Monday, January 05, 2009

Ashes and Diamonds: Grade C

Ashes and Diamonds (1958)
Zbigniew Cybulski, Ewa Krzyzewska; Writer-Director Andrzej Wajda. (Polish, subtitled).

This highly acclaimed classic film is the last in director Wajda’s World War II trilogy. It was recently released on DVD. The black and white images were murky, although maybe that’s how it was supposed to be, suggesting the emotional darkness of that time. The Germans have just surrendered, but two leaders of the resistance know that the struggle is only beginning again, as the Russians have displaced the Germans. The protagonists are ordered to assassinate a communist political boss in their town, but the volatile young man (Cybulski) falls in love, and that makes him hesitate. He wonders if the killing will go on forever.

I was extremely impressed with Wajda’s film, Katyn, shown at the Seattle International Film Festival recently. It too was a mournful look at the long-suffering Polish people as the communists replaced the Nazis. Wajda is world-famous, I liked Katyn, and Ashes and Diamonds is acclaimed, so how could I go wrong? Yet somehow, Ashes did not grip me. The acting seemed histrionic, the story plodding, sets and scenery dark and muddy. I did feel like I was in 1940’s Poland, and could sense the psychological despair of the people. But after a strong opening, there is a very long hour to get to the melodramatic ending, during which innumerable cigarettes are smoked and vodkas drunk. Various responses to the depressing hopelessness of the Polish situation are presented, from the desperate celebratory denial of some, to the clueless oblivion of others, to the clench-jawed resolve of the resistance. I can see why it was acclaimed in 1958, but it has not aged well in the intervening 50 years.


  1. Thanks, Good Girl. Tell your friends. I don't get too many comments.