Where the Devil Says Goodnight

Documentary (with parts docudrama) short about the Warsaw district of Targówek, which in 1956 was impoverished, still-buried under uncleared rubble from the war, and the cruel victim of forgotten government promises. Original title: Gdzie diabeł mówi dobranoc

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What strikes one most about Where the Devil Says Goodnight is the tone: grim, mournful, critical. Gone are the slogan-happy workers building a better socialist tomorrow of yester-film; and, in their place: no tomorrow at all. A bombed out cemetery reminds of the destruction of World War II. Afterwards, in a sequence: years fly by, plans are drawn, and reports are pounded out by a secretary’s typewriter—all announcing the fantastic utopia to come. The reality, however, doesn’t conform: nothing has been completed; everyone drinks, everyone smokes, kids steal and gamble; bars exist, but no work; a scene of lovemaking breaks out into a fight. A train whizzes by, leaving Targówek behind. An image repeated: “House of Culture” painted haphazardly on a rickety fence. According to plans, there should already be a “house of culture” here; in reality, there’s only that old sign and a small gymnasium where young men play table tennis, trade pigeons, conglomerate. It’s hope, as the narrator tells us, but on a small scale. Is this Warsaw or the third world? Are these the underclassmen of a classless society? Somewhere next door, the Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science (1956, remember!) is already standing, apartments are going up, the city and country are rebuilding. In Targówek, however, wartime perseveres. Equality is permanently on hold. The post-war cinema bloomed in Germany and Italy with “rubble films”; in 1956, it was still possible to make a “rubble film” in this part of Warsaw—its destruction uncleared, its future uncertain.

Although many of Karabasz’s images are striking, it’s as a document that Where the Devil Says Goodnight becomes twice-valuable: its content a reminder of a regime that failed, its existence evidence of one entering a phase of opening and change.

Kazimierz Karabasz & Władysław Ślesicki, 1956

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