another was afraid to obey their orders and leave their fortifications, because of heavy artillery fire. This sense of realism was heightened by little things, such as soldiers having troubles with their bolt action rifles and the German troops, who looked and behaved no different from their Polish counterparts.

While our group unanimously agreed that the movie was well worth seeing, we’ve later heard reports from Poland criticizing it.

Some, in their native Poland, judged the movie anti-patriotic, because – contrary to the established tradition of portraying Polish soldiers as both heroes and martyrs – it showed the flaws of character, disarray, and breakdown in command of the Polish unit. We beg to disagree. Taking the realist route, was a bold move on the part of the producers and it has paid off. It showed the reality of war  and the less-heroic scenes only served to heighten the drama of the situation and stress the real sacrifice made by the defenders of Westerplatte.

Moreover, critics suggest that the movie was historically inaccurate. The administration of the current Polish Prime Minister declined to accept the media patronage of the movie, because after reading the screen play, they decided it “has nothing to do with historical truth and is simply a literary fiction.”

The resident history buff of our group felt that the film seemed pretty accurate from the view point of History, so we decided to investigate those claims. After browsing several Polish film review websites, we found that the “historical inaccuracies” usually meant the aforementioned fact that the movie did not align with the genre of the heroic Polish soldier.

We thoroughly enjoyed the movie and have not found it anti-Polish in the slightest and would recommend it to anybody (the screening included English subtitles) interested in history, foreign cultures, or simply those who liked war and action movies.

While the Internet Movie Database gave the film only 4.6 out of 10 – compared with the 6.7 for the black and white version from 1967 entitled simply Westerplatte – we feel no reservation to give it a sold 7/10!

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