When the government reveals its plans to build a dam on a river in the mountains, the peasants from Maniowy try to oppose the officials to avoid relocation. Kamieńska’s camera gazes at the local crowd with empathy, granting them screen time to express their views as they attend meetings with government representatives. This footage is intercut with nostalgic observational sequences of a picturesque valley that is to be forever flooded once the dam is complete.
The camera takes its time to expose the traditional lifestyles of the people, who live in wooden houses and work with horses and hand tools in the fields. The prospect of displacement has them understandably worried about their future. The anxiety caused by the coming transformation of their native land, as well as by the necessity of relocation to new houses without farms, underpins their speeches in the meetings.
The peasants ask simple questions about their future and compensation for lost acres. The officials, who only momentarily appear on the screen, talk about the larger picture and the infrastructure of the country as if the two parties were speaking different languages.
Kamieńska shows many faces of the peasants in longer close-ups. Their doubt, anger and finally resignation trigger the viewer’s sympathy. At the same time, the officials are either not shown at all, or we see their hands instead of their heads. The impersonal speakers for the system seem detached from the human problems of the locals. In the last meeting, the camera finally shows a few of their faces, though they display no emotions.
No matter how intelligent and logical the people from Maniowy might be, their protest is a lost cause. The objectives of the regime remain paramount over those of the local community. The land of the peasants’ ancestors will become a lake.
As the first houses are demolished, the villagers attend a church procession. Unheard, they can only find consolation in prayers. At the end of the film, their horse carriages head towards the new build houses, but the drivers keep turning their heads back at Maniowy—yet another traditional village that failed to withstand the forces of Communist industrialisation.
The Dam is available on DVD with English subtitles.