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Ideological Uses of the Western in Film Depictions of Post-war Polish Borderlands (06.2023)
In the context of Polish cinema, the genre label of the Western has often been applied to a cycle of films produced in the 1960s and 1970s, portraying the unrest in post-war Polish borderlands both in the east and in the west. This article examines three such films with respect to the ideological implications of their uses of the Western: Prawo i pięść (The Law and the Fist, dir. Jerzy Hoffman and Edward Skórzewski, 1964), Wilcze echa (Wolves’ Echoes, dir. Aleksander Scibor-Rylski, 1967), and Południk zero (Meridian Zero, dir. Waldemar Podgórski, 1970). Prawo i pięść is set in the so-called Regained Territories in western Poland and it tells the story of a bunch of men who are sent to a former German town for reconnaissance before the establishment of a proper institutional organization. Wilcze echa tells about Polish soldiers in the Bieszczady mountains in the southeast of the country at the time of the fights with the partisan formations of Ukrainian nationalists. Południk zero is set in the Mazury region in the northeast and revolves around a confrontation between the newly arrived Polish soldiers and the bandits who have terrorized the local autochthonous people. The three films under discussion emphasize the great effort that the establishment of Polish statehood in these territories entailed. The envisaging of Polish borderlands as wilderness helped to define and justify the necessary course of development—and the virtual colonization of some of these territories—and to instill its proper understanding in collective consciousness. The efforts undertaken by the communist authorities were aimed at creating a vision of a homogeneous Polish nation. The employment of certain elements of the convention of the Western in the films that depicted the reality of post-war Polish borderlands foregrounds the exploits of heroic and upright men, glossing over a range of difficult historical issues, such as the enforced assimilation of ethnic minorities that had inhabited borderland territories.