Director: Mikhail Segal
Cast: Adrian Topol, Svetlana Ivanova, Andrei Merzlikin, Tamara Mironova, Valentin Matsarupa,Dzhul’etta Gering, Uve Ellinnek, Igor’ Sigov
Mikhail Segal’s 2006 film Franz + Polina continued a tradition of many other war films in the 2000s that revised and reconstructed memories about World War II and perceptions of the Nazis that were originally shaped by official Soviet culture and ideology. However, the increased interest in unconventional representation of the enemy and the locals’ tight interaction with them is not a new topic for cinema in the former Soviet countries. Since the Thaw (1953-1964) the national Belorussian film studio, Belarusfilm, has produced a number of films with diverse representations of the enemy. Thus, Viktor Turov’s Across the Cemetery (Cherez kladbishche, 1964) and War under the Rooftops (Voina pod kryshami, 1967) already show an ambivalent attitude toward German soldiers specifically among Belorussian women. The last film is based on the novel by a famous Belarusian writer, Ales’ Adamovich, who also collaborated with Segal on the script of Franz + Polina.
Adamovich’s 1993 novel The Deaf (Nemoi) provided the basis for the film script of Franz + Polina. The director, however, takes some liberties in interpreting the novel. This is not the first literary work by Adamovich that has been transformed into a film script for a war drama. Another novella The Khatyn’ Story (Khatynskaia povest’, 1971) became the inspiration for Elem Klimov’s famous film Come and See (Idi i smotri, 1985). Come and See and Franz + Polina, separated from each other by two decades, share many narrative and stylistic elements. Both Klimov’s and Segal’s films are made by Russian film directors, yet the focus of their films is on Belorussian people and their struggle to survive during the harsh war times. These two films draw attention to one of the most sensitive and painful topics for the country during the war—the mass incineration of Belorussian villages with all their inhabitants. At the narrative center of Come and See and Franz + Polina is a Bildungs process, with the main teenage protagonists maturing while eye-witnessing and experiencing the atrocities of the war.
In Franz + Polina, a Belorussian teenage girl, Polina, and a young German soldier, Franz, gradually develop romantic feelings for each other, while the German troops are peacefully residing in the houses of Belorussian villagers. In the first thirty minutes of the film, viewers get an opportunity to follow the everyday life of the provincial inhabitants and the melodramatic storyline of the two young people. The film opens with an optimistic scene at the riverbank, shot through a cheerful yellow lens, in which a group of naked young boys is swimming and playing in the sand by the river. The tiny figures of the young village kids are mixed with more muscular male figures (also naked) in the same shot. The upbeat, optimistic music in the background contributes to the creation of an idyll in the midst of Belorussian outskirts. However, this opening scene also reveals the director’s games with his viewers, which continue throughout the film. The naked men get dressed, and the letters “SS” and the Nazi military ID tags on their necks disclose that these are enemies. This scene creates a message that nothing is what it seems and what may seem as ideal and optimistic at first glance is the exact opposite.
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