Eroica stands for many as a shining example. One might not expect to see a comedy about the horrors of the WWII just over a decade after its conclusion, but Munk uses his genre to skewer Polish ideas of wartime heroism. Wajda's Kanal (1957) also questioned nostalgic heroism during the Warsaw Uprising, but whereas his effort emphasised the tragedy, Munk's work is laced with caustic irony (the film itself opens with the subtitle 'A Heroic Symphony in Two Parts').
Amidst the smoking ruins of a bombed out Poland, appears Dzidziuś (Edward Dziewonski) a soused opportunist who deserts his drills amidst an air raid only to find himself reluctantly embroiled in negotiations between the Home Army and the Hungarian military. In an attempt to avoid his adulterous wife, he takes on the mission of communicating between the two parties traipsing back and forth through war-torn countryside even when too drunk to walk straight - out of self interest, not patriotism. The first section is both the more overtly comedic and a allows for a fraction more visual flourish, both in the form of Dzidziuś' drunken foray. A largely slapstick affair, it brings the biggest belly laughs and affords opportunities for some neat sight gags. The second of the two sketches - both of which were penned by Jerzy Stefan Stawinski - shifts the focus to a prisoner of war camp.
Munk and Stawinski are less interested in exposing the realities of wartime valour than debunking legendary bravery. A group of soldiers labour on in confinement, given hope purely by the recent escape of their comrade Zawistowski. As a newly interned officer soon discovers, however, Zawistowski is in fact secreted in the overhead pipes hiding from the Gestapo, rather than living it up in England as his old friends believe. Eroica tells these stories with a droll comic touch that expertly subverts heroic ideals while always remaining quietly compelling and respectful to those that fought and lost their lives. One wonders what Munk may have gone on to do with a longer career.
The 13th Kinoteka runs from 8 April - 29 May. The full 2015 programme, ticketing details and more can be viewed at kinoteka.org.uk. You can follow our coverage here.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson
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