Ashes and Diamonds DVD+Blu-ray
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Directed by Andrzej Wajda
Produced in 1958
Main Language - Polish with English subtitles
Zbigniew Cybulski, Eva Krzyzewski, Adam Pawlikowski
If A Generation (1954) first put Andrzej Wajda on the international map, Ashes and Diamonds (1958) established him as a world-class talent, and possibly the finest of all Polish filmmakers – no mean feat when the competition includes Polanski, Kieslowski, Zanussi and Skolimowski.
Riveting from first frame to last, the film begins with a fatal case of mistaken identity on the day that Germany's surrender brought an end to World War II. After accidentally killing two innocent workers instead of his intended targets, resistance activist Maciek is ordered to finish the job properly.
But as he stalks his prey, he begins to question his motives and those of his masters, and the formerly flip, cynical assassin ends up undergoing a full-blown existential crisis. It's not merely a personal one: his dilemma strikes at the very heart of what it means to be Polish at a time of immense national upheaval.
Like all great directors, Wajda refuses to offer easy answers, and his depiction of a shattered Poland emerging blinking from the Nazi darkness is loaded with calculated ambiguity. The war may be over, but with the Soviet-backed Communists looking likely to seize power, it's scarcely a time of optimism, even though Maciek's target, a party official, genuinely seems to have the best of intentions.
While some knowledge of Polish history (especially of the immediate pre-war period and the 1944 Warsaw Uprising) is needed to catch all the nuances, Wajda is such a formidable storyteller that this scarcely matters. It's also a virtuoso piece of filmmaking, with the deep-focus black-and-white cinematography ensuring constant visual interest in every corner of the frame: a line of burning vodka shots symbolises fallen comrades, an effigy of a crucified Christ dangles upside-down in the ruins of a church, and a fireworks display breaks out at the precise moment of a crucial killing.
In the West, Cybulski was notoriously dubbed the Polish James Dean. Although superficially similar, the comparison does him a major disservice: this rebel most certainly has a cause, and a more important one it would be hard to imagine.
Michael Brooke on 21st May 2007
Author of 135 reviews
Set on the last day of WWII in a small town somewhere in Poland, Ashes and Diamonds sees Polish exiles and the occupying Soviet forces facing a new day and a new Poland. The fate of a nation is interwoven with that of young Nationalist underground member Maciek Chelmicki, who has been ordered to assassinate the new local Communist leader. However, a mistake leads him to Krystyna, who gives him a glimpse of what his life could be. One of the most important of all Polish films.
Publisher: Arrow Films
Length: 99 mins
Cat No: FCD483
Format: DVD+Blu-ray B&W
- 2 discs
- New 2K resolution restoration of the film image and sound transferred from 35mm
- Interview with director Andrzej Wajda
- Comprehensive booklet by writer and film historian Michael Brooke, including new writing on the film, a re-print of Marek Hendrykowsk’s monograph on ‘Ashes & Diamonds’, Andrzej Wajda’s lecture on ‘Cinema Past and Present’ and more
- Artwork presentation packaging including three original posters and a newly commissioned artwork cover