T. it.: Il tramonto degli eroi. T. int.: The First Day of Freedom. Scen.: Bohdan Czeszko. F.: Tadeusz Wieżan. M.: Mirosława Garlicka. Scgf.: Tadeusz Wybult. Mus.: Kazimierz Serocki. Int.: Tadeusz Łomnicki (Jan), Beata Tyszkiewicz (Inga Rhode), Tadeusz Fijewski (Dr. Rhode), Ryszard Barycz (Michał), Krzysztof Chamiec (Hieronym), Roman Kłosowski (Karol), Mieczysław Stoor (Paweł), Elżbieta Czyżewska (Luzzi Rhode). Prod.: Zespół Filmowy Studio. 35mm. D.: 93′. Bn.
The life of Aleksander Ford (1908-81) has the elements for more than one tragic and ambiguous film. Born in Kiev from Jewish parents, Ford got involved with both communists and the pioneering START (Stowarzyszenie Miłosników Filmu Artystycznego, Society of Film Art Devotees) film group in pre-war Poland. During WWII he escaped to the Soviet Union and joined the Polish army unit, founding this army section’s film division. After the war he avoided no way of rising to power inside the young PRL film industry, including false accusations leading to the imprisonment of his colleagues. On the other hand, no one could have been a more competent persona on top of the pyramid than Ford once he gained power: no single individual did more than he did to raise Polish film to world fame through establishing wonderful education and production facilities for the younger generation. Although scoring one of the biggest hits of Polish cinema with Knights of the Black Cross (1960), towards the end of the 60s he found himself in conflict with the authorities, and after the anti-Zionist campaign of 1968 he was left without the possibility of continuing to work in Poland. All that was left for Ford was sad oblivion in exile, a couple of mediocre directorial attempts in the West, and a lonely suicide in a hotel room in Florida.
The ironically named The First Day of Freedom was the last film Ford directed in Poland. In many ways it sums up all the war films made by his own students from Wajda to Munk, and in an uncompromising way it surpasses them all in revealing the sheer brutality of the war.
The taboo subject of raping German civilians at the final stage of the war is broken during the first fifteen minutes. All in all, The First Day of Freedom is one of the most profound studies of women’s abuse and demolition under the masculine war machine. The result is not unlike De Sica’s Two Women – only much, much more elemental, dark and fierce.
The film has mainly collected praise for its dialogue, but at least as important are the leading players (Tadeusz Łomnicki as a Polish officer, Beata Tyszkiewicz and Tadeusz Fijewski as a German doctor couple) and Tadeusz Wieżan’s hysterical black and white cinematography, which introduces – among other things – some of the most effective uses of the zoom lens in cinema history. A rare jewel to catch nowadays outside Poland, The First Day of Freedom is a potential classic, waiting to be elevated to the canon of the finest war films of all time.