City on the Islands

Docu-short critical of the post-war reconstruction of Warsaw, which, the film argues, shattered the city into an island chain. Original title: Miasto na wyspach

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The Soviet-built Palace of Culture and Science

A funny thing happened on the way to the pałac kultury: the narrator stopped talking. The trip began with shots of crowds and trams with a voice-over joining everything together and coming to conclusions (sometimes incorrectly: an increase in the number of tram rides per person doesn’t necessarily mean that a city is expanding; its tram lines could also be getting shorter), but then the voice-over changed, became less subjective, and, finally, resorted only to stating the locations (“We are several metres west of the centre.”) of each shot. Pictures took over from words: “The camera does not enter into polemics […] The camera records images on film.” What images? First, pictures of the outskirts of Warsaw being rebuilt—of housing blocks going up on farm land and cows grazing near building sites. That’s sensible; when there’s no more room in the city, the city expands. But then we see pictures of the city centre. And there is room. Uncleared rubble looks like frothy waves upon an empty sea. What, then, the film asks, is Warsaw [and why is it becoming a donut]? Interlude: A particularly playful and noteworthy shot compresses the distance between foreground and background so that the size of the girl playing by the camera makes the car that passes behind (and below) her look like a toy. But these are all just images arranged in a certain order. Surely they can’t really be critical or supportive of anything. Surely! The last shot—as the narrator places us: “Thirteenth year of the reconstruction of the capital city. The city centre. The year 1958.”—looks like a burial mound. Warsaw is dead, Warsaw is buried. Long live Warsaw.

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Dead and buried?

Build a bridge to the City on the Islands, or go by boat. Bring a compass.

Jan Dmowski & Bohdan Kosiński, 1958

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One thought on “City on the Islands

  1. Pingback: From Powiśle | the Norman Crane

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