REVIEW OF THE FILM "AGFA 1939. JOURNEY INTO WAR"
I remember how, in 2014, within the frames of the Docs to go! presentation at the 54th Krakow Film Festival, Michał Wnuk was showing his film "Agfa 1939,” then unfinished. To complete the making of the film, he needed one fourth of the budget. In spirit, I supported him then, because it seems to me that I understand the motivation behind wanting to tell this story. With great joy, I read in the programme of the following edition of the festival that the film "Agfa 1939. Journey into War" participated in the national competition.
"Agfa 1939" is a personal story of the director, who finds in his house an orange box with perfectly preserved photographs and film tapes from the times of the Second World War. There are a lot of photos, they are enigmatically described on the reverse, they show the moments of the last days of peace and the tumultuous times of the war, personages and places scattered on the map of Central Europe. Michał Wnuk wants to reach the source of these photographs. The first lead is his grandfather Alojzy, who worked in Wehrmacht as a doctor. Soon, however, it turns out that the photographs have little in common with him. An obsessive search for the author starts (though taking into account the complex nature of the source, one should rather talk about many authors), step by step, place after place, from one conversation to another. In this persistent search, I notice the fascination with time which we sometimes feel when browsing photographs. The moments and the people recorded on the roll of film are long gone, but in some way they still exist. The motivation behind this cinematic "investigation" is the willingness to know the past and tell it anew. It places "Agfa" in the context of some found footage films, to mention only the works of Péter Forgács, the author of the series "Private Hungary," which is motivated by a similar attitude to history.
In addition, Michał Wnuk is a young director, he learnt about World War II through films, television and obligatory lessons at school. Opening the Agfa box, he discovers everyday, common history, moments of ordinary people, and not the monumental heroes of the most important battles. In a conversation with his mother, he hears the question: "What for?" Why does he ask about the past? In "Agfa 1939," the past is identity, complex and difficult, as complex as the Polish-German relations before the 1st of September, in the multi-national Second Polish Republic. These relations are also a part of the story told in "Journey into War."
The expedition does not end successfully, though we stop just before the finish. The trail goes cold, because the people, who could have taken these photos, passed away. However, it is not solving the mystery that one can expect from "Agfa 1939." The film does not tell the story of the orange box to the end, but is itself a story, a record of many conversations, places, a part of oral history of World War II. Moreover, it is a manifesto of the author, who accepted the challenge presented by the images from the past. The film ends with the scene of homage which Michał Wnuk and his grandmother pay to the Home Army hero, murdered by the Public Security. He saved the box with photographs so that they could serve the people who were born after the war.