The Passenger

Andrzej Munk

Poland, 1963



Phenomena of Nazi concentration camps
Humanism, human behaviour in extreme situations, responsibility for one’s own choices


1. How does telling the camp story from the perspective of a German overseer change the film’s message?
2. Is Andrzej Munk’s film a judgement over Liza’s conduct and an accusation of the criminal system?
3. How is the character of Marta constructed and what is her function in the plot?
4. What is the role of Walter and the present-day part of the story that is connected to him?



The concentration camp on a documentary film-maker’s camera


The assembly, or the final confrontation


• What film genre does the presented sequence belong to?
• What characteristics of a documentary film can be found in the footage?
• Is the presented sequence necessary to understand the plot development? If not, what is its function?
• Is the presented sequence of subjective or objective nature? Give reasons for your answer.
• What is the basic structural principle of the footage? How are the frames composed and what types of shots are used by the director?
Is the sequence aimed at shocking the audience with the vision of the camp’s cruelty?


• How would you describe the relations between Marta and Liza in that scene? How do they change?
• Why does Marta change the content of the kite to a love letter?
• What is the meaning of Marta’s changing vocal modulation during reading?
• Which of the two protagonists emerges victorious from the confrontation and why?
• Does Liza treat Marta only as her subordinate? What are her feelings to the prisoner?
• Why Liza does not admit to having made a mistake before her superiors and slanders her colleague Inga? What is the purpose of that scene?
• Why Liza chooses Marta, of all people, to be her pet?


Andrzej Munk’s film is not a “camp story” in a traditional understanding. Instead, the director offers the audience a new fresh look at the topic. In contrast to classic works of that genre, the film does not present an apocalyptic vision of Auschwitz, which is so well-known, and does not put emphasis on the motive of extermination, but focuses on the psychological struggle between two women:
Liza and Marta. Thus, it is not so much a war film as a psychological drama. However, despite applying such a technique, does the film discuss the issues of concentration camps and the war in an interesting way?
The director avoids shocking the audience with brutality or naturalistic exaggeration. Due to the sparing use of the means of expression, conciseness of narrative, toned-down characters and realistic set (the shooting took place in a former concentration camp), Munk’s film makes an impression of a documentary.
The Passenger is a film that is incomplete, unfinished. For example, the present-day part of the story takes the form of freeze-frames. The shooting was interrupted by the tragic death of the director, who died on his way to Łódź, where he was supposed to collect some pieces of scenery. Thus, a part of the planned shooting never took place, while a part of the remaining footage did not satisfy the director and he wanted to film those scenes again. When he was gone, nobody wanted to finish the film. Only after many months did the head of the “Camera” Film Team that produced the The Passenger manage to persuade Munk’s friend, Witold Lesiewicz, to not so much finish the work as put all the footage together.
Do you think it was a right decision? Did that decision result in making a film that is incomplete and mutilated, or rather a unique masterpiece due to that very incompleteness and, at same time, ambiguity?
Who is the “author” of the film – Andrzej Munk or Witold Lesiewicz, who was responsible for the final result? Has the resignation of the development (additional shooting) of the presentday part of the story made the film less appealing to the audience?


Students should be divided into three groups. Each group watches one retrospective part of the film. All students watch the beginning.
Step 1
Each group works separately to create a psychological portrait of Liza on the basis of the watched retrospective scene. The members of the group think about the reasons of the character’s reaction when seeing a stranger woman aboard the ship. They try to predict the further course of action.
Step 2
The groups compare their conclusions and then all students together try to track the character’s development, visualize her evolution and understand her motives. They also think about the issue of collective and individual responsibility in the face of extreme situations.
Step 3
All students watch the whole film together. Then each of them verify his or her speculations and shortly judges Liza’s conduct and her moral choices in writing.



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