The Codes

Wojciech Has directed this 1966 Polish film in which a father’s search for a son arrested in 1944 becomes a moving meditation on the irreversibility of time and the impossibility of fully knowing the past. Tadeusz has lived in England since before World War II while his wife and two sons remained in Poland; he returns hoping to solve the mystery of his son Jedrek’s disappearance and enlists his other son, Maciek (Zbigniew Cybulski), to help him. As they drive around Krakow, a conversation about the family’s difficulties during the war is illustrated with shots of Krakow’s monuments; later Maciek points to distant figures on a present-day street while recalling a past event, and the gap between what he describes and what we see shows how useless the present is in recovering a past dominated by war, resistance, occupation, and murder. In a stunning long take Has follows a young boy carrying a candle and slowly pulls back to position him among a group of soldiers; this moment of widening context, which suggests that individual freedom is impossible, is paralleled throughout the film by a taut black-and-white style that ties characters to one another and their environment, suggesting no escape and no real answers. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, January 16, 8:00, and Sunday, January 18, 4:15, 312-443-3737. –Fred Camper

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.