|Teresa Izewska as Daisy in Kanal (1957) directed by Andrzej Wadja: smoking hot, even in a sewer.|
d. Andrzej Wadja
Criterion Collection #284
Part of Adrzej Wadja: Three War Films #282
Kanal is part of the thematically linked "Three War Films" trilogy by Polish cinema lion Adrzej Wadja. Criterion Collection only has four Wadja films in the collection, but if you investigate him with a quick internet search it's easy to see that he is truly the Dean of Polish filmmakers, with four Academy Award Nominations for Best Foreign Films (no wins) and lifetime achievement and specific film awards inside Europe.
I imagine judging Wadja's career based on the three war films, all released between 1955 and 1958, is similar to judging Martin Scorcese based on Mean Streets (1973), Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) and Taxi Driver (1976): You can do it but it will leave out a ton of good work, and really only give you an idea of the starting point of Scorcese or Wadja.
Wadja's war trilogy takes place both during (Kanal and A Generation) and immediately after (Ashes and Diamonds) the war. All three concerns acts of resistance with the moral playing field sliding from "clear"(Kanal: Polish resistance fighters, during the Warsaw uprising, struggling to escape via the sewers of Warsaw.) To "somewhat murky" (A Generation: Youths, living in occupied Poland, collaborate with Nazis and joint the resistance.) To "fetid (Ashes and Diamonds: Hit men roam post-Communist Poland for and against the new Polish Communist government.)
Of the three Kanal is the only film that has the familiar outlines of a "Hollywood" film. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the Warsaw sewers that envelops the final hour of the film draws the viewer in and makes the story memorable in a way that the other two films do not. A main difference between Kanal and an analogous Hollywood escape picture is the absence of a happy ending.