Culture | Film & Theatre

KINOTEKA: ‘Ambassada’ – Asterios Bobolis reviews Juliusz Machulski’s new WWII Comedy

Rating:

02/05/2014

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Juliusz Machulski’s Ambassada

What would the world be like without WWII? What would have happened if Hitler has been murdered or accidentally killed? Aspiring writer Przemek (played by Bartosz Porczyk) is preoccupied with the period before WWII, searching obsessively through historical sources which bring him unexpected revelations. Hitler has accidently been killed and his body-double Lepke (Robert Wieckiewicz) – an obvious mental case – has taken over to complete the Nazis’ ferocious plans. Based on a real-life event – the accidental bombing of the Reich’s embassy in Warsaw by the Luftwaffe in 1939, the film introduces us to the frenzied life of the buildings’s tenants now and then. To begin with, we are in 2012 and the building’s sinister past seemed to have been covered up by refurbishment and the attachment of a modern block of apartments to the old one. But this is only the façade. Because inside, in the guts of the building, the wicked Nazi spirit is still roaring and the mischievous preparations of the Gestapo are sill happening along with the playful life of Przemek and his girlfriend Mela (a cheeky and resourceful young actress played by Magdalena Graziowska).

More particularly, the building mysteriously works as a time machine, its lift the means by which the various tenants transfer themselves either back to 1939 or forth to 2012. Everyone’s curiosity about their weird neighbours gets them into trouble. Mela is arrested and Przemek is persecuted by the Gestapo. In turn, the German officials look stunned by the modern world’s technology and are seriously alarmed by the young intruders’ knowledge of confidential information – mere historical facts for us. To inspect the case they call in the Fuhrer, who becomes trapped in the couples vindictive plans for world-salvation. Mela and Przemek’s imaginative interference and determination to save the planet from Nazi brutalities is crowned with resounding success. To their astonishment, modern reality turns out to be even better: WWII never happened, its atrocities never ruined the European countries and, most importantly of all, Warsaw bears no scars from the war, and has remained intact and buoyant.

This is more or less the summary of an experimentally funny film. At the same time, it’s an uneasy mixture of conventional elements and more fantastic ones. So we have, on the one hand, an old, well-trodden topic- the war, the fascists, Hitler – blended with the story of a modern middle-class couple and a load of pranks along the way. On the other hand, we have the audience’s instinctive, burning desire to punish evil and restore justice in the world. The latter makes the audience forget the movie’s exaggerations and disproportionate use of magic tricks which seem to be necessary only as a plot-device. Admittedly, dreaming of a world that never suffered from wars and hostile invasions is a comforting feeling. The last scene of the film, with a still- thriving Jewish community in the middle of Poland’s capital city, the sound of Kletzmer music echoing in your ears and the mouth-watering aroma of cooked tzimmes sprinkled in the air – I could almost feel it-  leaves you with a sweet smile and a soothing sensation, and is genuinely moving.

Visually, the film can be praised for some stunning moments- the bombing of the embassy springs to mind – and a sense of colour and lightness that works against the sad reality that WWII did take place: something which throughout the film one tends to forget. A key question the film raises is whether the wounds of WWII have been sufficiently healed now, to the extent that the younger generation can make sheer fun of it, creating a film whose scenes succeed each other, easily and undisturbingly, like a video-player moving effortlessly from one level to the next.

Presumably, we feel that joking with such “serious” matters, and treating history in a less rigid way to the one we are used to in the classrooms, is relatively harmless, and indeed something similar was attempted in Robert Benigni’s Life is Beautiful in 1997. The whole feeling reminded me of a popular joke – told among children even in Israel –  “Why did Hitler kill himself?” “Because he got his gas-bill.” Clearly, it’s not such a taboo issue after all.

However, it makes you wonder how successful these films are in ridiculing the Nazis and Fascism on behalf of their victims, or whether they simply end up making a mockery of what a well-balanced satire should be. In Ambassada, the comic moments teeter on the edge of excess, and sometimes risk plain silliness. But there are great moments – we see Hitler on the toilet and there are fight-scenes with the heroes piling in like characters from the Matrix or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Also, the movie closes with a tribute song to Warsaw, a nice treat for the ending, perfectly blending patriotism and fun. For all the ethical questions Ambassada raises, it’s still worth seeing.

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