Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s 1957 precedes the only two other films of his I’ve seen – Night Train and Mother Joan of the Angels. Both of those films are masterful and more polished than The Real End to the Great War, but I really love this more contained effort.
Roland Glowacki plays Juliusz, a concentration camp survivor, who is now mute to the dismay of his wife Róza (Lucyna Winnicka).
Here’s an early scene (sorry for no sound, but I’m more interested in the camera here anyway) that is one of the best in the film:
I love everything about this clip, but mostly the absolute joy on Juliusz’s face. It’s a beaming, alive performance, and one that contrasts so harshly and heartbreakingly with the present and other past of the film.
The speed with which the camera spins will become relevant later in the film, but it’s also so bold and free. The moment where a younger, happier Juliusz and Róza see themselves in the mirror could be Lady in the Lake-gimmicky, but because of what precedes it, and because of how POV is used throughout the film, it’s not at all.
Later we connect Juliusz’s dancing with his other past, when, at a party, he goes into a fit and starts spinning uncontrollably:
Kawalerowicz hides a cut on the 360 whip pans and we move back in time:
It’s not only that the scene is well-designed individually, it’s how different the two dancing scenes are – that’s where the real power is. I love this idea that joy and despair can exist on such a similar spectrum.
There are later scenes in The Real End to the Great War (a long, perfect title) that are also quite difficult. The film is about PTSD, but it’s also about their smaller, individual struggles (Juliusz buying flowers, practicing speaking, writing letters; Róza resisting (or not resisting) temptation) and that’s what makes it feel so relatable.
I mentioned this same thing when talking about Berlanga: Kawalerowicz uses extras in ways that I’m really interested in for my own filmmaking. He often starts with them and brings them to the main characters.
In The Real End to the Great War the extras are so often young couples in love:
It’s another contrast in a film full of them. There’s another scene that combines most of Kawalerowicz’s ideas into one sequence. A young couple comes into a bar and we cut to their POV, eventually landing on Róza and her companion in a booth:
We cut back to them as a waitress offers them a booth. They decline saying theirs is taken. At first we don’t get it for the joke it is:
We get a cut to Róza as she looks at another, younger couple, clearly in love-
-and we get the idea that the booths are the best because you can kiss your lover with more privacy. Another young couple gets in, and see the same situation, but they turn the music on loud, forcing Róza to get up and leave:
Her departure motivates the camera back to the young couple, who watches smugly, and then the same waitress brings us back to her companion who also leaves, by himself:
This scene has the extras bringing us to and from main characters, the contrast of young and old, the contrast of true love and something not quite that, and an extensive three-part joke. It’s such a great look at the current times, and at what Róza’s life was likely once like.