Stories about children experiencing war are a fertile and emotionally potent movie subject. With classics like Ivan's Childhood, Come and See, Hope and Glory, Empire of the Sun, Au revoir les enfants, Forbidden Games, Grave of the Fireflies, and many more, there's no shortage of attempts by filmmakers to relate the horrors of war as seen through the eyes of the innocent. Stanislaw Rózewicz's anthology Birth Certificate (1961) (a.k.a. Swiadectwo urodzenia) takes three quick stabs at the subject in anthology form, but as vignettes rather than as short stories.
The first chapter in Birth Certificate, "On the road," stars a young boy (Henryk Hryniewicz, who looks shockingly like a young Christian Bale), making his way to Krakow to search for his missing family; but unlike Bale's child-at-war epic Empire of the Sun, "On the Road" expects to gain too much mileage from the mere juxtaposition of innocence and strife — a shortcoming that mars the entire project — and ends abruptly with a jarringly dramatic action that needed more explication.
Part two, "A letter from the camp," depicts an adolescent boy taking care of his younger siblings while his mother is out-of-town and his father is at war. In each part in the series, Rózewicz is concerned with capturing the small struggles of survival, and while this manifests in a carefully framed quiet verisimilitude and many nice moments, each of his stories leans on the default sadness of the situation, and this one in particular provides too little else to support its supposed weight.
The last chapter in Birth Certificate is its best, anchored by a typically strong child performance. Beata Barszczewska stars as a young Jewish girl, struggling alone to avoid detection and capture. Like with the other segments, "A Single Drop of Blood" ultimately plays like a piece of a greater but missing whole, but Barszczewska's anime-sized eyes and desperately concealed fear and despair is captivating.
I'm not proud of my lukewarm reaction to Birth Certificate — it's fine film-making in every technical sense, and perhaps on another day its manner of glimpsing at tragedies rather than exploring them might seem like the perfect antidote to the melodrama or cynicism or grandeur of "more complex" war dramas — but its thriftiness left me wanting something more substantial than a reinforcement of a simple sentiment that should be a given.