Poland 1958, 104 minutes
At the end of World War II Poland emerged from Nazi domination to face Communist rule instead of the independence they had dreamed of and fought for. Some tried to keep the dream alive, including Maciek, a young soldier in the Nationalist Army, who is ordered to assassinate the newly-appointed District Secretary of the Communist Party in a small provincial town. The first attempt is a disastrous failure in which innocent bystanders are killed, and Maciek is ordered to take up residence in the local hotel and wait for another chance. The wait gives him time to think and to start an affair with a young barmaid, and he begins to question his commitment. He’s no coward, and loyal to the cause, but the pull of life is strong.
This is the third film of Andrzej Wadja’s trilogy exploring the effects of the war on his own generation. Specifically about the Polish experience, it is in many ways a deeply personal work. But it also deals with the wider experience, and asks questions that are still relevant. When does a heroic Freedom Fighter become a fanatical terrorist? When do you stop fighting for a lost cause? War is one thing, but can you justify a political assassination – and will it change anything? Wadja elicits a strong and sensitive performance from the young Zbigniew Cybulski, who brings to life not only the dilemmas of his particular situation but the ideals and universal frustrations of youth.
Polish cinema in the Stalinist era was admired throughout the world, and you can see why. Despite the strict censorship, Wadja created a film with a real voice. Technically Ashes and Diamonds is impressive, and although some of the images may be a bit too much they are beautifully rendered and certainly memorable. The title is taken from a line of poetry that translates ‘will there remain among the ashes a star-like diamond, the dawn of eternal victory?’ Wadja doesn’t answer the question, and perhaps in the end it depends what you call victory.
Maciek: Zbigniew Cybulski
Krystyna: Ewa Kryzewska
Szczuka: Waclav Zastrzeynski
Andrzej: Adam Pawlikowski
Director: Andrzej Wadja
Screenplay: Jerzy Andrzejewski & Andrzej Wadja (from Andrzejewski’s novel)
Photography: Jerzy Wojcik