Leopold Tyrmand (1920-1985), the scion of an assimilated Polish Jewish family, escaped into Germany, the lion’s den, as the Nazis carried out the mass murder of Jews in Poland during the Holocaust. After the war, he went back home and earned a living as a journalist. Stymied by the totalitarian nature of the postwar communist regime, he immigrated to the United States.
As a new American, he devoted himself to writing novels. One of them, Filip, fictionalized his experiences in Germany from 1943 onward, when he masqueraded as a French compulsory worker and only his closest friends knew he was Jewish.
The Polish director Michal Kwiecinski has skillfully transformed Tyrmand’s novel into a feature film. Filip, starring the Polish actor Eryk Kulm as Tyrmand, is now available on Netflix.
It begins in the Warsaw ghetto in 1941, a year before the Germans deported more than 200,000 Jews to extermination camps in Poland. Filip, a performer in a cabaret, manages to escape after German soldiers open fire on members of the audience.
Landing on his feet in Frankfurt, he finds a job as a waiter in a luxury hotel catering to high-ranking German army officers. Ironically, the Polish man who was instrumental in finding him this cushy job is an antisemite. “I don’t like Jews, but I like you,” he says unabashedly.
Like most of his fellow foreign workers, Filip despises the Germans. In one scene, they each spit into a cup of coffee to be served to the hotel manager.
Although Filip is generally reserved, German women are attracted to him. One of his conquests, Blanka (Zoe Straub), knows he’s Jewish, but does not betray him. He romances an older married woman, but she repels him when she denounces Poles as dirty and primitive.
Filip’s dalliances with German women earn him a beating from a German officer, but he is undeterred. Four other foreigners who have had intimate relations with Germans of the opposite sex are treated far more harshly.
He finds his true love in Lisa (Caroline Hartig), a young woman from a Nazi family. She initially resists his advances, but eventually she succumbs to his charms. He confesses he’s a Jew, but strangely enough, she is indifferent to his racial identity.
Filip convinces Lisa that they will be safer in another country, but their flight to France is delayed by an Allied bombing raid, and they remain in Frankfurt.
Due to an unsettling event that reinforces his animosity toward Germans, Filip sets off on a daring mission of vengeance. It establishes him as a cool, calculating, mindful person who won’t be discouraged by the odds arrayed against him.
By any yardstick, Filip is a straight-forward film that offers viewers dollops of high drama, action, sex and intrigue. From this perspective, it is satisfying and entertaining.