‘With Fire and Sword’

I know that there has been a small gap in my writings here, and they will probably be less frequent than the two months I managed from April to June, but I will do my best to have at least some regularity here.  This return of mine is also signified by me watching ‘With Fire and Sword’, the movie by Jerzy Hoffman of the similarly named book by Henryk Sienkiewicz, for the third time in as many months.

The first time of these was just a plain session, the second one I was slightly drunk and fell asleep before the end, and now I have an extended version (with one oddity as well). So, overall, three quite different experiences.

I’ll just point out that the oddity with the extended version (which is on two DVDs) is that some scenes which were originally in different languages have been dubbed with Polish so that the lines are more or less said twice (since at least to my ears the original language sounds Russian, but I could be well wrong with this).

In any case, the good and the bad?

I have to say I am very much a fan of the music in this movie. It is just so befitting — especially the songs (‘Hey hey, Tuhay-bey’) and the charges by the hussars… The music is definitely befitting for the role it was to play. It is a pity though that translators have passed them by (I always think verses should be translated — no matter how badly — to give an indication of the emotion that the words should convey).

There are a few scenes cut that appeared in the books. I have always been a fan of the moment where the German infantry is surrounded and refuses to surrender. There’s far less of the so-to-say glorification of sacrifice which was supposedly one of Mr Hoffman’s goals. There’s a very good sentence in the end of the movie which summarizes this feeling entirely. However, it is not yet the time for that.

I find it very interesting to just see how Mr Hoffman presented the different characters. It is not something easy to describe, but I know when looking at it that it is a veritable representation of people in general. There’s someone similar to any one of us that can be found within the repertoire of characters here — a Jan Skrzetuski, Zagloba, Bohun, Hmielnicki, Jarema Wisniowiecki, Rzedzian, Michal Wolodyjowski, and so forth.

That indeed for me is one of the great charms of the story. It speaks of human frailty, and it speaks of that in the clearest words possible. But it also gives hope, with a fair dose of reality. No victory will come without cost, and even the victors have their faults.

You’ll find us, we’ll be on everyone’s lips in the Ukraine.

The scene, for example, where Hmielnicki releases Skrzetuski to go back to the Prince Wisniowecki (and, yes, I thoroughly disagree with the poor English translation which has made a princely title into Dukes) is in many ways devastating. I can understand what all of them are thinking, and yet it was the only way to act.

Jarema who came off so much cleaner in the book has his faults here. But he is also a loving husband and a father. I would think that this actor was one of the best casting choices — the role is portrayed with such precision. This indeed is a man who cures rebellions with both fire and sword.

One further thing I would like to comment on is the historical accuracy of it all — I am now specialized enough to give comment on the battles and campaigns, but I do like the effort that has gone into creating a believable culture that we can observe. The uniforms, armour, tactics, and way of speech. The hussars! What else can I say… I would really like someone to make a movie out of Kircholm. But I think I would appreciate it more if it was in the spirit of this movie here.

And finally, to come back to the story we’re being told…

‘Hatred poisoned the hearts of two brother nations.’

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