People with No Tomorrow (Ledzie bez jutra) (14th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival) Review
Most countries who had cinema industries in the silent era have an incomplete record, and films even more recent than that can and have been lost. In Poland, the problem is particularly acute: due to archives being destroyed in World War II, very few locally-made films from before then survive. People with No Tomorrow (Ludzie bez jutra) was one such. Made in 1921, it was believed lost for many years. However, in 2003 a tinted nitrate print, with German intertitles, was found in a Berlin archive. It has been restored (with Polish intertitles reinstated). The current version, not unfortunately fully complete, has been speed-corrected, given that it was shot at seventeen frames per second, rather slower than the sound standard of twenty-four.
Divided into five acts, People with No Tomorrow tells the story, based on a true incident, of the affair between actress Maria Wisnowska, here called Lola Wirska (Halina Bruczówna) and quite definitely painted as a young lady of loose morals, and Russian cavalry captain Alexander Bartenev, here called Alfred Runicz (Józef Węgrzyn). Needless to say, it ends badly, and not least scandalously.
Reviewing a film like this is not the easiest, as we lack much in the way of comparison – how many other Polish silents survive? (This from a country which made its first films in the last years of the nineteen century and its first feature in 1908 which, to put that in perspective, is four years before either the UK or the USA did.) However, compared to other silents from Europe, it's much in line with them. It would be later in the decade that directors like Murnau (and through him, Hitchcock, Asquith and others) would endeavour to pare down the number of intertitles as far as possible., so by comparison People with No Tomorrow is quite a talky silent – and we get to see and read a plot-significant letter not just once but twice. It's far less groundbreaking than the work of those directors, and others working at the time, such as Dreyer, so not a once-missing masterpiece but one we should still be glad to have the opportunity to see. And there may be some actual masterpieces out there we're not aware of, so check your attic.
(Thanks to Anna Taborska.)
People with No Tomorrow shows on 8 April at 9pm at the Regent Street Cinema, London, as part of the 14th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival. The showing will be accompanied by a live music soundtrack provided by Paweł Szamburski, Patryk Zakrocki, and Sebastian Wypych.