An introductory shot of a solemn, aging German aristocrat named Bucholz (Andrzej Szalawski) gazing abstractedly out the window of his opulently furnished, baroque estate in morning prayer that is intercut with cutaway images of workers emerging from crude shantytowns built alongside the railroad tracks establishes the polarized economic climate of late nineteenth century Lodz, as the disparate social classes coincidentally look out onto the rows of ubiquitous smokestacks interminably billowing industrial pollution against a smog-laden, overcast horizon: to the former, a seemingly bountiful false god of material wealth and privilege, to the latter, a surrogate icon of providence and unrealized hope for a better life. It is within this dynamic landscape of unlimited opportunity, exploitation, and rapidly turning fortunes that three culturally diverse, enterprising young men seek to carve out their own dream of prosperity: Bucholtz’s driven, hardworking factory manager, Karol Borowiecki (Daniel Olbrychski), a shrewd negotiator and internationally connected investor, Moryc Welt (Wojciech Pszoniak), and a financially insolvent German nobleman from a well-respected industrialist family (and heir to an obsolete, nearly bankrupt manually operated textile mill), Max Baum (Andrzej Seweryn). Pooling their limited borrowed capital into securing land rights for establishing a modernized textile factory, the enterprising young men soon capitalize on their relationships with extended families, lovers, and former acquaintances in order to feed the progress of the interminable construction, often leading to dubious alliances, acts of deception, callous mandates for increased productivity, emotional manipulation, and even industrial espionage for the sake of economic growth. Weaving an ever-increasingly elaborate (and inextricable) web of social networking, seduction, and sabotage, the story of the ambitious, young entrepreneurs invariably captures the zeitgeist of turn of the century Poland as the country experienced the euphoria and turmoil of rapid industrialization and unbridled capitalism.
Adapted from the 1897 novel by Polish writer and Nobel laureate Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont, Land of Promise is a wry, incisive, and elegantly realized Dickensian tale of greed, human cruelty, exploitation, and betrayal. Andrzej Wajda retains the cynicism and indictment of Reymont’s richly textured and detailed observations through exaggerated, often grotesque portraitures of social class and industrialization in order to illustrate the baseness of human behavior in a culturally fostered environment of greed, narcissistic self-preservation, and competition: graphic episodes of mangled bodies that metaphorically present human lives needlessly sacrificed to feed the impersonal machines of industry (an idea that is similarly articulated by Borowiecki to the well-intentioned junior accountant, Horn (Piotr Fronczewski); the caricatured depiction of the privileged class as tyrannical, licentious, corrupt, and immoral through skewed angle framing and chiaroscuro lighting; the inbred, self-destructive cyclicality of personal fortunes as an allegory for a looming national threat of economic instability that is reflected through the perennial construction and razing of factories (a prefiguring image of the nation’s postwar economic system conversion); the increasing acts of employee defiance that intrinsically reveal a brewing class struggle (note the workers’ strike of the film’s epilogue) and seemingly reflects the labor unrest of contemporary Poland during the late 1970s (and also provides a prescient vision for the momentum of the Solidarity movement). Inevitably, it is this volatile fusion of moral recklessness, inhumanity, and spiritual bankruptcy that is captured in the bleak and desolate baroque images of the film – the true human cost of social revolution that lays beneath the veneer of industrial progress, collective effort, and equal opportunity.
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