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Kanał (Sewer) is a 1957 film from Poland, directed by Andrzej Wajda. It is set during the harrowing last days of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, as the Polish Home Army, which had risen up against the Germans in August, was destroyed.

The film follows a single squad of Polish Home Army soldiers in the last days of the battle. Lieutenant Zadra is leading a group of 43 soldiers and civilians. Lieutenant Mądry, his second-in-command, hasn't let the horrors of war stop him from having an affair with Halinka, a pretty messenger girl. Officer Jacek Korab is a conscientious young soldier who is wounded while beating off a German tank attack. Michal is a pianist and composer, a civilian who only joined the unit the day before. Eventually, with their position collapsing around them, the squad is forced to go underground, taking to the sewers in order to reach other Home Army units still fighting downtown. A woman named Daisy is designated to be their guide through the sewers.

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Part of a loose "war trilogy" by Wajda that includes A Generation and Ashes and Diamonds. See also The Pianist, which focused on one Jewish man's experience in the Warsaw Ghetto but also dramatized the 1944 Uprising.


Tropes:

  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer: Averted. Not only does one character complain that he is too tall to be in the sewers, but the bad air and lack of oxygen is a plot point. And in Real Life, soldiers of the Home Army did in fact take to the sewers in the final days.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Cpl. Smuckly engages in some idle chatter with a pretty young woman on a stretcher. As she's being taken away, her blanket slips, revealing a leg that's been amputated above the knee.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Daisy is a lovely blond with shiny, styled hair. At one point she is literally doused with sewage. Later, her blond hair is again clean and styled.
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  • Child Soldiers: A rather smart-mouthed boy manning a barricade, who tells Zadra that his is the last barricade, so Zadra needs to get his men down below post-haste.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: When Lt. Zadra starts smoking, and is asked why, he answers "Fear".
  • Downer Beginning: "These are the last moments of their lives", says the narrator that is setting the scene at the beginning.
  • Downer Ending: The fates of some characters aren't shown, but it appears that everyone in the unit except Zadra dies.
  • Down the Drain: Zadra's unit takes to the sewers in an effort to escape the Germans.
  • Driven to Suicide: After finding out that her lover Mądry has a wife and child, Halinka shoots herself.
  • Dwindling Party: They start going out one by one after descending into the sewers.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: Opens with a four-minute tracking shot following Zadra's squad through the ruins.
  • A Father to His Men: Lt. Zadra. Zadra finally makes it out to at least temporary safety (and possibly survival, as the Polish Home Army got the Germans to treat them as combatatants, and many surrendered and survived the war). His sergeant Kula admits that he lied—contrary to what Kula told him, the rest of the unit is not following behind, having become separated from them some time ago. An enraged Zadra shoots Kula, and the movie ends with Kula crawling back down into the sewer to find his men.
  • Feet-First Introduction: The German soldier who is waiting for Mądry as he climbs out of a manhole.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: This film, released in 1957 when Poland was firmly under the thumb of the Soviets, is about the last stages of the doomed Warsaw Uprising. The Uprising was only doomed because the Red Army, which was barely 10 km away from Warsaw, sat on its butt on the direct orders of Joseph Stalin and waited while the Germans wiped the Home Army out.
  • Heroic BSoD: Michal eventually cracks under the strain, and is last seen walking away in a daze, playing an ocarina.
  • Hollywood Darkness: They have some matches and flashlights, but on the whole, the sewers are a lot better lit than a real sewer would be.
  • Hope Spot: A particularly cruel one. Daisy is escorting/carrying a wounded Korab. After they can't make it up the crawl space to their destination because Korab is too badly wounded, she takes Korab in the direction of a drain to the Vistula. They finally make it, as Daisy gasps with delight to see sunlight—only to turn a corner and find that the exit of the drain is barred.
  • La Résistance: The Polish Home Army, rising up against the Germans in Warsaw after five years of occupation.
  • Last Stand: As everyone is acutely aware, the battle is just about over and the Germans are going to finish them off soon.
  • Non-Action Guy: Michel, who never engages in combat but just follows the squad around for a while before cracking up in the sewers.
  • Untranslated Title: "Sewer".
  • Urban Warfare: The violent, brutal battle between the Germans and the Polish Home Army for Warsaw.
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