When I first saw and fell in love with Wajda's film, Korczak, I didn't know it had once been the center of controversy. Although given a standing ovation at Cannes during the festival in 1990, it was nevertheless branded as anti-Semitic by "Le Monde" the next day. Was Wajda stepping over the line between Jew and non-Jew? Why were Polish Catholics so obviously absent from the film? Why didn't Korczak fight back? Major distributors refused to circulate the film outside Poland.
I won't go over the story of the film, a slice from the real life of Dr. Korczak, a Jew who was staunchly Polish and who, above all else, fought for children's rights whatever religion. I will say that the Christian symbols were profoundly moving, likewise, the doctor's relentless affirmation of life and of spiritual life: the halo which appears momentarily above the head of a boy who finally breaks down crying and tells the doctor of his encounter with his mother's corpse on the street; the daily weighing in of children and other routines which he uses to keep the children focused on their health; the play performed in the ghetto orphanage by the children which portrays death as a natural event that comes with life; the eye contact and body language between Korczak and a rifle-wielding Nazi guard as the doctor dares water a small potted plant in his presence.
Wajda's great talent for working with actors, Holland's brilliant script, the disturbing black and white cinematography by Robby Muller (cameraman for Wim Wenders) cut with documentary footage taken by the Nazi's, and Pszoniak's dignified performance as Dr. Korczak make this film truly magnificent.
The ideas explored in this film are touchy. Can Wajda, a non-Jew, speak for Jewish people killed in the Holocaust? Could non-violence have been an effective weapon against Hitler and the Nazi's as Ghandi proposed? Ultimately, you will have to answer those questions for yourself. I highly recommend this and all of Andreij Wajda's films.