#213 – Corporal Wojtek the Bear (Kapral Wojtek Niedźwiedź)

(1985, Pol, 95 min) Dir Ewa Wąchock. Cast Stanisław Bielski , Roman Wilhelmi, Jerzy Radziwiłowicz.

The first film from actor turned director Ewa Wąchock tells the true story of Wojtek, the Syrian bear donated to the Polish Army while they were stationed in the Middle East during World War II. They raised him, feeding his condensed milk from an old vodka bottle, getting him hooked on cigarettes and training him to salute when greeted. They became so attached hen they were being transported to Italy they officially enrolled him into the 22nd Artillery Supply Company. In Italy he served at the Battle of Monte Cassino, apparently transporting ammunition for the soldiers. Along with his fellow soldiers he ended the war in Britain and was given to Edinburgh Zoo where he lived out the rest of his life. Deciding that using a real bear in the film would be too dangerous (and would go against the message of the film) and that a person in costume would be obviously fake, Wąchock embraced the artifice and instead cast a child dressed as a bear, considering that the sight of a child smoking or fearfully negotiating a war zone would convey the same emotion in her audience as a real animal would. Thankfully she lucked out by casting a young Stanisław Bielski in his first role and his future renown is writ large in the authenticity of each expression and reaction, despite being dressed as a bear. A heartfelt film about the relationship between man and beast.

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Twitter: @MadeUpFilms

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