When I got home from chess club on Friday night (yes, this is what my Friday nights have come to), the old man I live with had just begun a strange World War II film called The Resistance Fighter (2019). I have seen a lot of odd movies lately about the last global conflict, namely Ghosts of War (2020) and Company of Heroes (2013). I get it. World War II makes for excellent cinematic fodder. The conflict was about more than Germany and Japan versus, essentially, the world. Because of what the Axis powers represented, it was, then and now, seen as a worldwide struggle of good versus evil. With such lofty ideas to work with, the scripts almost write themselves. And while there are a great number of excellent feature length productions about the conflict, so often they are completely botched. This is the case with The Resistance Fighter. It is a shame, too, because its events lead up to one of the most tragic moments of World War II . . . only to cut the film off just as it gets to the climactic moment. The moment to which I am referring is the 1944 Warsaw uprising, a revolt in the late summer of that year where disgruntled Poles (I am a quarter Polish, by the way) rose up against the Nazi occupation. I do not know what to account for the strange and uneven presentation of this story, other than it seems to have been a joint British and Polish adventure and maybe there are some aspects that were lost in translation?
We are taken first in The Resistance Fighter to Warsaw, Poland, where everything seems pretty normal despite four years of the German army overrunning the place. That is until a German patrol shows up on the streets and decides to make an example of whoever happens to be in the area. The German officer in charge then asks one of the Polish women, Connection Marysia (Patricia Volny) to flip a coin. If it lands on one face, the opposite side of the street will be executed, and vice versa. The coin lands on the facing that means those on the other side are shot. And scene. Next, we are off to a random restaurant in London where Tom Dunbar (Bradley James) is harassing the beautiful Doris (Julie Engelbrecht). Resisting (sorry, could not resist the pun) this effrontery to manners is Jan Nowak-Jezioranski (Philippe Tlokinski). He is an officer in the free Polish Army, the one that had made it to Great Britain after the German invasion of Poland. However, apparently it is not so free because the British have subsumed the Polish units into their own command, meaning the Poles could not operate autonomously. This is a problem for Jan because all he wants to do is make it back to Warsaw to tell the Polish Resistance that their Prime Minister in exile has given their uprising the go-ahead. Jan cannot get to his destination with Allied air support. The preferred method of getting people there, by parachute, is rendered impossible when he breaks his arm during a training jump. He is comforted somewhat by the good graces of Doris, who becomes a love interest while he toils relentlessly to get to Poland. His actions have also earned the interest of a German agent in London, who turns out to be the one-time heckler Tom Dunbar. Eventually, Jan is able to finagle his way onto a British transport headed to mainland Europe, and along another Polish officer he lands at an airfield controlled by the Polish resistance. However, it is not as simple as getting on the ground and catching the next train to Warsaw. Well, almost that easy. You see, his presence is presaged by Dunbar, and the plane he came in on alerts the Germans that he could be in the country. Regardless, he is able to give the slip to the German patrols sent after him and make it to Warsaw. However, the leaders of the resistance are wary of letting Jan in to give them his message, particularly since he lost almost all of his identification in evading the German patrols. Complicating matters is the arrival of Doris, who also turns out to be a German spy and knows exactly where to find Jan. His dealing with Doris, and the assurances from Marysia, who also turns out to be part of the resistance, earns the trust of resistance leader, General Tadeusz “Bór” Komorowski (Grzegorz Malecki). Still, there is some debate as to whether or not to go ahead with the planned uprising. All the Allied countries have agreed that they cannot interfere with Poland as that is in the Russian sphere of influence. The resistance is not keen on Russian assistance either, seeing them as being almost as bad as the Germans. Either way, they come to the conclusion that they have to make a demonstration. Frustratingly, just as they are beginning their ill-fated revolt, the movie ends.
You will note that I used the words “ill-fated” to describe the end of The Resistance Fighter. This is the missing piece at the end of the film. The Warsaw Uprising managed to make some gains for the briefest of times in 1944, and they hoped that their actions would lead to help from anyone, including the Russians, no matter what the movie might suggest. When no assistance came, the Germans pulled out and leveled the city, using artillery and air strikes to flatten any free-standing buildings. After that, the Germans re-occupied what was left and fought on until the Russians finally pushed them back out for good. Then, for the next forty plus years, Poland was a satellite country of the Soviet Union. It is a tragedy, not only because the Poles were left to take on the Germans on their own, but because they were deprived of their fierce independence. None of it is in the film, and that is disappointing. Poland has had a long history of being occupied by other countries, particularly the Russians, so you can understand their lack of enthusiasm for their so-called “liberators” from the Soviet Union. These attitudes are embodied well in the character of Jan. The problem with him, and the movie by extension, is that he is a bit of a dope. I appreciate his enthusiasm for the cause. However, it was almost to the point of a frenzy, and it almost gets him killed on a number of occasions. Between his unthinking fervor and the lack of any meaningful coverage of the uprising, the movie as a whole is a letdown.
Speaking of letdowns, another thing largely absent from The Resistance Fighter is Faith. This is strange when you consider the religious make up of Poland before, during, and after World War II. If you have seen The Pianist (2002), you can get a sense of how strong of a Jewish community existed in the country, particularly in Warsaw. Unfortunately, as that movie attests, the majority were rounded up and sent to concentration camps where an unconscionable number died. The other major faith in Poland, the majority one, is Catholicism. The only vague reference to this in The Resistance Fighter is when Jan tells Doris to find him after the war at a church where he will be praying. If you want a better sense of what it was like for Catholics in Poland at this time, read about the life of St. John Paul II. As a young seminarian during the war, then named Karol Wojtyla, he helped hide Jews from German persecution. One family asked that their son who he directly assisted be baptized, which Karol refused on grounds that he thought the boy should remain Jewish. Though he did not take part in any uprising himself, Karol and his fellow seminarians were sought after for imprisonment and execution for their perceived association with the Krakow version. Karol escaped by being hidden in the Archbishop’s residence. Yet, is there a hint of the Catholic role in Polish resistance in the film? Nope!
If you care enough to see any of this, it is available for free on Netflix. It is mostly dubbed in English. I do not mind this, but some do. For a story set during World War II, it is not a terribly exciting one. My biggest complaint, though, is for it not covering what it should have done: the actual uprising. Then again, I was not the one making the movie. Everything points to that event, and then we do not see it. I do not like to say this as somebody who is part Polish, but how lame.