Olgierd Lukaszewicz as Emil August Fieldorf in "General Nil."
"General Nil" is a 2009 film based on Fieldorf. "General Nil" is graced with unimpeachable production values, an unforgetable, heartbreaking and bracing central performance by Olgierd Lukaszewicz, and a story that needs to be told. Right now, though, it is almost unknown, and available in limited DVD versions.
I sat down to watch this movie knowing what hardcore film fans don't want to know: the entire plot, and ending, of the movie. And I knew it would be an uhappy ending. What's amazing about "General Nil" is that director Ryszard Bugajski managed to make a movie-movie, a genuinely – I have to say this -- entertaining and aesthetically pleasing film about the worst crimes humanity has committed, and the victims of the worst monsters.
I finished this film feeling not at all depressed or crushed as I expected, but with the feeling of satisfaction that a masterful film can create in its viewers. In this, "General Nil" is comparable to "A Man for All Seasons." Paul Scofield plays St. Thomas More, a main character every viewer knows is going to die, crushed to death by historical conflicts beyond his control. Even so, it's a great film, and one you love having watched after you've finished.
"General Nil" offers the eye candy film fans demand: aesthetically composed, interesting images: a train chugging off to the snowy wastes of Siberia, vintage 1940s and 1950s clothing, hairstyles and automobiles, on-location architecture and interiors. It also offers intrigue and insights into real historical events of world historical importance: young and gorgeous Polish Home Army, or Armia Krajowa soldiers carry out the assassination of a Nazi villain; Poles debate their fate as they await aid from their allies, the United States and Great Britain.
In spite of its epic sweep, the film offers the intimate moments we go to movies to see. Fieldorf, back from Siberia, finds a 78 rpm record that somehow survived the war. He puts it on an old victrola, and reminds his wife of an easier, luckier night from their past, when they were able to dance and flirt and not worry about tomorrow. Then, these two wrinkled, wounded people – wounded inside and out – force their bodies through romantic dance movies. In this attempt at romance, and even love, in spite of all they have been through, Fieldorf and his wife are as brave as any two characters could be.
Fieldorf is seen in a vile Soviet dungeon alongside other Home Army veterans – and a notorious Nazi. It was the Soviet's perverse plan to equate Polish Home Army veterans with Nazis: of course: up is down, wrong is right, and the Party decides all. Even in that setting, pregnant with historical significance, the director does not forget to create a small, human moment. Fieldorf's response to the Nazi, once on his hit list, now his fellow prisoner, results in one of the film's most touching and challenging scenes.
„General Nil's” Soviets are appropriately reptilian, including Helen Wolinska Brus, the Stalinist judge who condemned Fieldorf to death, and Jozef Rozanski, a torturer who manages to appear ready for a cocktail party set to Cole Porter tunes after a workday of blowing out the brains of heroic Home Army veterans. Rozanski was a real person, and a real torturer, having tortured some of the finest human beings who ever lived, including Witold Pilecki.
Fieldorf is not depicted as perfect. He doesn't know how to do the right thing for his wife and children, and it's not clear, in any case, what the right thing might be. When approached by a hot blooded young Home Army veteran who wants to continue the war they'd fought against the Nazis, only now against the Soviets, Fieldorf raises his hand to slap the younger man's face, but, when he makes contact, all he can do is caress the younger man, and then walk away, silent, shoulders slumped, his posture an acknowledgement of Poland's doomed fate after being betrayed by her American allies, the United States and Great Britan, at Yalta.
I thought I'd be biting the bullet throughout this film, thought it would be like a visit to the dentist – painful but good for you, something you're glad when it's over.
In fact the film was gripping and rewarding to watch, and … did I say that there is an unhappy ending? Maybe … and maybe not. Fieldorf was a man, a real man, and, in this, he was utterly victorious. Spending two hours with him was my good fortune.
PS: „Bieganski” mentions Helen Wolinska Brus, the Soviet judge who condemned Fieldorf to death. Poland asked England to extradite her in order that she might face justice for her crime. She never did. She said she refused to return to Poland, „the country of Auschwitz.” „Bieganski” provides the context necessary to understand her comment.
And one more PS: I owe great thanks to my superb hostess here in Poland, Malgorzata, without whom I would have remained unaware of the existence of this not-to-be-missed film.