The incredible true story behind new WWII blockbuster ‘Filip’
A film about a Jewish man from the Warsaw ghetto who finds himself working as a waiter in a luxury hotel in Hitler’s Third Reich by pretending to be French while sleeping with German women before brutally discarding them as revenge for the murder of his family has opened in cinemas.
‘Filip’, which is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by the same name written by Leopold Tyrmand, is the first adaptation of one of the renowned writer’s books in decades.
Already having received the prestigious Silver Lion at the Gdynia Film Festival, the film’s title character is embodied by break-out actor Eryk Kulm jr., who underwent a physical transformation for the role, putting on 10 kilos, learning French and German and learning how to box and dance.
The film's plot begins in 1941 in the Warsaw ghetto. Filip, a young Polish Jew, and his fiancée Sara, are trying to earn extra money by performing in a cabaret.
As they take the stage, shots are fired and Filip’s family are killed, while he miraculously escapes with his life.
Two years later, he is living in Frankfurt, where he works as a waiter in an exclusive hotel restaurant. Hiding his origins by claiming to be French, he engages in fleeting romances with German women.
The film’s director Michał Kwieciński told PAP: “Ten years ago someone brought me the novel and told me to read it because it is amazing material. And indeed, a Jew in Frankfurt, at the very centre of Nazism, who can live comfortably, this dramatic situation was very inspiring for me.
“What is even more remarkable is that the novel Filip is based on Tyrmand's biography. He […] worked as a forced labourer, he was a waiter in a hotel."
Tyrmand did indeed work as a waiter in Hitler’s Germany, though the route he took to get there differs from that of Filip’s.
The start of the war found him in Warsaw, but he soon made his way to Vilnius. In June 1940, the Red Army occupied the city. Tyrmand then started working as a journalist at the newspaper Pravda Komsomolska.
After having established contact with Polish underground independence groups, in April 1941, Tyrmand and two friends were arrested by the NKVD. In May, all three were sentenced to eight years in prison for belonging to an anti-Soviet organisation.
In June 1941, after the German attack on Vilnius, Tyrmand managed to escape from a train transport and return to Vilnius.
In order to avoid being identified as a Jew, Tyrmand obtained the documents of a French citizen and volunteered to work in Germany with the plan of eventually making his way to France.
In the Third Reich, he worked as an interpreter, waiter, railway worker and sailor, among other jobs. In 1944, as a sailor, he tried to make his way to neutral Sweden in 1944.
After escaping from a German ship in the Norwegian port of Stavanger, he was captured and imprisoned in the Grini concentration camp, near Oslo, where he remained until the end of the war.
Erik Kulm jr. who played Filip has been receiving a lot of praise for the way he portrayed the moral ambiguity of the title character.
Michal Kwieciński has repeatedly stressed that Kulm jr. was the only and obvious candidate for him to play the lead role.
However, once chosen for the part the actor had to devote a whole year preparing for the role.
Kulm jr. had to learn the entire role in German, a language he didn't speak at the time, he had to polish his French, gain 10 kilos, learn to dance, tap and box.
“The preparation for this film was very long and intense. It was the most demanding role in my life. […] He told me: go and exercise, you have to be pretty. Filip’s body is a kind of protest against the war. It is part of his mask," Kulm jr. said.
In December Kulm jr. received the Zbyszek Cybulski Award for young actors distinguished by outstanding individuality.
Meanwhile, Kwieciński likens the experience of Filip to many who have fled Russia’s war in Ukraine.
He said: “It seems to me that the mass of people who have come to us have some personal tragedies that we don't get into specifically as their benefactors.
“On the other hand, I think they experience very similar traumas, like the hero from World War II.
“Of course, we are not Nazis, we are friends. But the problems of these refugees are very similar. They are uprooted from their surroundings, often having lost loved ones, and have to live somehow.”
Filip premieres in cinemas throughout Poland on March 3.