Warsaw 83, a matter of state **

de Jan P. Matuszynski

Polish film, 2 h 40

Throughout history, dictatorships have always developed the same methods. Authoritarianism, suffocating propaganda, excessive repression, incessant threats and repeated lies to cover up the abuses. In the 1980s, Poland, under the boot of General Jaruzelski, experienced this preferential treatment reserved for it by its supreme leader.

On May 12, 1983, the son of an activist close to Solidarnosc, a union hated by the regime, was arrested in the street. Grzegorz Przemyk, 18, refuses to show his papers. Forced into a police station, he was beaten to death. One of his friends, victim and witness, escapes. Under penalty of experiencing the same fate as his friend, Jurek Popiel can only survive by remaining in hiding.

Father Jerzy Popieluszko, in whom he confided, hides him and organizes the resistance, with Barbara Sadowska, poetess and mother of the deceased. The regime, which hunts them down, seeks to silence them. He consents to an investigation but fakes the evidence, with a relentlessness proportionate to his fear that the truth will come out. The torturing police officers are protected. The authorities will charge two miserable paramedics who will “confess”. One of them won’t resist. And the other will be condemned, under the impassive gaze of the real culprits, in front of the family of the young martyr who attends, devastated, this parody of justice.

→ PORTRAIT. Justice in Poland: Piotr Gaciarek, in the squadron of “kamikaze judges”

The collateral consequence of this bloody imbroglio by which the totalitarian regime believed it could consolidate its power was the murder, a few months later, of Father Popieluszko. His funeral will provoke a monster demonstration of protest, the first cracks in the Jaruzelski regime which only owed its maintenance to its alignment with Moscow.

Open our eyes to certain contemporary situations

Wanting to demonstrate too much, locking himself into a series of details that remain confused for the Western viewer, unfamiliar with the multiple episodes of this dark affair, the Polish filmmaker weighs down his heavy boat while his film is an essential link in denouncing the arbitrariness unpunished by any military regime. His work, ample in its ambition, suffers from an overly emphatic style, from a dated aesthetic. Each shot – even Ibrahim Maalouf’s music contributes to it – weighs tons of significance.

And yet, this film is necessary, if only to better open our eyes to certain contemporary situations (in Russia, but not only…) and the eternal, universal reproduction of a certain form of enslavement.

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