The second of Polish director Andrzej Wajda's WWII trilogy, following Pokolenie (A Generation) and preceding Popiol I diament (Ashes and Diamonds), Kanal is the most physically harrowing of the set.
Based on the experiences of Jerzy Stefan Stawinski, a Polish patriot who participated in the battle for Warsaw in 1939 as an 18-year-old and in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, the action takes place in the last week of the 63-day Uprising, as the Nazis hunt down what few freedom fighters remain. A band of Poles takes to the sewers in hopes of escaping, but they become disoriented by the darkness and the fumes of the waist-deep filth.
Whenever the Poles try to emerge for orientation or relief, the Germans are there to greet them with a hail of bullets. Kanal was Wajda's coming-out film; it won two prizes at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival and clicked with both European and American audiences, in spite of its grueling story and pessimistic tone.