The Promised Land

Andrzej Wajda

Poland, 1975

TEACHER GUIDE

DETAILS

History of Industry in the 19th

ISSUES

Modernity vs. Tradition,
Melting Pot of Different Cultures in One Nation,
Formation of Big, Industrial Cities

THE FILM

Andrzej Wajda
“So we started our great adventure with the city that each day revealed to us new fragments of its exceptional past. I knew Łódź. I had lived there for four years during my studies, but I never liked that city. Now it took its revenge on me for my indifference in those years. When the film was nominated for an Oscar, the most fierce arguments in Hollywood were about the cost of all that which we could see on the screen. Usually, in case of a historical film, a set is constructed or existing facilities are adapted – some fragments are added, for example, to cover the modern elements. In Łódź, however, the old 19th-century buildings were preserved and the enormous walled-in factory complexes that included old railway stations, palaces and warehouses have remained unaltered since the begging of the century. That rich set did not cost anything. It was there, ready to take it, as if it was waiting for our film.”

Complete text: http://lodz.wyborcza.pl/

I was finishing post-synchronization of “The Deluge”, when Andrzej Wajda said that he was going to film “The Promised Land” – Daniel Olbrychski recollected in a special anniversary interview. – I had read Reymont’s novel a few year earlier and had found it a bit dull. So, I was a little surprised that Andrzej wanted to adapt such a boring story. However, by then I had already had every confidence in whatever Wajda would have offered, as each time the results – his films – were excellent. Thus, I decided to throw myself in at the deep end. I told him that I was going to “play for him Kmicic of the capitalist era.”

“It is one of those roles I would wish to any actor,” tells Wojciech Pszoniak. “An actor is a kind of man that goes into the past along with his art. And suddenly he starts playing in films that are soon forgotten and “die of natural causes,” so to speak. But “The Promised Land” is different. That film is still alive.

Source: http://www.portalfilmowy.pl/wydarzenia,5,20876,0,1,Byla-nam-kiedys-dana-ziemia-obiecana.html

REVIEWS

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.

Konrad Eberhardt,
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.

Max Tessier
“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.

http://www.edukacjafilmowa.pl/materialy-edukacyjne/opracowania-filmow/item/204-ziemia-obiecana

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.”
Tomasz Burek
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.

E. Nurczyńska-Fidelska
„Polska klasyka literacka według Andrzeja Wajdy”

Reviews B
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.

Source: http://www.edukacjafilmowa.pl/materialy-edukacyjne/opracowania-filmow/item/204-ziemia-obiecana

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.

Source:http://www.edukacjafilmowa.pl/materialy-edukacyjne/opracowania-filmow/item/204-ziemia-obiecana

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.”
E. Nurczyńska-Fidelska
„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.

Source: http://www.edukacjafilmowa.pl/materialy-edukacyjne/opracowania-filmow/item/204-ziemia-obiecana
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.

Source: http://www.edukacjafilmowa.pl/materialy-edukacyjne/opracowania-filmow/item/204-ziemia-obiecana

How “The Promised Land” was created 

In the first half of the seventies of the previous century Andrzej Wajda met Andrzej Żuławski, who told him that he had read Władysław Reymont’s “The Promised Land” and watched the film “The Palaces of the Promised Land” by Leszek Skrzydło.

“I have to admit that immediately after I had finished reading the novel I had that inner feeling that this was something worthwhile,” Andrzej Wajda said during a special press conference. “I had been studying in Łódź for 3 years, but I had not seen any palaces. I had never been to any weaving mill. Suddenly I thought that it was high time to see Łódź from that perspective. Those workers’ districts, factories… all that intact since the 19th century – well, at least to the extent that allowed to restore them to their former glory with relatively little effort.”

The director’s comments from that period give away his enthusiasm, but also his caution: It is not easy to make ‘The Promised Land’ an interesting film – a film that I would like to watch myself. But this was exactly my driving force. The director declared that his greatest fear was the multitude of sub-plots, characters and events.

The ending was also a dilemma for him. He considered several endings and even shot many unused scenes, as, being a visionary whose films were supposed to provoke reflection and encourage the audience to look at certain phenomena from another perspective, he could, after all, select from among many various possibilities. In his book, the director writes: I was worried about the ending (…) I recorded several version of the final scene, including Karol’s death from a stray bullet that reached him at a ball in his palace. I still keep that beautiful shot by Witold Sobociński in my archives and regret that it was not used.

The first version of the script was prepared by Wajda as early as in 1968. Finally, the authorities granted their permission to start shooting in 1971, following the establishment of the “Iks” film team. In October 1973 Wajda began documentary works in Łódź in cooperation with the set designers Tadeusz Kosarewicz and Maciej Putowski. The first scenes were filmed in November.

A film adaptation of Reymont’s novel was an enormous undertaking. However, it was finished in an incredibly short time – only 77 days. The shooting took place in Łódź, nearby towns and in Silesia, where fragments of 19th-century buildings were preserved.
Complete text: http://lodz.wyborcza.pl/lodz/

HISTORY OF CAPITALISM
The Promised Land shows us capitalism as uncivilized, raw and primeval manifestation of savage human nature.

We watch the inflow of the Polish population from the country to the city; the nobility moves from a white manor house to a tenement house or an industrial baron’s palace; young and ambitious people dream of great careers and give up their ancestral heritage (the manor house, the pre-industrial manufacture) to raise capital and become factory owners.

The city in Wajda’s firm is unambiguously juxtaposed with a country estate of the gentry, which is symbolically linked to such values as tradition, honour and nobleness. It can be noticed, for instance, in the contrast between the sequence showing Łódź waking up and the morning prayer of the followers of various religions, and the 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 single two-minute cut – the juxtaposition of evil, grey-and-brown urban behemoth with idyllic, romanticized manor house and impressionistic images of colourful fields and forests.
The city at the beginning of the 19th century is presented in The Promised Land as brimming with wealth and splendour on the one hand, and poverty on the other hand. What really gave rise to fortunes of German and Jewish industrialists (Muller’s and Bucholc’s palaces, carriages, clothes and jewellery) was exploitation of their workers. Appearance of cultural life conceals the fact that in that world the most important thing is money. Expressionist shots show people at the theatre: dynamic camera movements and distorted, demonic faces seen though a wide-angle lens.

Wajda presents naturalistic images of the city and the life of its residents. The audience can see dirty, gaunt faces of the workers who came from the country in search of a better life. They live in hovels or on the streets, waiting for hours in front of the gate to get a job. Particular emphasis has been put on the conditions in the factory that employed also children and pregnant women: the noise, dirt, chemical contamination, frequent accidents. Workers were not provided with any kind of medical and social care. When they are sick, they have to beg for support. The employers look with contempt at their workers (e.g. the scene of reading letters by Bucholc) and abuse young female workers sexually (e.g. Zosia’s story, the orgy with forced workers at Kessler’s).

Study on the basis of: http://www.edukacjafilmowa.pl/materialy-edukacyjne/opracowania-filmow/item/204-ziemia-obiecana

Topic: The World in the Eyes of the 19th Century Lodz Dwellers and Now – The Promised Land by A. Wajda

Author Justyna Całczyńska

Stage of education: senior high school

Duration: 1 lesson (excluding the film screening)

Lesson objectives:
Describing the protagonists;
Describing the world of capitalists and workers;
Showing the role of music in the film;
Presenting the universalism of the film;
Developing teamwork skills;
Work method: groupwork, brainstorming
Lesson course:
Split the class into 6 groups and distribute worksheets (attachment 1) with questions for students to answer.
The representatives of the first 3 groups show the results of their work. You make a summary of the protagonists’ descriptions, asking the young people to provide the one feature that is most characteristic of all of them.
The remaining groups share the information they collected.
Sum up this part of the lesson, which presented the image of 19th century Lodz, highlighting the clear division into capitalists and workers. Point out to the fact that happy, positive events are marked with soft music of waltz while dramatic, dynamic ones – with heavy music. Draw the students’ attention to the unity of young capitalists’ objectives which is the desire to get rich.
Apply the brainstorming method. Ask students to write down on post-it notes the elements of the world presented in the film and the attitudes of the protagonists of The Promised Land that are still valid today.
The students stick their notes on the board. You read out loud the entries written by them and order them thematically. You ask students to give examples from the world around them.
Ask the students what is the reason for the similarities of the vision of the world and human attitudes of 19th and 21st century.
Underline the universalism of topics addressed by the director.

Homework:

Choose one:
Write down the title of the film that tackles the problem of workers’ exploitation and summarize its plot.
Write down a review of The Promised Land film, taking into account the contemporary social and economic context.
Additional materials:

Attachement 1

Group 1
Characterize Karol Borowiecki by answering the following questions:
What is his nationality?
What are his traits of character? Provide examples from the film.
What is the protagonist’s objective?
What are the relations in his family?
How does he behave towards other people?

Group 2
Characterize Moryc Welt by answering the following questions:
What is his nationality?
What are his traits of character? Provide examples from the film.
What is the protagonist’s objective?
What are the relations in his family?
How does he behave towards other people?

Group 3
Characterize Maks Baum by answering the following questions:
What is his nationality?
What are his traits of character? Provide examples from the film.
What is the protagonist’s objective?
What are the relations in his family?
How does he behave towards other people?

Group 4
Present the capitalists’ world by answering the following questions:
Which representatives of this social group can you name?
What conditions do they live and work in?
How do they behave in the theatre?
What are the relations between the representatives of this social group?
What is the attitude of the capitalists to workers?

Group 5
Present the world of workers by answering the following questions:
Which representatives of this social group can you name?
What conditions do they live and work in?
What are the relations between the representatives of this social group?
What is the attitude of the workers to capitalists?

Group 6
What are the 2 main musical themes?
In which situations were they used and why?
What other musical elements are present in The Promised Land?
Source: http://filmotekaszkolna.pl/lekcja-metodyka-scenariusz,118,2065,ed

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