Features Live Action Movies

Ashes And Diamonds
(Popiół I Diament)

Director – Andrzej Wajda – 1958 – Poland – Cert. 12 – 103m


Two resistance fighters attempt to assassinate a Communist Party official on the last day of the Second World War – plays at the Phoenix Cinema East Finchley in conjunction with the Kinoteka Polish Film Festival at 18:00 on Sunday, March 19th, also on Blu-ray as part of Wajda’s War Trilogy

Made over a decade after not only the historical setting for the events it depicts in 1945 but also the Jerzy Andrzejewski novel on which it is based which was written in 1947 and published in 1948, this condenses that novel’s two weeks into a mere – 24 hours the last day of the Second World War and the evening and night of the victory celebrations that follow plus the subsequent early dawn.

The war is over and the Nazis defeated, but Poland still finds itself the subject of conflict as opposing factions vie for power. On the one hand is the official Party trying to get everything working again and on the other members of the resistance determined to stop them.

The older Andrzej (Adam Pawlikowski) and the younger Maciek (Zbigniew Cybulski) carry out an ordered assassination on Szczuka (Waclaw Zastrzeżyński). Except that the man and his driver they kill in their jeep are local workers rather than their intended target, although they only discover this in the middle of the hotel payphone call in which Andrzej is informing his superior that everything went according to plan. Determined to make things right, Maciek books himself into the hotel room next to Szczuka in order to kill him later, but then falls for barmaid Krystyna (Ewa Krzyżewska) who visits his room and sleeps with him.

Maciek now finds himself conflicted; he’d like to continue his relationship with Krystyna, but that seems to be in opposition to the killing to which he’s committed. He starts to question whether the killing is really necessary at all. In the end, though, he has no way out.

Although Maciek is the clear protagonist in all this, with more screen time than other characters, the film never really sides with either him and his cause or that of the party, preferring instead to show a country in turmoil faced with a difficult, divided future. It isn’t against him either, adopting a neutral position. Yet it’s keen to explore the dilemmas in which he (and by extension Poland) finds himself.

Minor characters throw further light on the country’s situation. The two assassins’ lookout man Drewnowski (Bogumił Kobiela) is despised by them for working for both sides – he is also the aide to the local mayor and looks forward to a long career in the Party. However, instead of attending to his duties at the in-hotel banquet for local dignitaries, he has several drinks too many with a local journalist at the bar, his impropriety putting paid to his career plans.

There’s a suggestion that the home of the major (Ignacy Machowski), for whom the two fighters work, may have residing within it people unsympathetic to their cause. In this climate, you have to be careful who you trust and with whom you spend time.

The barmaid is in marked contrast to al this – there’s no suggestion that she’s in with one side or the other, and talking with her newly found lover, she seems to guess what’s going on and knows that their love may be doomed from the very beginning.

The idyllic image of the opening, in which one of the two men helps a small girl place flowers on the top of the door frame of the local chapel, is shattered when they tell her to get lost as the location descends into the scene of the premeditated slaughter. Something similar happens at the end, when Maciek, gun inside jacket, leaves the hotel in the wee small hours in pursuit of Szczuka, Maciek hopes to leave the city after doing the deed, but in the end, all that awaits him is a seemingly endless rubbish tip.

The above barely scratches the surface of this remarkable and complex film.

Ashes And Diamonds plays in a special screening at the Phoenix Cinema East Finchley in conjunction with the Kinoteka Polish Film Festival at 18:00 on Sunday, March 19th.

Also available is as one of three stunning 2K restorations on Blu-ray in the UK as part of Second Run’s The War Trilogy boxset.

Trailer (AIFF 2018):

Trailer (1958):

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