(director/writer: Krzysztof Zanussi; screenwriter: Jan Józef Szczepanski; cinematographer: Edward Klosinski; editor: Marek Denys; music: Wojciech Kilar; cast: Edward Zentara (Maximilian Kolbe), Christoph Waltz (Jan Tytz), Artur Barcis (Father Anselm), Grazyna Strachota (Olszańska), Joachim Krol (Officer SS), Jerzy Stuhr (Pralat),Tadeusz Bradecki (Priest), Krzysztof Zaleski (Olszanski), Andrzej Szczepkowski (Górecki), Marcus Vogelbacher (Fritsch, Camp Commander; R untime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Michal Szczerbic/Roswitha Frankenhauser; Grube/PAL format; 1991-Poland/Germany-in Polis with English subtitles)

“Zanussi’s the perfect director to tell such a stark morality tale.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Krzysztof Zanussi (“Family Life”/”And A Warm Heart”/”Camouflage”) directs this powerful true story of a Polish Franciscan, Father Maximilian Kolbe (Edward Zentara), the father superior of the monastery at Niepokalanów and his path to sainthood. After a death camp prisoner from Auschwitz escaped the gravel pits, ten inmates were randomly picked on orders of the evil camp commander Fritsch (Marcus Vogelbacher) to starve to death in a bunker, but Kolbe volunteers to take the place of one of those who was selected and after the war his martyrdom was rewarded by the Vatican with beatification. Co-writers Zanussi and Jan Józef Szczepanski also tell the story of the Silesian insurgent Jan Tytz (Christoph Waltz), the prisoner who opportunistically took advantage of a pile of dirt falling over him and thereby escaping a work detail.

We learn about Kolbe and what motivates him through the monks of his order and the local carpenters who built the monastery just before the war, as the escapee flees there without ever telling anyone he was the escapee. When the war ends, Jan returns to Silesia and finds his family all died except a brother who fled to America. In America, the guilt-ridden Jan can’t deal with the reality that a more noble person, with unlimited love, offered to give his life for another human being and thereby commits suicide.

Poland is a good place to get the death camp scene as authentic as possible, and Zanussi revisits the period’s tragic occupation of the Nazis in Poland by detailing how they made those under their rule bow to their cruelties or face their insane punishment. Zanussi’s the perfect director to tell such a stark moralistic story about a few heroes who defy the dangers of the time, and through his strong visuals makes the viewer relive the chills of that oppressive time.

Life for Life: Maximilian Kolbe Poster