What to say about the passion of human resistance and the desire for survival? How could a film accurately portray this—the passion, albeit not the triumph, of human resistance? I watched Andrzej Wajda’s Kanal once before, but admittedly it hit me more the second time. While an excellent film, I found myself cringing throughout and even had to pause a few times. Kanal tells the story of the Warsaw Uprising where, surrounded by German soldiers, the citizens have been forced to revolt. But unlike most Hollywood films that would instead detail the battle scenes from start to finish, we’re presented with the after-the-fact—a war-torn city with tired insurgents who will be undergoing the last few hours of their lives. How we know this is that the prologue informs us. Already, there can be no happy ending.
What remains of this tattered, Polish city is burned-out buildings, broken rock, and only a small window of time. The Germans are approaching and soon the citizens will be surrounded. So, in a desperate attempt to save his men, Lieutenant Zadra instructs them to take refuge in the sewers. Now, even without the prologue’s words, this already seems like a doomed attempt. Firstly, setting aside the health hazard of wading through filthy water polluted with feces, oxygen will be limited, claustrophobia will take hold, flashlight batteries will likely run out, and it is too easy to get lost. One might think it better to just take their chances above ground, but roughly 30 minutes into the film, the men and women descend underground and this is where the real hell begins. […]