Prefaced as a heroic symphony in two parts, Eroica is a darkly comic, intelligent, and unorthodox chronicle of the Polish resistance against the Germans in World War II, a movement commonly referred to as the Warsaw Uprising. The first movement, Scherzo alla polacca, opens to a shot of an apprehensive and reluctant militia soldier named Gorkiewicz (Edward Dziewonski) evading his conscription by running away during the chaos of an air raid. Upon returning home, he discovers that his attractive young wife, Zosia (Barbara Polomska), has been entertaining a charismatic and genial Hungarian officer named Istvan Kolya (Leon Niemczyk). With the imminent retreat of Hungarian military personnel from the city, Istvan enlists Gorkiewicz to broker a sale of armaments to the officers of the uprising. Ironically, Gorkiewicz’s efforts to profit from the uncertainty of war delivers him into the throes of the national struggle. The second movement, Ostinato lugubre, chronicles the resigned existence of prisoners of war in a converted sanitarium POW camp, as seen through the eyes of a new inmate named Kurzawa (Józef Nowak). Suffering from the passivity of interminable boredom (but under the relatively comfortable internment conditions defined by the Geneva Convention), the prisoners retain their hopes for an eventual flight to freedom, encouraged by the legendary escape of Lieutenant Zawistowski (Tadeusz Lomnicki). However, when Kurzawa accidentally stumbles into the unusual activities of Turek (Kazimierz Rudzki) and Marianek (Wojciech Siemion) one evening, he becomes an integral ally in perpetuating the morale and optimism of the prisoners.
Andrzej Munk presents a clever, engaging, and insightful satire on duty, courage, and heroism in Eroica. By correlating the sensoral tone of an orchestral symphony to the idolatry and heroic myth associated with the Warsaw Uprising, Munk reflects the solidarity and strength of character of ordinary people in times of profound national uncertainty. The animated and jovial first movement becomes a leitmotif for Gorkiewicz’s hedonism, trepidation, and instinct for self-preservation that assists in his safe passage as a courier for the resistance. Similarly, the somber and threnodic second movement proves to be an elegy for the idealization of a war hero. Eroica demystifies the quixotic, archetypal image of heroism and martyrdom to reveal the underlying dignity and and perseverance of the human struggle for nationalism, autonomy, independence, and self-determination.
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