Glasgow 2015: 'Warsaw Uprising' review

★★★☆☆
There are a number of dichotomies at the heart of Warsaw Uprising (2014), a new film directed by Jan Komasa and masterminded by the Warsaw Uprising Museum. The most pronounced of these is its blend of documentary and fiction, and the effects of both. The former comes through six hours of footage mined from the Polish Propaganda Bureau which has been painstakingly colourised, and an immaculately accurate soundscape added, to provide a frankly astonishing visceral reportage account of the titular Second World War combat. Juxtaposed with it is a overcooked fictionalised narrative, told through voiceover, detailing a trio of cameramen capturing the action.

Karol (Piotr Adamczyk) and Witek (Maciej Nawrocki) are brothers charged with making a film as a testimony to the uprising which commenced on 1 August, 1944. "In 75 years no one will remember" one of the brothers intones at one point, but fortunately this footage, shot by a dozen cameramen throughout the war (who are conflated into the two fictional characters) means that recollection has not faltered. From the hours of scratched, strained and silent black and white material recovered, a fantastic restoration has taken place which yanks the 87-minute film right into the 21st century. It could almost be a newly made docudrama. It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking about certain times in history in the monochrome of old photos and newsreels, something Warsaw Uprising addresses.

As suggested by the film's producers, the techniques employed here - that involved colourising thousands of individual frames, sourcing authentic sound effects, and lip-reading dialogue - pull back the curtain for modern audiences. The result is an extraordinary experience that not only documents the events but truly brings the Warsaw of the period to life; from the vibrant and dynamic city of the thirties, to the irrepressible resolve in the face of combat. From a bustling soup kitchen, to a dog "to show he stayed". It's hard to imagine how the film would play without the aforementioned voiceover narrative, but it does soften the visceral impact of the images. This is especially true with the character of Howard (Jeff Burrell), an American veteran turned BBC correspondent who has been added to the film specifically for its international release. He's pretext for contextualising exposition which is apparent as such at every turn and the dialogue itself is very poorly written and delivered. It's a shame as the brunt of Warsaw Uprising is incredible to behold; it's concurrently sublime and ridiculous but certainly worth seeking out.

The full Glasgow Film Festival 2015 programme, ticketing details and more can be viewed at glasgowfilm.org.

Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson

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