A short excerpt from the booklet essay by David Thompson.
The author of The Promised Land, Władysław Reymont, was born in 1867 and grew up close to the city of Łódź. After writing short stories and two novels, he was commissioned by the conservative Warsaw newspaper, Kurier Codzienny (The Daily Courier), to deliver a novel on Łódź, which had become the thriving centre of the textile industry in Poland. After intensive research, Reymont spent about two years in Paris writing the book, which was published in 1897. He continued to travel widely in spite of being injured in a major train accident, and the success of his novel The Peasants (Chłopi 1909) led to the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1924, just a year before his death.
Reymont has been compared to Zola, in that his novels aspire to a realistic portrait of the material world, with an unflagging emphasis on precise detail and authenticity. The Promised Land provides a panoramic view of the industrial revolution that was at its height in Łódź by the end of the 19th century. This is a world in which everything and everyone is enslaved to the market, with a huge gulf between the impoverished workers and the rich capitalists. The narrative follows the lives of three close friends from very different backgrounds: a Polish factory engineer, Karol Borowiecki, a Jewish money broker, Moryc Welt, and a German, Max Baum, whose father owns a declining business. Together they decide to compete with the wealthy owners of the existing textile factories and build one of their own. As their often quoted motto states, “We have nothing, which means we have enough!”
In spite of Andrzej Wajda’s eminence in Polish culture by the 1970s, and his own past excursions into significant literary adaptations, not to mention his training at the famous Łódź Film School, he was by his own admission ignorant of Reymont’s novel. He was introduced to it by his former assistant, Andrzej Żuławski, who had recently begun his own cinema career by directing The Third Part of the Night (Trzecia część nocy, 1971). According to Żuławski, “I always felt Andrzej’s best films were set in the past. When he dealt with the present, it was not so good, mainly because he was having to deal with the regime of the time. And what was important to him was finding a ‘gimmick’, a ‘McGuffin’, something of substance that would provide him with a plot. So when I told him about Reymont’s novel, he asked me, ‘What’s the substance?' 'Money!', I said. That was enough to get his interest! I felt this novel would provide him with a solid script, so that he could really exercise his talents for mise en scene”.
Żuławski was also aware that making a film adaptation of The Promised Land was an extremely practical notion, as so much of industrial Łódź remained unchanged from Reymont’s time. By the end of the 18th century, Łódź was small village with a population of about 200; by the middle of the next century, that figure was 20,000, and by 1900, 300,000. The emancipation of serfs in 1864 had added to the vast numbers of poor people moving from the countryside to towns for work, a migration which was accompanied by a rising bourgeoisie. When Wajda and his production team visited Łódź, they found many of the textile factories still in operation, with the original machines bearing plaques such as ‘Manchester 1884’. Also, many of the rich mansions of the industrialists were intact and well preserved. So what might have been a worryingly expensive production in any other time or place actually became highly feasible. Promised Land was also an unusual production in that Wajda had, for the first time in Polish cinema, at his command a second unit, as well as three cinematographers – Witold Sobocinski (already a regular collaborator), Edward Klosinski, and Waclaw Dybowski. This second unit was directed by Andrzej Kotkowksi, who was responsible for the astounding sequence when Anka makes her first journey into Łódź, and we see through her eyes what is in effect a documentary record of the 19th century city - the extreme poverty, the largesse, the Jewish quarter and the imposing chimney stacks. This was re-created by scouting parts of the city that still possessed original architecture, and then bringing these disparate locations together in the editing. Shooting took place in Łódź and nearby towns and lasted 77 days.
David Thompson's complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the DVD release.
A short excerpt from the booklet
Bright Lights Film Journal by Gordon Thomas
Sight & Sound by David Jenkins
MovieMail by Michael Brooke
The Arts Shelf by Adam Gonet
Evening Standard by Steve Morrissey
DVD Beaver by Eric Cotenas
CineVue by Daniel Green
idFilm by Michael Pattison
Digital Fix by Clydefro Jones
The Observer by Philip French
Mondo Digital by Nathaniel Thompson
NoRipCord by Kai Lancaster
Film Comment by Patrick Friel
New York Times
Strictly Film School
(i) A foreigner's guide to Polish cinema
(ii) The Promised Land at Wajda.pl
(iii) Wajda and the making of The Promised Land
(iv)The full text (in Polish) of Władysław Stanisław Reymont's 1897 novel The Promised Land
(vi Wajda School
(vi) Polish Cultural Institute
Length / The Promised Land:
Length / Special feature:
Sound: Stereo 2.0 (restored)
Original aspect ratio:
1.66:1 / 16:9 anamorphic
Language: Polish, German
Subtitles: English (On/Off)
Release Date: 10 Nov 2014 Second Run DVD 076