An excerpt from the booklet essay by Michael Szporer
Interrogation is a ‘bastard history of the Stalin era’, a growing genre which includes several quality Polish and Hungarian films, notably Wajda’s Man of Marble (Człowiek z marmuru, 1977), Marczewski’s Shivers (Dreszcze, 1981), Zaorski’s Mother of Kings (Matka Królów, 1982), Pál Gábor’s Angi Vera (1978), the Yugoslav Cannes Festival winner, When Father Was Away on Business (Otac na službenom putu, 1985) by Emir Kusturica, and the Soviet perestroika film Repentance (Monanieba, 1984), by the Georgian director Tengiz Abuladze. Re-examination of past errors brings up the problem of current injustices. Such films are politically risqué because they question the legitimacy of the system by taking account of its history and lay open those who hold power without public consent to public scrutiny.
Interrogation, however, goes far beyond breaking silence on a sensitive issue. It is a direct assault on a political system that terrorizes its citizens. For what characterised the Stalin years was the relative freedom of action of the security police apparatus which became the instrument of fear more powerful than the Party or the Politburo, answerable only to the party secretary – and in Poland, on more than one occasion, with a direct line to Lavrentiy Beria and Joseph Stalin himself. Basing himself on what happened to Tonia Lechmann, a friend of the secretary to Władysław Gomułka, and other actual accounts by political prisoners, Bugajski’s portrayal is highly documentary. In no sense does it glamorise Stalinism by straying into symbolism or sentimental reflections about ‘the painful period.’ It shows Stalinist terror for what it was – a raping of the human spirit.
What must have been hair-raising to the censor was the implication of continuity – the contemporaneity of history suggested by Interrogation – that was only exacerbated by the declaration of martial law. For how legitimate is a government that has to rely on troops to quell the
aspirations of its people, to intimidate them with mass arrests, loyalty oaths, identity checks, police searches, and wiretapping in order to keep them in line? Even the initial objections to the screenplay were not primarily to its daring and graphic depiction of security police abuses. Not many people in Poland, not even those in power, admire the UBeks (‘Urząd Bezpieczeństwa’ – the security police) except perhaps the UBeks themselves. The Ministry of National Security was officially dissolved on 7 December 1954, and the security police was purged and reorganised already before the period of liberalisation following the ‘Polish October’ of 1956. The party leadership since then has tried to distance itself from Stalinism, portraying itself as reformist or legally-constituted. What the censors disliked in Bugajski’s scenario was the parallel contemporary theme, which was filmed but was cut from the final version for artistic reasons.
Michael Szporer's complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the release.