Kanal


1h 37m 1957
Kanal

Brief Synopsis

World War II Resistance fighters under siege attempt a desperate escape through the sewers.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Historical
War
Political
Foreign
Release Date
Jan 1957
Premiere Information
New York opening: 9 May 1961
Production Company
KADR Film Unit
Distribution Company
Kingsley International Pictures; M. J. P. Enterprises
Country
Poland
Location
Lodz Feature Film Studio, Poland
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Kanal by Jerzy Stefan Stawinski (Warsaw, 1956).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 37m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Synopsis

In September of 1944, as the German Army completes the crushing of the Warsaw uprising, a tired group of Polish patriots makes its way through the rubble and ruins of the city. Zadra, their embittered commander, who knows their flight is doomed, leads them to the temporary shelter of a bombed hotel. But even in the face of death, there is still a moment for romance between Korab and Daisy, a young Resistance fighter. That night, Halinka, a young woman who acts as a messenger, has her first love affair, with a lieutenant. A composer, Michael, is on the verge of madness. The group is forced to go into the sewers in order to proceed to the center of the city. Waist-deep in the muddy, refuse-filled waters, they become separated in the maze of canals and one by one meet their inevitable end. Halinka, brutally told by the man she loves that he has a wife and children, commits suicide. Michael, by now completely insane, wanders through the passages playing the ocarina. Daisy and the wounded Korab see the light of day at the end of a tunnel but find the exit barred with an iron grille. Meanwhile, Zadra and his sergeant make their way to an exit; but seeing none of the men behind him, the commander brands his panic-stricken sergeant a traitor and kills him. Emerging into the open air through a manhole, Zadra finds himself surrounded by a German firing squad. Silently and grimly, he descends once more into the sewers.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Historical
War
Political
Foreign
Release Date
Jan 1957
Premiere Information
New York opening: 9 May 1961
Production Company
KADR Film Unit
Distribution Company
Kingsley International Pictures; M. J. P. Enterprises
Country
Poland
Location
Lodz Feature Film Studio, Poland
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Kanal by Jerzy Stefan Stawinski (Warsaw, 1956).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 37m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Articles

Kanal


Andrzej Wajda's Kanal (1957) was advertised in Poland as "the first film about the Warsaw Uprising." That tragic chain of events shaped both the film and its complicated reception in Poland. During the campaign, which lasted from August to October of 1944, the Polish government-in-exile instructed the Home Army to liberate Warsaw from German occupation in the hope of preventing a communist takeover. The Soviet troops approached the city but stood on the sidelines while the Poles fought against superior German firepower. As depicted in the film, the Home Army managed to hold the Old Town, but ultimately were forced to flee through the underground sewers. By October 2 the Germans had crushed the Polish resistance army, the city was reduced to rubble, and approximately 200,000 people were killed, mostly civilians. The film's scriptwriter, Jerzy Stefan Stawinski, had served as a company commanding officer during the Warsaw Uprising and had adapted the script from his novel of the same title, drawing largely from his personal experiences.

Kanal was very much a product of the Thaw that spread throughout the Soviet Union and much of the Eastern Bloc after the death of Stalin in 1953. By 1956, the year the film was made, some portions of Warsaw were still in ruin, and the uprising still loomed in the public memory. Wajda recalled in a 2003 interview: "The authorities didn't want Kanal to be made because - even though the film was critical of the Warsaw uprising, the authorities must have realized that society would be against the movie, and would regard it as the communist voice on the subject of the Warsaw uprising. And the authorities probably didn't want to open yet another line of confrontation with public opinion. It preferred not to make any film on the subject of the Warsaw Uprising, even one with a point of view they could accept as their own."

Leonard Borkowicz, the president of the Assessment Screenplay Commission for Films and Screenplays, disapproved of the project at first, stating: "This screenplay, in some way, does not sufficiently address the problem of heroism." Still, Tadeusz Konwicki, the literary manager for the film production group Kadr and a member of the state screenplay commission, lobbied behind the scenes for the project. Initially, the documentary filmmaker Andrzej Munk wanted to shoot Kanal as his feature film debut. Janusz "Kuba" Morgenstern, one of the film's assistant directors, recalls that Munk wanted to shoot the film on location and without artificial lighting, reflecting his experience as a documentary filmmaker. Convinced that the light was insufficient, Munk abandoned the project altogether. Konwicki then gave the script to Wajda, who decided to move forward with it.

Wajda and his crew took a different approach, constructing an elaborate replica of the sewers; the director of photography Jerzy Lipman provided the brilliantly stylized chiaroscuro lighting for those episodes. The scenes above ground were mostly shot on location; Wajda recalled that "in 1956 it was already difficult to find ruins in Warsaw, and the fragment in the Old Town beneath Kamienne Schodki used in the finale, was the last to be demolished."

During Kanal's first release in Poland it received largely mixed-to-negative reviews, mainly for undermining the heroism of the war by showing the filthy, ultimately impossible conditions in which the soldiers fought. Still, in an April 1957 review in Zycie Warszawy, the critic Stanislaw Grzelecki wrote: "I followed the same underground road from Mokotow to the centre of town as Jerzy Stawinski, and I, like he, spent seventeen hours in the sewers. I saw and experienced enough to state that Wajda's film is telling the truth."

To Wajda's surprise, Leonard Borkowicz agreed to show Kanal at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Prize alongside Bergman's The Seventh Seal. According to Wajda, after this international success Polish critics began to approach it more sympathetically. No doubt the prize at Cannes also helped Wajda to push through another controversial project, Ashes and Diamonds (1958), his third feature and one of the great masterpieces of world cinema.

Direction: Andrzej Wajda
Script: Jerzy Stefan Stawinski, based on the novel Kanal
Director of Photography: Jerzy Lipman
Film Editing: Halina Nawrocka
Music: Jan Krenz
Production Design: Roman Mann
Costumes: Jerzy Szeski
Cast: Wienczyslaw Glinski (Lt. Zadra); Teresa Izewska (Stokrotka); Tadeusz Janczar (Korab); Emil Karewicz (Madry); Wladyslaw Sheybal (Composer); Stanislaw Mikulski (Smukly); Teresa Berezowska (Halina); Tadeusz Gwiazdowski (Kula).
BW-97m.

by James Steffen

Sources:
Andrzej Wajda on Kanal (2003). Supplement for Criterion Collection DVD.
Wajda, Andrzej. Double Vision: My Life in Film. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1989.
Wajda, Andrzej. Wajda Films. Warsaw: Wydawnictwa Artystyczne i Filmowe, 1996.

Kanal

Kanal

Andrzej Wajda's Kanal (1957) was advertised in Poland as "the first film about the Warsaw Uprising." That tragic chain of events shaped both the film and its complicated reception in Poland. During the campaign, which lasted from August to October of 1944, the Polish government-in-exile instructed the Home Army to liberate Warsaw from German occupation in the hope of preventing a communist takeover. The Soviet troops approached the city but stood on the sidelines while the Poles fought against superior German firepower. As depicted in the film, the Home Army managed to hold the Old Town, but ultimately were forced to flee through the underground sewers. By October 2 the Germans had crushed the Polish resistance army, the city was reduced to rubble, and approximately 200,000 people were killed, mostly civilians. The film's scriptwriter, Jerzy Stefan Stawinski, had served as a company commanding officer during the Warsaw Uprising and had adapted the script from his novel of the same title, drawing largely from his personal experiences. Kanal was very much a product of the Thaw that spread throughout the Soviet Union and much of the Eastern Bloc after the death of Stalin in 1953. By 1956, the year the film was made, some portions of Warsaw were still in ruin, and the uprising still loomed in the public memory. Wajda recalled in a 2003 interview: "The authorities didn't want Kanal to be made because - even though the film was critical of the Warsaw uprising, the authorities must have realized that society would be against the movie, and would regard it as the communist voice on the subject of the Warsaw uprising. And the authorities probably didn't want to open yet another line of confrontation with public opinion. It preferred not to make any film on the subject of the Warsaw Uprising, even one with a point of view they could accept as their own." Leonard Borkowicz, the president of the Assessment Screenplay Commission for Films and Screenplays, disapproved of the project at first, stating: "This screenplay, in some way, does not sufficiently address the problem of heroism." Still, Tadeusz Konwicki, the literary manager for the film production group Kadr and a member of the state screenplay commission, lobbied behind the scenes for the project. Initially, the documentary filmmaker Andrzej Munk wanted to shoot Kanal as his feature film debut. Janusz "Kuba" Morgenstern, one of the film's assistant directors, recalls that Munk wanted to shoot the film on location and without artificial lighting, reflecting his experience as a documentary filmmaker. Convinced that the light was insufficient, Munk abandoned the project altogether. Konwicki then gave the script to Wajda, who decided to move forward with it. Wajda and his crew took a different approach, constructing an elaborate replica of the sewers; the director of photography Jerzy Lipman provided the brilliantly stylized chiaroscuro lighting for those episodes. The scenes above ground were mostly shot on location; Wajda recalled that "in 1956 it was already difficult to find ruins in Warsaw, and the fragment in the Old Town beneath Kamienne Schodki used in the finale, was the last to be demolished." During Kanal's first release in Poland it received largely mixed-to-negative reviews, mainly for undermining the heroism of the war by showing the filthy, ultimately impossible conditions in which the soldiers fought. Still, in an April 1957 review in Zycie Warszawy, the critic Stanislaw Grzelecki wrote: "I followed the same underground road from Mokotow to the centre of town as Jerzy Stawinski, and I, like he, spent seventeen hours in the sewers. I saw and experienced enough to state that Wajda's film is telling the truth." To Wajda's surprise, Leonard Borkowicz agreed to show Kanal at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Prize alongside Bergman's The Seventh Seal. According to Wajda, after this international success Polish critics began to approach it more sympathetically. No doubt the prize at Cannes also helped Wajda to push through another controversial project, Ashes and Diamonds (1958), his third feature and one of the great masterpieces of world cinema. Direction: Andrzej Wajda Script: Jerzy Stefan Stawinski, based on the novel Kanal Director of Photography: Jerzy Lipman Film Editing: Halina Nawrocka Music: Jan Krenz Production Design: Roman Mann Costumes: Jerzy Szeski Cast: Wienczyslaw Glinski (Lt. Zadra); Teresa Izewska (Stokrotka); Tadeusz Janczar (Korab); Emil Karewicz (Madry); Wladyslaw Sheybal (Composer); Stanislaw Mikulski (Smukly); Teresa Berezowska (Halina); Tadeusz Gwiazdowski (Kula). BW-97m. by James Steffen Sources: Andrzej Wajda on Kanal (2003). Supplement for Criterion Collection DVD. Wajda, Andrzej. Double Vision: My Life in Film. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1989. Wajda, Andrzej. Wajda Films. Warsaw: Wydawnictwa Artystyczne i Filmowe, 1996.

Andrzej Wajda: Three War Films on DVD


Andrzej Wajda's first three features - A Generation (1955), Kanal (1957) and Ashes and Diamonds (1958)- are usually regarded as a trilogy because of their common concern with the Polish experience of World War II. They demonstrate a director and his collaborators rapidly growing in artistic assurance, in part because the political thaw that occurred throughout Eastern Europe after Stalin's death enabled them to deal with increasingly complex themes and characters. Wajda and his cinematographers also built upon the stylistic innovations of recent American and European cinema, helping gain recognition for Poland as a vital national cinema in its own right. The Criterion Collection's excellent box set entitled Andrzej Wajda: Three War Films presents all three films in new high-definition transfers with thoughtfully chosen special features.

THE FILMS

A Generation (1954)
Synopsis:Stach, an uneducated young man living in the Warsaw slums, is wounded and his friends killed while stealing coal from a German train. Sekula, a foreman, invites him to become an apprentice at a carpentry shop. The shop's owner is providing clandestine support for the Home Army, an underground resistance group, and reluctantly permits them to store arms there. Sekula, on the other hand, supports the leftist People's Army and educates Stach in the basics of Marxism. When Stach joins up with the People's Army, he finds himself attracted to Dorota, the energetic young leader of the local brigade. Jasio, a journeyman at the same shop, is torn between his desire to serve the Resistance through the People's Army and the need to support his aging father. When everyone is called upon to assist the Jews in the 1943 Ghetto Uprising, not all of them will make it out alive.

As Ewa Mazierska points out in her excellent essay accompanying the DVD, Wajda's debut feature straddles the boundary between the doctrine of socialist realism enforced throughout the Eastern Bloc countries of the late Stalin era and the emerging "Polish school" developed by Wajda and other Polish filmmakers. Thus A Generation still contains stock speeches and characters such as the immature but eager protagonist (Stach) and the wise mentor figure (Sekula). At the same time, it offers a gripping portrait of life in occupied Poland, with authentic details such as the corpses hung by the Nazis along the streets to intimidate the populace. One of the most noteworthy aspects of A Generation is its cinematography by Jerzy Lipman, who also collaborated with Wajda on Kanal and a couple other subsequent films. As is evident from the opening crane shot that descends upon the slum, Wajda and Lipman already possess a strong visual sense. In particular, Wajda's taste for chiaroscuro lighting and his gift for composing actors within the frame reflect his previous training as a painter. I had always heard that A Generation was the weakest of the trilogy, but in fact the film holds up better than one might expect, and it repays a second viewing. Incidentally, watch for a young Roman Polanski in the role of one of Stach's companions.

Kanal (1957)
Synopsis: The ill-fated 1944 Warsaw Uprising is in its fifty-sixth day. Their ranks decimated, a company of soldiers from the Home Army takes shelter in a partially ruined house, but are forced to withdraw due to the advance of German forces. Their only option at this point is to return downtown through the sewers. Daisy, Korab's girlfriend, knows the route but because Korab is wounded she has to lead him through separately. Without a guide, the other soldiers become trapped in the dark underground maze, nearly suffocating from the lack of oxygen and in danger of losing their sanity.

Kanal opens with a dazzling four-minute tracking shot that follows the company as they descend a hill and engage in a battle on a ruined street. As with the subsequent Ashes and Diamonds, Wajda is unafraid of bold, self-consciously virtuosic gestures, and it is undoubtedly this stylistic bravura which initially drew international attention to his work. At the same time, Kanal retains a harsh sense of realism that reinforces its emotional impact. Except for the scenes in the sewers, the film was shot on location in Warsaw, significant portions of which were still in ruins more than a decade later in when the film was made. It a very direct way those scenes bring home the devastation Poland suffered during the war. And while the sewers may have been constructed for the film, they evoke an all-too convincing feel for the filth and claustrophobic environment the fighters must have experienced. The film's realism extends to its treatment of violence, which is far more explicit than one would expect to find in Soviet or, for that matter, even American films of that era. It depicts the impact of bullets using squibs (small explosive charges) rigged with blood packets--an effect Wajda first used in A Generation--and at one point we even see a Polish fighter bashing in a German's face with a rock.

However, a couple aspects of the film don't ring true: the composer Michal somehow manages to phone home to his family and speaks to his wife at the exact moment that the Germans overtake her, and later in the film we see him wandering in the sewers playing an ocarina, an overly portentous symbol. Still, on the whole the film is magnificently realized and the sewer scenes are unforgettable. Together with Bergman's The Seventh Seal, Kanal was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival.

Ashes and Diamonds (1958)
Synopsis: Maciek, a fighter in the Home Army, has been ordered by his superior officer Andrzej to assassinate Szczuka, a secretary in the rival Communist party, which is in the process of taking power after the war. When they learn that they have shot a couple of workers by mistake, Andrzej orders Maciek to kill Szcuka that night at a hotel. While waiting for his move, Maciek meets and falls in love with Krystyna, a barmaid, and begins to doubt the value of his actions.

Ashes and Diamonds is an unqualified masterpiece and arguably Wajda's greatest film to date, though one would hesitate to slight the director's subsequent accomplishments such as Man of Marble (1976) or Danton (1982). While the script is tightly constructed, taking place within a single twenty-four hour period, it provides a revealing account of the divisions within Polish society after the war. Its moral complexities are underlined by the restless, probing lead performance by Zbigniew Cybulski, who is often characterized as the Polish James Dean. Tragically, Cybulski died in 1967 at the age of forty, cutting short what had already developed into a great career, with appearances in films such as the underrated The Saragossa Manuscript (1965) by Wojciech Has. Wajda later commented on Cybulski's premature death his self-reflexive drama Everything For Sale (1968).

The film's use of deep focus photography and deep space composition, as Annette Insdorf points out in the audio commentary track, was inspired by cinematographer Gregg Toland's innovative work for William Wyler and John Ford, and above all Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941). However, the film's most frequently cited deep-focus shot, in which Andrzej speaks in a phone booth while Maciek leans against a bar and Szczuka enters through the front door of the hotel lobby, appears to be an artfully executed optical effect combining two separate elements rather than a true deep-focus shot. Such subterfuges were also common in Citizen Kane, though they of course do not diminish the impact of either film. Another likely inspiration derived from Citizen Kane is the film's rich chiaroscuro lighting, though Wajda's aforementioned artistic background undoubtedly bears some influence here as well. But regardless of influences, Jerzy Wojcik's sharp-edged black-and-white cinematography is remarkable, the equal of anything done at that time.

THE TRANSFERS

A Generation appears on DVD for the first time, and the results are extremely satisfactory, especially considering the age of the film. The booklet states: "One of the scenes damaged on the original negative was transferred from an earlier print courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art." I believe the scene in question was probably Stach's arrival home after he is first wounded, since it looks softer and more dupey that the other portions of the film. Otherwise, the print is generally in very good condition and the transfer has a nice range of grays. The mono sound is muffled during the opening credits, but is mostly clear during the rest of the film. Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds have been released previously on DVD through Facets in conjunction with Polart, but the new Criterion editions are obviously the way to go, with superior high-definition transfers using prints struck from the original negatives. Those who already own the Facets discs will want to upgrade. The print for Kanal has the most damage, particularly during sewer sequences; however, the image is sharp with rich contrast. The print for Ashes and Diamonds is in the best condition of the three, mainly displaying a few scratches at the beginning; the transfer can only be described as stellar. As usual, Criterion deserves praise for its sensitive handling of black-and-white transfers. The mono sound in both cases is fine.

SPECIAL FEATURES

While all three films are compelling dramas on their own, the non-Polish viewer greatly benefits from some kind of historical context. Here Criterion demonstrates yet again why they have earned a reputation as the gold standard in home video releases. A Generation features a video interview with Wajda and critic Jerzy Plazewski, in which they speak extensively about Wajda's start as a filmmaker, the state of the Polish film industry at the time and other topics such as the influence of Italian neorealism. Similar interviews with Wajda and various collaborators appear on the other two discs, and in all cases they are extremely interesting and informative. In fact, you might want to consider watching the interviews before the main features to better understand their historical references and enjoy them more fully the first time around.

One intriguing supplement on A Generation is an early student short by Wajda, Ilza Ceramics (1951), a documentary which combines imaginative visual touches with obvious concessions to official ideology. For example, at the end of the film the narrator proclaims: "A new cadre of folk artists is growing up. Inspired by the creativity of the Polish people, they will continue the tradition of progressive and realistic national art in Poland." Such platitudes will be amusingly familiar to anyone who has studied the politics and culture of Communist countries. The aforementioned liner notes essay by Ewa Mazierska succinctly describes the Polish experience from World War II up to the early Fifties, making it an essential starting point for the box set as a whole. Kanal features a 2004 television interview that Wajda conducted with Jan-Nowak-Jezioranski, a courier for the Home Army at the time of the Warsaw Uprising. Ashes and Diamonds features a very good audio commentary track by noted film scholar Annette Insdorf, who helpfully explains many references that would otherwise pass over the heads of non-Polish viewers. These include an allusion to the Polish flag during Maciek's death and the riderless white horse. Indeed, without the context that Insdorf provides, the latter symbol would seem like needless mystification in a film otherwise grounded in a very concrete reality. Lastly, I should mention the attractive design of the package, using only three colors: red, white and black. (Red and white are the colors of the Polish flag.) To sum up, Criterion's box set Andrzej Wajda: Three War Films is a solid combination of powerful films, excellent transfers and intelligent special features.

For more information about Andrzej Wajda: Three War Films, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Andrzej Wajda: Three War Films, go to TCM Shopping.

by James Steffen

Andrzej Wajda: Three War Films on DVD

Andrzej Wajda's first three features - A Generation (1955), Kanal (1957) and Ashes and Diamonds (1958)- are usually regarded as a trilogy because of their common concern with the Polish experience of World War II. They demonstrate a director and his collaborators rapidly growing in artistic assurance, in part because the political thaw that occurred throughout Eastern Europe after Stalin's death enabled them to deal with increasingly complex themes and characters. Wajda and his cinematographers also built upon the stylistic innovations of recent American and European cinema, helping gain recognition for Poland as a vital national cinema in its own right. The Criterion Collection's excellent box set entitled Andrzej Wajda: Three War Films presents all three films in new high-definition transfers with thoughtfully chosen special features. THE FILMS A Generation (1954) Synopsis:Stach, an uneducated young man living in the Warsaw slums, is wounded and his friends killed while stealing coal from a German train. Sekula, a foreman, invites him to become an apprentice at a carpentry shop. The shop's owner is providing clandestine support for the Home Army, an underground resistance group, and reluctantly permits them to store arms there. Sekula, on the other hand, supports the leftist People's Army and educates Stach in the basics of Marxism. When Stach joins up with the People's Army, he finds himself attracted to Dorota, the energetic young leader of the local brigade. Jasio, a journeyman at the same shop, is torn between his desire to serve the Resistance through the People's Army and the need to support his aging father. When everyone is called upon to assist the Jews in the 1943 Ghetto Uprising, not all of them will make it out alive. As Ewa Mazierska points out in her excellent essay accompanying the DVD, Wajda's debut feature straddles the boundary between the doctrine of socialist realism enforced throughout the Eastern Bloc countries of the late Stalin era and the emerging "Polish school" developed by Wajda and other Polish filmmakers. Thus A Generation still contains stock speeches and characters such as the immature but eager protagonist (Stach) and the wise mentor figure (Sekula). At the same time, it offers a gripping portrait of life in occupied Poland, with authentic details such as the corpses hung by the Nazis along the streets to intimidate the populace. One of the most noteworthy aspects of A Generation is its cinematography by Jerzy Lipman, who also collaborated with Wajda on Kanal and a couple other subsequent films. As is evident from the opening crane shot that descends upon the slum, Wajda and Lipman already possess a strong visual sense. In particular, Wajda's taste for chiaroscuro lighting and his gift for composing actors within the frame reflect his previous training as a painter. I had always heard that A Generation was the weakest of the trilogy, but in fact the film holds up better than one might expect, and it repays a second viewing. Incidentally, watch for a young Roman Polanski in the role of one of Stach's companions. Kanal (1957) Synopsis: The ill-fated 1944 Warsaw Uprising is in its fifty-sixth day. Their ranks decimated, a company of soldiers from the Home Army takes shelter in a partially ruined house, but are forced to withdraw due to the advance of German forces. Their only option at this point is to return downtown through the sewers. Daisy, Korab's girlfriend, knows the route but because Korab is wounded she has to lead him through separately. Without a guide, the other soldiers become trapped in the dark underground maze, nearly suffocating from the lack of oxygen and in danger of losing their sanity. Kanal opens with a dazzling four-minute tracking shot that follows the company as they descend a hill and engage in a battle on a ruined street. As with the subsequent Ashes and Diamonds, Wajda is unafraid of bold, self-consciously virtuosic gestures, and it is undoubtedly this stylistic bravura which initially drew international attention to his work. At the same time, Kanal retains a harsh sense of realism that reinforces its emotional impact. Except for the scenes in the sewers, the film was shot on location in Warsaw, significant portions of which were still in ruins more than a decade later in when the film was made. It a very direct way those scenes bring home the devastation Poland suffered during the war. And while the sewers may have been constructed for the film, they evoke an all-too convincing feel for the filth and claustrophobic environment the fighters must have experienced. The film's realism extends to its treatment of violence, which is far more explicit than one would expect to find in Soviet or, for that matter, even American films of that era. It depicts the impact of bullets using squibs (small explosive charges) rigged with blood packets--an effect Wajda first used in A Generation--and at one point we even see a Polish fighter bashing in a German's face with a rock. However, a couple aspects of the film don't ring true: the composer Michal somehow manages to phone home to his family and speaks to his wife at the exact moment that the Germans overtake her, and later in the film we see him wandering in the sewers playing an ocarina, an overly portentous symbol. Still, on the whole the film is magnificently realized and the sewer scenes are unforgettable. Together with Bergman's The Seventh Seal, Kanal was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival. Ashes and Diamonds (1958) Synopsis: Maciek, a fighter in the Home Army, has been ordered by his superior officer Andrzej to assassinate Szczuka, a secretary in the rival Communist party, which is in the process of taking power after the war. When they learn that they have shot a couple of workers by mistake, Andrzej orders Maciek to kill Szcuka that night at a hotel. While waiting for his move, Maciek meets and falls in love with Krystyna, a barmaid, and begins to doubt the value of his actions. Ashes and Diamonds is an unqualified masterpiece and arguably Wajda's greatest film to date, though one would hesitate to slight the director's subsequent accomplishments such as Man of Marble (1976) or Danton (1982). While the script is tightly constructed, taking place within a single twenty-four hour period, it provides a revealing account of the divisions within Polish society after the war. Its moral complexities are underlined by the restless, probing lead performance by Zbigniew Cybulski, who is often characterized as the Polish James Dean. Tragically, Cybulski died in 1967 at the age of forty, cutting short what had already developed into a great career, with appearances in films such as the underrated The Saragossa Manuscript (1965) by Wojciech Has. Wajda later commented on Cybulski's premature death his self-reflexive drama Everything For Sale (1968). The film's use of deep focus photography and deep space composition, as Annette Insdorf points out in the audio commentary track, was inspired by cinematographer Gregg Toland's innovative work for William Wyler and John Ford, and above all Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941). However, the film's most frequently cited deep-focus shot, in which Andrzej speaks in a phone booth while Maciek leans against a bar and Szczuka enters through the front door of the hotel lobby, appears to be an artfully executed optical effect combining two separate elements rather than a true deep-focus shot. Such subterfuges were also common in Citizen Kane, though they of course do not diminish the impact of either film. Another likely inspiration derived from Citizen Kane is the film's rich chiaroscuro lighting, though Wajda's aforementioned artistic background undoubtedly bears some influence here as well. But regardless of influences, Jerzy Wojcik's sharp-edged black-and-white cinematography is remarkable, the equal of anything done at that time. THE TRANSFERS A Generation appears on DVD for the first time, and the results are extremely satisfactory, especially considering the age of the film. The booklet states: "One of the scenes damaged on the original negative was transferred from an earlier print courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art." I believe the scene in question was probably Stach's arrival home after he is first wounded, since it looks softer and more dupey that the other portions of the film. Otherwise, the print is generally in very good condition and the transfer has a nice range of grays. The mono sound is muffled during the opening credits, but is mostly clear during the rest of the film. Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds have been released previously on DVD through Facets in conjunction with Polart, but the new Criterion editions are obviously the way to go, with superior high-definition transfers using prints struck from the original negatives. Those who already own the Facets discs will want to upgrade. The print for Kanal has the most damage, particularly during sewer sequences; however, the image is sharp with rich contrast. The print for Ashes and Diamonds is in the best condition of the three, mainly displaying a few scratches at the beginning; the transfer can only be described as stellar. As usual, Criterion deserves praise for its sensitive handling of black-and-white transfers. The mono sound in both cases is fine. SPECIAL FEATURES While all three films are compelling dramas on their own, the non-Polish viewer greatly benefits from some kind of historical context. Here Criterion demonstrates yet again why they have earned a reputation as the gold standard in home video releases. A Generation features a video interview with Wajda and critic Jerzy Plazewski, in which they speak extensively about Wajda's start as a filmmaker, the state of the Polish film industry at the time and other topics such as the influence of Italian neorealism. Similar interviews with Wajda and various collaborators appear on the other two discs, and in all cases they are extremely interesting and informative. In fact, you might want to consider watching the interviews before the main features to better understand their historical references and enjoy them more fully the first time around. One intriguing supplement on A Generation is an early student short by Wajda, Ilza Ceramics (1951), a documentary which combines imaginative visual touches with obvious concessions to official ideology. For example, at the end of the film the narrator proclaims: "A new cadre of folk artists is growing up. Inspired by the creativity of the Polish people, they will continue the tradition of progressive and realistic national art in Poland." Such platitudes will be amusingly familiar to anyone who has studied the politics and culture of Communist countries. The aforementioned liner notes essay by Ewa Mazierska succinctly describes the Polish experience from World War II up to the early Fifties, making it an essential starting point for the box set as a whole. Kanal features a 2004 television interview that Wajda conducted with Jan-Nowak-Jezioranski, a courier for the Home Army at the time of the Warsaw Uprising. Ashes and Diamonds features a very good audio commentary track by noted film scholar Annette Insdorf, who helpfully explains many references that would otherwise pass over the heads of non-Polish viewers. These include an allusion to the Polish flag during Maciek's death and the riderless white horse. Indeed, without the context that Insdorf provides, the latter symbol would seem like needless mystification in a film otherwise grounded in a very concrete reality. Lastly, I should mention the attractive design of the package, using only three colors: red, white and black. (Red and white are the colors of the Polish flag.) To sum up, Criterion's box set Andrzej Wajda: Three War Films is a solid combination of powerful films, excellent transfers and intelligent special features. For more information about Andrzej Wajda: Three War Films, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Andrzej Wajda: Three War Films, go to TCM Shopping. by James Steffen

Quotes

These are the tragic heroes: watch them closely in the remaining hours of their lives.
- Narrator

Trivia

Notes

Filmed on location in Warsaw. Released in Poland in April 1957.

Miscellaneous Notes

Winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival.

Released in United States 1993

Released in United States 1996

Released in United States March 1957

Released in United States May 1957

Released in United States on Video March 1987

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1957

Re-released in United States on Video March 23, 1994

Shown at San Francisco International Film Festival March 1957.

Shown at the Cannes Film Festival May, 1957.

Formerly distributed by Nelson Entertainment.

Shot in 1956.

Released in United States 1993 (Shown at AFI/Los Angeles International Film Festival (Tribute to Andrzej Wajda 40 Years of Filmmaking) June 10 - July 1, 1993.)

Released in United States 1996 (Shown in New York City (Walter Reade Theater) as part of program "Revelation & Camouflage: Polish Cinema from 1930 to the Present" January 26 - March 7, 1996.)

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1957

Released in United States March 1957 (Shown at San Francisco International Film Festival March 1957.)

Released in United States on Video March 1987

Re-released in United States on Video March 23, 1994

Released in United States May 1957 (Shown at the Cannes Film Festival May, 1957.)