The anti-war sentiments of the Polish-produced “Squadron” provide the lavish period costumer with a universal resonance and appeal. Yet the familiarity of the story and an ambivalent conclusion work against the material’s commercialism. It should spark some critical interest, but international theatrical prospects are tepid.
Set during an insurrection of Polish peasants in 1863, the tale focuses on Fydor (Radoslaw Pazura), a young officer in a regiment of Russian dragoons sent to quell the unrest. He initially confronts his commission with zeal, but the reality of the war zone turns his passion into confusion. The brutality of his fellow soldiers in quashing the rebellion appears hopelessly out of balance with the modest demands of the Poles.
It’s no coincidence that writer/director Julisuz Machulski slaps his film with a title that recalls “Platoon.” Though set a century apart, the themes and situations have strong parallels. The confrontation between military and native factions also echoes the more recent “Geronimo.”
“Squadron’s” vantage point is a little too cold and distant. Its protagonist is a cipher who’s troubled, though detached, as he witnesses racism, sadism and other horrors of war. His inability to take action or respond may ring true to life but produces a less than compelling emotional conclusion.
While Machulski leaves us short of a catharsis, he does engage the mind and provides a stunning pictorial display. The production values and period detail of the film are peerless. It is provocative, if unconsummated, material that’s too heavily weighted toward the cerebral.