The wonders of what could have been. When you watch a lot of films you come across a lot of premature deaths, which make you wonder what more could have been made or how certain projects could have been finished. The number of these deaths that happen to be car accidents is ridiculously high, with talents like Soviet director Larisa Shepitko and French actress Françoise Dorléac being the ones that immediately come to mind.
To this list, I guess I’ll now have to add Polish director Andrzej Munk whose death prevented Passenger from being completed. As it stands, Passenger is just over an hour long – gaps in the shooting being explained via a voiceover and photographs of footage in order to keep the narrative flow going, the ending being left ambiguous as was done in the original play.
Despite being cobbled together Passenger is a remarkably cohesive work where the meta-narrative almost makes the proceedings feel like a documentary. Considering that this is the story of an SS officer and her game of psychological warfare over a chosen prisoner, there is a lot of power in this footage. Especially as most of the atrocities (such as Jews hanging dead) are nonchalantly happening in the background as SS officer Liza goes about her daily business.
The relationship that forms between Liza and her chosen inmate Marta is complex and destructive – something you only start to see in the second half of the film as Liza starts to tell us the real story of what happened (unlike the sanitized version she tells her husband in the first half). This is not the story of an SS officer who wanted to save someone from the camp, as she tries to initially convince her husband, this is someone so hardened by her dehumanisation as part of the SS that she finds a prisoner to take out her frustrations on.
I can only imagine how much of a masterpiece Passenger would have ended up being had Andrzej Munk not died. As is stands it’s pretty much there, but it would have been interesting to see how he would have filmed the ending and how the present day scenes on the ship would have panned out. Still, this is definitely worth seeing even if it is just as a fragment.