Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Promised Land

Go To

The Promised Land (Ziemia obiecana) is a 1975 Polish film by Andrzej Wajda, adapting the book by Nobel laureate Władysław Reymont.

The setting is 1885 (the death of Victor Hugo is mentioned in one scene) in Łódź, in what was then Russian Poland. Three young men set out to construct a textile factory in a time where the textile industry was growing explosively in Łódź. The three men are Karol, Polish nobleman, Max, son of a German industrialist, and Moritz, a Polish Jew. Łódź in 1885 is a place where capitalism exists in its most brutal, vicious form. Workers are literally chewed up by machinery. Female workers are taken to orgies and sexually violated by dirty old men. While the factory owners live in absurd luxury, the common people go hungry in the streets.

Karol, Max, and Moritz struggle to raise capital. They are opposed by the established industrialists of Łódź, who are disinclined to let in competitors. Meanwhile, Karol, the protagonist, is having a messy affair with one factory owners' wife, even while he courts Anka, a young orphaned noblewoman in his family estate.

Does not feature trope The Promised Land; "the Promised Land" was a nickname for the city of Łódź.


  • Adaptational Heroism: Moritz is a much more positive character in the movie than he was in the book, which had some antisemitic overtones. Those overtones were strongly downplayed in the case of Jewish characters in general.
  • Adaptational Ugliness: Mada Müller, while not stunning, is portrayed as still fairly attractive in the book, further adding to her portrayal of a rich, but dull doll. In film, she's intentionally made repulsive for Karol, to further nail how much their eventual marriage is that of convenience.
  • Adaptational Villainy: While Karol is not a particularly admirable character in the original novel, the film portrays him as a borderline monster. The novel was also more favorable towards Germans than the movie was.
  • The Alcoholic: The seedy guy, who ends up burning down Karol's factory in the finale, is clearly suffering from delirium in a few scenes and is always seen with something to drink.
  • At the Opera Tonight: Karol, Max, Moritz, and other rich folk all go to a concert at the Łódź opera house with a ballet and various singers and musicians. Most of them are too busy making deals and gossiping to pay attention to the music. The opera itself is not a particularly highbrow one either.
  • Auto Erotica: Carriage Erotica, as Karol has sex with Mrs. Zucker in the cab of her carriage. He's more excited by the note Mrs. Zucker gives him about a soon-to-arrive tax on American cotton, which gives him a priceless insider trading opportunity.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: There are very few decent people in this story and they're all background characters. Out of the main trio only Max comes off as A Lighter Shade of Grey.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Blond Karol, dark-haired Max and ginger Moritz.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Moritz tells Grynspan that he took Grynspan's money and invested it in the new factory, and there's nothing Grynspan can do about it. As Grynspan sputters with rage Moritz leaves the office with a look of glee on his face. He sits on a bench and his mask slips briefly, revealing how mentally wrecked he in fact is. Then he looks straight at the camera, grins, reaches out and touches the camera.
  • Capitalism Is Bad: Andrzej Wajda was hardly a doctrinaire communist but the government in 1975 Poland must have liked this movie. Mr. Muller builds a palace that he doesn't even live in, just to impress people, while the workers live in squalor and pawn their possessions. A factory magnate essentially forces a pretty girl to go to an orgy. A worker is chewed up by machinery; as he's still twitching with one arm gone and the other still caught in the machine, Karol tells everyone else to go back to work. And at the end, Karol orders his security forces to shoot at the strikers, and a man carrying a red flag is shot In the Back.
  • Distant Finale: The last scene skips forward a good three years as shown by how Karol has not only married Mada, they now have a son who looks to be two. Karol has used Mada's father's money to establish himself and his friends in a factory.
  • The Ditz: Mada Mueller.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Bucholz, one of the more monstrous of the awful factory owners, treats his underling August like crap, routinely calling him "mongrel". This culminates in Bucholz brutally beating August with a cane after August does not interrupt Horn's Take This Job and Shove It rant. Soon after Bucholz is wandering around the factory when he gets in distress. He calls August for his wheelchair, but August withholds it, and instead watches as Bucholz collapses and dies of a heart attack.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Mr. Trawinski finds himself in a sudden cash crunch and desperate for money, but Karol refuses to give him a loan. Mr. Trawinski shoots himself.
    • After hearing that big fishes in the Russian cotton industry had gone bankrupt, one of the industrialists Ate His Gun in the opera's bathroom, since that means his own factory will go down in a matter of weeks.
  • End of an Age: The end of landed nobility, along with the end of "old" capitalism, based on slow, steady business.
  • Evil Cripple: Bucholz is an outright sociopathic and sadistic factory owner, mostly moving around on his wheelchair. In one of his most prominent scenes, he beats his underling with a cane, and when the man naturally ducks away, he orders him to get closer and then goes back to beating him from his wheelchair.
  • The Face: Invoked toward Borowiecki and his "von" by Moryc, as his noble origins open far more doors in high society than anything else he or Max can provide.
  • Foreshadowing: At one point, Moryc jokingly drops the following line about the best possible love life possible, foreshadowing the eventual fate of Karol.
    To have two fiancees, love both, and yet marry another, who has millions.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: Mostly German and Yiddish, despite the fact that Łódź was part of the Russian Empire at the time. However, this is pretty much Truth in Television.
  • Greedy Jew: Several of the factory owners are Jews. Mr. Grynspan, in particular, gives an underling a lecture about how he doesn't like it when his workers burn gas to brew tea, so he's going to start charging them for it. Some people in 1975 suggested this film was anti-Semitic but there are some pretty greedy, awful Christians in the movie too, including Karol himself.
  • I Have No Son!: "I have no daughter now," says Mrs. Malinowski, when she throws her daughter Zośka out of the apartment after finding out that Zośka accompanied Kessler to an orgy. As Zośka tearfully tells her brother, Kessler said she'd lose her job if she didn't go.
  • Impoverished Patrician: So many of them. The traditional nobility is completely out of the financial game in Łódz, and many formerly successful businessmen are frequently reduced to begging for help when their businesses fail or go up in smoke.
  • Industrial Ghetto: It's shown rising quickly wherever a new factory springs out.
  • Insurance Fraud: Apparently it's pretty common for factory owners in Łódź to burn down their own factories if the going gets tough. Karol even recommends this to a magnate who finds himself in a minor financial crunch.
  • Light Is Not Good: Blond haired, blue-eyed Karol is easily one of the most despicable characters in the movie.
  • Lonely at the Top: Karol at the end of the book.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Karol screws Zucker's wife, Lucy, while engaged to Anka and also thinking about ditching her for Mada Mueller('s huge dowry). Anka loves Karol while Max is clearly in love with Anka. Moritz's weird fascination with Karol borders on Ho Yay in the film, but in the book he courts a wealthy Jewish woman and gets married eventually.
  • Man on Fire: Zucker's bombs go off and Karol's, Max's, and Moritz's factory instantly bursts into flames. As a panicked Anka runs to the scene a screaming Man on Fire runs past her. Other Men On Fire are seen leaping from upper stories of the building.
  • Marriage of Convenience: Ultimately, Karol marries Mada Müller for her dowry and her father's industrial empire. He has absolutely zero interest in her beyond those two factors and is openly disgusted by her mere presence and advances throughout the film.
  • Mean Boss: Buchholz is terrible in general, but he's particularly abusive towards his personal manservant, August.
  • Meaningful Rename: Invoked and discussed by Kaczmarek, who styles himself now as Kaczmarski, since that's the Polish equivalent of the The Von Trope Family.
  • Multinational Team: Three main characters.
  • No Sympathy: At one point one of the workers gets pulled into a loom and we're treated to a gruesome shot of his mangled body. Karol comes to inspect what happened, puts a hand on the arm of a woman who is strongly implied to be the victim's wife... and just as the viewer expects him to express some sympathy, Karol coldly tells everyone to get back to work and starts complaining about wasted bolt of fabric.
  • Nouveau Riche:
    • Old Müller is consistently portrayed as a simpleton and the first of his family that made big money.
    • The new owner of the Kurów estate, Kaczmarek, is much to Adam Borowiecki's disgust not just an incredibly crude individual, but one that's proud of it. He doesn't even need the estate for anything himself, too busy running a bunch of shade businesses - it's just for his idiot son to have something to brag about.
  • A Party, Also Known as an Orgy: Kessler, a gross old factory owner, forces a pretty young blonde from the factory named Zoska to accompany him to a party. It turns out to actually be an orgy. Zoska's mother throws her out of the apartment.
  • Poirot Speak: Buchholz and Muellers.
  • Reading Lips: Moryc can do that, at least to a limited extent, which helps him keep tabs on various competitors.
  • Rule of Three: The three main characters represent ethnic Poles, German-speaking residents of Poland, and Polish Jews.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Horn, who isn't interested even in his father's business (a factory in Warsaw), as long as he can't preserve his own dignity and strict moral code.
  • The Scrooge: Despite living in a veritable palace, Buchholz is shown wearing stained robe full of holes and apparently lives as frugally as possible. Meanwhile Mueller dresses in rags, doesn't even live in the palace he built and takes off his shoes before entering it, because he doesn't want to scratch the floors.
  • Spiteful Spit: Mrs. Wasserman spits at Wilczek the pawnbroker when he won't loan her any money. Then she gives up and pawns a menorah.
  • Stealth Insult: After Kessler talks smack about Poles trying to run business, Karol tells him that "a pig, if it ever saw an eagle, would probably say the same".
  • Take This Job and Shove It: Horn quits his job in Buchholz's office, but not before giving him a satisfying "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
    Horn: I find both you and this place grossly unpleasant.
  • Taking You with Me: Kessler confronts Mr. Malinowski after getting a letter from him about Zoska. Malinowski slaps him, which starts a fight, which Kessler is winning, kicking Malinowski several times before forcing him into the maw of a spinning flywheel. However Kessler has an Oh, Crap! moment at the last second as he realizes that Malinowski's grip is taking him along. They are both sucked into the flywheel and turned into chunky giblets.
  • Too Long; Didn't Dub: The official foreign subtitles never explain what the "lodzermensch" is, despite how everyone talks about thosenote .
  • True Companions: The three main characters are a somewhat dark version of this trope in the movie. Karol, Max and Moritz befriended while studying in Riga, they live together in Łódź, start a business together, each of them goes through some shady deals to get money to chip in and they remain together despite Karol's inability to keep it in his pants screwing them over. (It's pretty obvious he married Mada Mueller to save their business in the end).
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Factory burning down? Nobody blinks an eye, since Insurance Fraud is a Common Knowledge by then.
  • Villain Protagonist: Karol, who is greedy and cold and wholly lacking in conscience. When a worker is chewed up and horribly mangled by machinery he tells the other workers to get back to their machines. He upbraids Anka for being "sentimental" when she helps an injured worker. He casts Anka aside without a second thought when he realizes that he needs Mada Muller's money. And in the end he gives orders for his guards to fire on the unarmed strikers outside the factory.
  • Wretched Hive: Łódź; particularly in the book author clearly shows absolute contempt for it, constrasting it with the Arcadia of Karol's family land in Kurów.
  • You Just Told Me: An embarrassed Max tells Anka that Karol would actually like to marry Mada Muller, and Anka says "If I weren't in the way." Max wonders how Anka knows that and she says "You just told me."