Ashes and Diamonds 1958
Polish director Andrzej Wajda made scores of excellent pictures; the ones seen most in U.S. art theaters were his 1950s 'war trilogy'. The first two were straight tales of hardship and terror when resisting the Nazis. In A Generation, a young juvenile delinquent learns how rough things can get when he becomes involved in partisan activities. The appallingly grim but honest Kanal shows the last days of the Warsaw Uprising, when the Allies abandoned the Polish resistance. The surviving remnants make a last-ditch stand in the city’s sewers, finding loyalty, companionship, love, and obiliteration.

The third film in the trilogy Ashes and Diamonds is a different kind of movie. Rather than tell another moral tale of betrayal and sacrifice the screenplay by Wajda and Jerzy Andrzejewski adds a slightly updated, hipster tone to the proceedings. The setting is right after the victory, when anything is possible... especially for greedy opportunists, political turncoats and hard-fighting yet naive patriots like the main character.

The entire film takes place on 8 May 1945, when the war in Europe ended with Germany's formal surrender - but while other countries celebrated, Poland's postwar power struggle was only just beginning. In depicting the various factions jockeying for position, including ambitious Communists, aristocratic patriots, cynical journalists and anti-Nazi rebels recently emerged from the Warsaw sewers, Wajda brilliantly anatomises a riven country desperately trying to find its identity at a time when a fifth of its population had recently been killed and many more driven into exile. Maciek Chelmicki (Zbigniew Cybulski) embodies this conflict: outwardly a calculating assassin, his ultra-cool facade begins to crack when he badly botches a mission, falls in love with the barmaid Krystyna (Ewa Krzyzewska) and dares to dream of a life outside the armed resistance that's characterised his entire adult life. His all too human indecision makes him Polish culture's Hamlet, and Cybulski's performance remains iconic to this day.

Director: Andrzej Wajda
Cast: Zbigniew Cybulski, Ewa Krzyzewska, Waclaw Zastrzezynski, Adam Pawlikowski, Bogumil Kobiela, Jan Ciecierski, Stanislaw Milski, Artur Mlodnicki, Halina Kwiatkowska, Ignacy Machowski, Zbigniew Skowronski
Country: Poland
Genre: Drama, War

BD50 | 1080p AVC | 01:43:00 | 41.9 Gb + 3% rec
Language: Polish
Subtitles: English


Commentary - this archival audio commentary was recorded by Annette Insdorf in 2004. It was also included on Criterion's DVD release of Ashes and Diamonds.

Andrzej Wajda on Ashes and Diamonds - presented here are interviews with Andrzej Wajda, second director Janusz Morgenstern, and critic Jerzy Plazewski. The bulk of the comments address the production history of Ashes & Diamonds, the book that inspired it and the changes that were introduced during its adaption, as well film's history with the Polish censors. The interviews were recorded for Criterion in 2003. (37 min).

Behind the Scenes Newsreel - this short newsreel appeared in Polish cinemas in 1958, to announce the coming of director Andrzej Wajda's third film, Ashes and Diamonds. In Polish, with optional English subtitles. (2 min).

Video Essay - presented here is a new video essay by critic Annette Insdorf. In English, not subtitled. (13 min).