August 18, 2010 7:30 PM
Dir. Slawomir Grunberg, 2009. Here is the trailer for the film on YouTube.
The events of March '68 are still somewhat obscure in Poland. The political background is known, as are the film archives, and press coverage. However, little is known about how it was to grow up in Poland of the sixties as a Polish Jew, or as a Pole of Jewish origin. How it was to be a kid in the heart of a country still recovering from a horrific war, in a family severed by the Holocaust, and then to come of age and experience first loves at the outbreak of the disturbing March events. The experience of the 'Peretz School' pupils in Lodz in some way reflects the experience of the Jewish minority in Poland in the 50 and 60 of the previous century. It is the experience of adolescents nevertheless, who were much more interested in the Beatles than they were in politics. It was the latter, however, which caused for most of them to scatter all over the world, creating a peculiar phenomenon of a Polish-Jewish Diaspora integrated today in so many countries' identities.
The Peretz graduates' experience shows that though they were made to leave Poland, they never quite said goodbye, not quite to Poland and certainly not to old friendships. The emotions they show are not nostalgia, but rather a real part of their lives. This documentary is not another film about immigration. Nor is it a film about nostalgia for school years. "That school was our entire life" - one of the characters in the film says. "It wasn't just a school... it was a way of life" - says another. The Peretz school created a peculiar microcosm, where one could have a sense of security, but - most importantly - a sense of community. It was a common experience of the 'Peretzniks' that they were born in families affected by the Holocaust. For most, this meant not having any grandparents, or aunts or uncles, and often not having any siblings. The school was in some sense an extended foster family and an oasis, where our characters could feel like 'normal' kids.
8/20: A very interesting film, well balanced, moving, very warm and funny, too, despite the fact that the reason for closing the Peretz School was rooted in horrid events. The former students featured in the film are my generation or up to 10+ years older - it was strange to think about their lot back then Poland, in 1986, when my life was totally unaffected by it all...
It is quite often in life that we live in the world that we think we know, yet some events pass us by, as if they happened in some parallel universe. By the time I was able to think about 1986 on my own there was mainly the 'official version' which didn't make much sense, while the people involved, who might shed some light on how it was for them, were already gone. Even all those years later, when somebody mentioned being a Jew who left Poland after 1968 I kept wondering 'so where is that story, from their point of view?' But life moved on and snippets of the past was all to be gathered in conversations; so for me the film was finally THAT story.
It was fascinating to watch old documentary footage too: by the time the party secretary Gomulka (featured in the film) reached my consciousness he was an old drooling party hack, with a touch of senility. In the film he appears in his prime: menacing, calculating evil man, who will say anything for political advantage, knowing very well the effect it will have on some people's lives and having no remorse about it. And the whole propaganda machine that went with it: people lined up to clap en masse during his speech to make it all more convincing; pretty horrifying thought on how many haters of Jews that one speech must have produced (5 minutes earlier they probably had no feelings one way or another on the subject).
Completely off the main topic of the film: I found the aspect of homage to the old teachers very touching - to see the former students finding them and watching with them clips of the film on the computer... How many teachers ever experience that, or even know what happened to their pupils?
Oh, and the skype interview with the director did happen: Slawek was very courteous and generous toward us, and offered to wait until AFTER the movie, despite the fact that we connected coast to coast while his part of the country was already mostly asleep. It was very helpful and much better conversation, than if we had it before the movie, as planned - thank you, Slawku!
P.S. I've been alerted that posting comments on this blog is confusing (i used a template, know nothing about writing codes), so on the right side of the page, I included instructions which hopefully clear it up.