Andrzej Wajda created a fascinating, piercingly critical
work kept in dark shades. (…) It is clear that The Promised Land is one of the most cinematographic of Wajda’s films. In other words, the director conveys his message almost solely through images. He thinks in images and includes in them his judgement of the presented reality. (…) That great film painting (…) has some Goya-like features. It is not a caricature, parody or grotesque, but a study of physicality subordinated to moral ugliness, which epitomizes glaring crudeness. (…) The Promised Land shows us capitalism as uncivilized, raw, more real, a kind of manifestation of the savage human nature itself.
Świat bez grzechu, „Kino” 1974, issue 12
The vision of the city presented by Wajda is shocking. Dirty, ominous factories are contrasted with palaces basking in luxury, but also revealing the lack of taste and culture of their owners, such as Muller’s residence. It brings to mind descriptions by Dickens, Zola and Gorky, as well as the naturalistic paintings from that period (Corota, early Van Gogh, Edvard Munch) and a bit later works of German expressionists, such as Knopf, Meidner or Grosz – witnesses of the social protest.
“Écran”, Paris, March 1976
The city in Wajda’s firm is unambiguously juxtaposed with a country estate of the gentry, which is symbolically linked to all moral values. It can be noticed, for instance, in the contrast between the scene of a morning prayer and the first two scenes in Kurów. However, that contrast is most striking in the central sequence of the film, in which the father and Anka, having left the sold manor house, go to Łódź. It is a real journey from Arcadia to hell, captured in a two-minute cut. A juxtaposition of an evil urban behemoth with an idyllic, romanticized country manor house.
Thanks to Wajda’s film adaptation, the audience could re-discover: “Reymont, an unrestrained naturalist and expressionist, a brutal observer of “the horrendous farce of life”, an instinctive portraitists of a collection of characters: exaggerated, dehumanized, psychopathologic. (…) Reymont – a medium who involuntarily recorded the sociological processes of underlying unrest, fermentation and emergence of a modern Polish society, the transformation of its structure from predominantly agricultural into agricultural and industrial, from rural into urban, from manorial into bourgeois and capitalist, from caste into relatively democratic; Reymont – the explorer of a modern metropolis with all its cosmopolitanism, dynamism, diversity and abundance of life, but also stupefying slavery of mechanical work, ghastly omnipotence of money, cheapness of use and spiritual decay.”
Pandemonium Reymonta i Wajdy, „Kino” 1974, issue 12, p. 2-9
The dominant characteristics of the novel’s language (emotional emphasis, the world presented through contrasts, the use of hyperbole, elements of turpism, i.e. aesthetics of ugliness, expressiveness of totality) can be “also noticed in the imagery used in the film adaptation of The Promised Land. The expressionistic “fretfulness of artistic form” is, after all, the main feature of Andrzej Wajda’s work.
„Polska klasyka literacka według Andrzeja Wajdy”
The creators of the film adaptation take a very critical look at mankind. The three protagonists, “ Łódź brothers”, intelligent friends who crave for immediate success, are presented against a background of (…) financial tycoons who had been making their fortunes for years. To make a career, they give up many values they used to believe in, and finally kill the very friendship that was their original driving force.
The most ruthless one is Karol, who is the focal character of the story. The descendant of the gentry breaks the ties that connect him with his past and tradition. All that matters to him are economical calculations and scheming that shape all his decisions, emotions and relations with people around him. He does not hesitate to ruin the lives of his loved ones – he moves his father from rural Arcadia to hostile Łódź and put aside his love to Anka as an obstacle in the way of a marriage that would bring him a fortune.
Moryc Welt deceives not only his friends and partners. He is also cunning in his approach to other people, and capable of calculated financial manoeuvres, especially with regard to his fellow Jews, if it only gives him money to start a business with his friends.
Maks Baum, although sometimes being Borowiecki’s voice of conscience, is also a man who first of all wants to climb a social ladder, make money and become independent from his honest father whom he despise, pointing out his unfavourable – in his opinion – German characteristics (such as conscientiousness and diligence).
All those characters betray the worlds they originated from and the values that shaped them. A Pole, a German, a Jew – they all play the same ruthless game whose sole goal is to make money. Everything in their essentially empty lives revolves around growing wealthy. Money is the driving force for their intelligence, their energy source and a common goal that unites them in their financial community. That community, however, exists only as long as it is needed to gain, get hold of and accumulate money, as the youthful friendship turns into… a business partnership.
Wajda’s main device to counterbalance Reymont’s vision of a “monstrous city” is (…) the pandemonium of fire. (…) In the film the motif of fire “on demand”, which is at first present in the background, as fire engines pass by and we can hear their sirens, reaches an infernal climax in the vision of the burning factory of Karol, Moryc and Maks. In that sequence fire not only destroys the goal of the friends’ dreams, but also shatters the illusion that anyone who lives in that city is able to keep following any other system of values than that which rules it. The final moral decay of Borowiecki begins in the face of fire – a symbol of the demonic evil of “the Promised Land.”
„Polska klasyka literacka według Andrzeja Wajdy”
The character of Karol serves in the film as an excuse for dealing with the romantic tradition that forms the basis of Polish patriotism. Borowiecki is a doubly alienated protagonist – not only uprooted from the rural surroundings of a country estate where he grew up and where his loved ones remained, but also deprived of his homeland, doing business with the occupying forces. His fight for a better life in the Łódź industrial jungle certainly does not make him a character without blemish. He is cruel to his subordinates, insensitive to the fate of his workers, whom he perceives like easily-replaceable cogs in the industrial machine (which can be concluded from his conversation with Horn), and ready to make a deal with anyone who can prove useful to him. He eagerly serves his employer and patiently works for his own position. As the plot develops, we can watch his increasing moral decline.
A universal film story about the evil power of money
“The Promised Land” shows that the only thing that really matters is money. It makes people forget about such basic human values as love, friendship and nobleness, and force them to get rid of any moral principles. Three fragments of the film put particular emphasis on that pessimistic message. The first one is the sequence of a prayer of the representatives of three Łódź religions – a Pole Wilczek sings a Marian song, while a German Bucholc says “Our Father”, and a Jew Grunspan prays in his own language. After that morning ritual, all of them set out to do business in a cruel, ruthless manner. The second sequence, which takes place at the theatre, shows how that temple of art is desecrated with money and business. The audience is clearly not looking for aesthetic experience. They have turned the theatre into a stock exchange, a place to make trade deals. The funeral of an industrialist Bucholc is treated in a similar manner. They meet not to pay their last respect to the deceased, but for practical or social purposes. When they find out that the customs duty on cotton was increased, they leave the ceremony in panic. This is how money takes place of faith and art, resulting in a moral decay of the Łódź industrial society.