Ashes and Diamonds (1958) – Andrzej Wajda

Post War Poland is the setting for the next big title in DK Canada’s The Movie Book, as I delve into Ashes and Diamonds from director Andrzej Wajda. Marrying a love story with a post-war thriller, and mixing in some drama, this film is a fantastically made film that delves into the horrors of war that we cannot escape, the sacrifices, and appeal of love, the choice of duty and loyalty, and the things we do to survive and learning to become a nation again.

World War II is drawing to a close, and celebrations are everywhere, but Maciek (Zbigniew Cybulski) and his commanding officer, Andrzej (Adam Pawlikowski) are given one last mission to accomplish. Maciek is ordered to execute Commissar Szczuka (Waclaw Zastrezynski), a communist leader, and former fellow soldier.

While Maciek waits to perform this last task, excitement and new hopes and dreams begin to spring up for those in Poland as new careers are won and lost, secrets cost, memories burn, and our young soldier falls in love with a bar maid, Krystyna (Ewa Krzyzewska).

As he falls deeper in love, and realises that he may be able to leave the war behind, Andrzej reminds him of his duty, and the cost of his not carrying out orders.

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It’s a beautifully tragic film, wonderfully European in its sentimentality, as well as its storytelling, eschewing the glitz, glamour, and happy endings of Hollywood for a more poignant, realistic and gritty tale, that has been hailed as one of the best Polish films ever.

It’s not hard to see why, it’s beautifully shot, with all the story threads weaving a though-provoking picture of a recovering nation, and the people who live in it.

Wajda paces the film strongly, and keeps the story tight, and moving, balancing the blossoming love story, with the concepts of duty, and the hopes of polish residents for jobs, and futures.

it works incredibly well, is moving, and the ending is exactly what you would want it to be, and is steeped in meaning, tying in with the themes at work through the course of the story. Cybulski as Maciek is perfectly cast, and Krzyzewska is luminous as Krystyna.

This was a solid film, and is another example of a piece of world cinema that I hadn’t even heard of until I turned to its page in The Movie Book. Dk Books’ cinematic tome has been incredibly useful not only in providing lots of entertainment, but also in continuing my film education.

Pick up a copy today, and find something amazing to watch!

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