Leave No Traces

Reviewed by Roger Gook

The film last Sunday at the Keswick Film Club was set in Poland in 1983. This was a difficult time, with Russia leaning on the Polish government to stifle the increasing unrest. Martial law had just been lifted and everyone was very nervous. The story followed two teenagers who were taken away by the police following some innocent horseplay in the main square in Warsaw. At the police station one was beaten in the stomach so that there were no incriminating marks – hence the name of the film "Leave No Traces". Two days later he died. His friend who was present and saw what happened began a long fight for justice.

But this was no political thriller, but a forensic look at the layers of corruption in the police force and the government. The day to day details were shown, and the anger and frustration of all those involved was palpable. The corruption within the state was used in small everyday acts which made it all very real and even more chilling. For instance, the boy's mother was told that her licence to work had been issued at a time when there were forgers operating, and so it was probable that it was a fake, but if she co-operated this would not be investigated. The central question the film raised was how much do you risk your family's well-being to pursue some sort of justice?

The story was closely based on a real event, and the film was almost a documentary. By bringing the actions into the everyday world the horrific events became much more vivid. The inevitable outcome was that the police were exonerated and two innocent nurses took the blame. This was a remarkable film dealing with a dark part of history, but with a message for us all.