A good, old-fashioned war movie with spectacular action, a cast of thousands and a decent love story holding it all together, “1920: Battle of Warsaw” rousingly recounts how Poland routed the invading Bolshevik army shortly after World War l. Vigorously directed by veteran hitmaker Jerzy Hoffman and beautifully lensed by ace d.p. Slawomir Idziak, Poland’s first 3D feature hit domestic paydirt with 600,000 admissions in 10 days following its Sept. 30 release and has scored strongly on 21 British screens since Oct. 7. The marketing advantage of 3D should help the pic secure further offshore exposure.
With foreign-language Oscar nominee “The Deluge” (1974) and all-time Polish B.O. champion “With Fire and Sword” (1999) to his credit, Hoffman excels at mixing lusty historical drama with blood-and-thunder military action. Now almost 80, the helmer demonstrates here that his command of cinematic technique is as muscular as ever.
Crisp screenplay by Hoffman and Jaroslaw Sokol commences with pictures of optimism in post-WWI Poland, which has become independent for the first time since 1795. The hub of gaiety is the Cafe Oasis, where beautiful chanteuse Ola (Natasza Urbanska) is romanced by cavalry officer Jan Krynicki (Borys Szyc). Within minutes of their exchanging wedding vows, however, Jan is called away to fight the advancing Bolsheviks.
The state of military and political play is efficiently laid out in parallel action showing Lenin (Wiktor Balabanow) and Stalin (Igor Guzin) plotting the invasion, while chief of state marshall Jozef Pilzudski (Daniel Olbrychski) organizes Poland’s resistance.
Once the basics are covered, Hoffman launches into meaty battle scenes involving hundreds of Polish cavalrymen charging into thousands of Bolshevik ground troops. The effect of the 3D in wide shots is marvelous, but fighting in closer quarters is sometimes too tightly framed and rapidly edited for the stereoscopic imagery to register properly.
The film keeps combat-related drama boiling, with Jan captured by Dherzinsky (Krzesimir Debski), a hissable Russian state security officer. Matters on the home front remain lively with sleazy old officer Kostrzewa (Jerzy Bonczak) attempting to lure, then force, Ola into his bed. Though a smidge of melodramatic excess creeps into the central question of whether Ola and Jan will ever see each other again, “1920: Battle of Warsaw” is so pacey and absorbing that most auds will be ultimately moved by the result.
Local singing star and TV host Urbanska is fine in her first major role, and clicks nicely with Szyc’s Everyman hero. Meticulous production design and several museums’ worth of period military hardware complement Idziak’s lush visuals of Warsaw and gritty battlefield compositions. Other tech work is pro.