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Story of Film - October 2013
Remind Me
,Ashes and Diamonds

Ashes and Diamonds

Polish director Andrzej Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds (1958) is a poetic chronicle of a turbulent period that begins on the first day of peace at the close of World War II. It was the third in Wajda's war trilogy, including A Generation (1955) and Kanal (1957), and a powerful statement about the ultimate absurdity of politics, where one totalitarian force replaces another in an endless cycle of power struggles.

Ashes and Diamonds begins with a terrible mistake; two members of the Polish Resistance, Maciek (Zbigniew Cybulski) and Andrzej (Adam Pawlikowski), on a mission to assassinate a Communist official, accidentally murder two innocent men who have just returned from a German labor camp. That tragic killing immediately defines the despairing tone of a film about a nation out of balance, devastated by war and with little to look forward to.

After the double murder, Maciek and Andrzej hole up at the Monopol Hotel, awaiting orders. At this lone outpost in a bleak provincial town pocked with bombed-out buildings, the local Communist officials assemble for a celebratory dinner and to consolidate their power. Assassin Maciek receives orders to continue on his mission to kill the Communist Party official, Szczuka (Waclaw Zastrzezynski). In the meantime, Maciek strikes up a flirtation with a pretty blonde barmaid, Christine (Ewa Krzyzewska) working in the hotel, and as their relationship progresses, begins to question the futility of all the killing, and considers giving up his mission.

Speaking for an entire generation that came of age in wartime, Maciek tells Christine, "I want a simple life. I want to go to university." In Maciek, Wajda articulated all the sorrow that war had brought to the Polish people, along with a yearning for something better around the corner.

Ashes and Diamonds is about a nation coming out of the black cloud of wartime and the events of war on its people, like the dejected Christine, who is too reluctant to hope for happiness or let herself fall in love with Maciek.

Wajda and Cybulski were something of kindred spirits and were about the same age when Ashes and Diamonds was made. Both had served in the Home Army and both were members of a generation scarred by the war.

Playing a restless character torn apart by the moral fallout of committing murder, Zbigniew Cybulski became an icon of the Polish postwar cinema, often referred to as the Polish James Dean. Just as Dean articulated the anxieties and frustrations of postwar American youth, Cybulski embodied some of the conflicts and angst of Poland's younger generation in Ashes and Diamonds. He was the first Polish superstar and an influential figure in Polish creative life, founding the student theater Bim Bom, and inspiring Polish critic Zbigniew Slojewski to comment on his legacy, that he was "more than an actor. He was a myth...the essence of manliness, a superman and a superlover."

Cybulski's career was defined by his role in Ashes and Diamonds, and his function as a symbol of Polish suffering. Adding to that mystique, Cybulski had much in common with his tempestuous character Maciek. Both were heavy-drinkers and womanizers, and Cybulski also carried a battered German army mess cup in his backpack. Like Dean, Cybulski died tragically. In 1967 when he ran for a train headed to Warsaw, he slipped and was dragged beneath the train. His funeral drew a crowd of thousands. Wajda later made a tribute film to his star and a self-referential film about filmmaking, Everything For Sale (1969).

Ashes and Diamonds was based on a novel written in 1947 by one of Poland's foremost novelists, Jerzy Andrzejewski. One of the most successful films ever made in Poland, Ashes and Diamonds was Wajda's third feature and made him an internationally renowned director who was honored at film festivals in Venice and Berlin. A graduate of the prestigious and rigorous Lodz film school along with directors Roman Polanski (Knife in the Water, 1962) and Krzysztof Kieslowski (Decalogue, 1989), Wajda was a member of the Polish school of filmmakers who first brought the native cinema to international attention.

Director: Andrzej Wajda
Screenplay: Jerzy Andrzejewski and Andrzej Wajda; based on the novel by Andrzejewski
Cinematography: Jerzy Wojcik
Film Editing: Halina Nawrocka
Production Design: Roman Mann
Music: Jan Krenz, Filip Nowak
Cast: Zbigniew Cybulski (Maciek Chelmicki), Eva Krzyzewski (Christine), Adam Pawlikowski (Andrzej), Waclaw Zastrzezynski (Szczuka), Bogumil Kobiela (Drewnowski).
BW-105m. Letterboxed.

by Felicia Feaster



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