Ashes and Diamonds (1958)


First time with Wajda.

Harrowed ground crossed to get to town at the beginning – desperately traversed by Maciek at the end. Uprooting, confusion; attempts to pick out a progressive through-line among the chaos are tragic or comic. (dissolution of wartime unification both in the military split and the political disavowal of “governing”: “Everyone carries his own burden”) “Here’s to the Five Year Plan” – AaD poignant as historical document. (“At least we’re out of the forest” says thankful surviving officer) Summative line from the Home Army Major:

“The war years have taught us that we must approach these complicated situations unequivocally.”

The war has “complicated” life, but so does love. M desires simplicity; claims he is a student first as cover and then as a real desire to return to the past, to relive adolescence. Definite feeling of Ivan’s Childhood: disappeared youth, (“Nowadays boys of 17 are grown men,” Szczuka irreconcilable with his son) the Beckettian waiting, (not to be confused with the sinful Becketian opening) M and Andrzej laughing over the flaming vodkas standing for their dead associates.

The tenuousness of our connection to life: In Bruges mistake and the transient view of the grieving fiancée, M watching, a boss telling her that the policeman probably misidentified the victim in a bid for a favour. S telling the townsfolk (striking proximity of officials and citizens) that they will simply have to do their duty while alive and pray that the rest of us will enjoy the future when it comes.

Very 50s American feel; thought of Touch of Evil – certainly a noir angle. A telling M not to be so theatrical; the romance bursting through procedure, life vs duty.

The sadness of Poland wedged between belligerents; the mistaken target (hanging over the film) only recently returned from a German forced labour camp. Most memorable single images often capture this emotional aspect: a dead politician in the arms of his killer beneath fireworks; a hotelier dusting off a furled Polish flag and taking it out into the dawn. And that crypt conversation with the blocking Christ hanging like Mussolini.

Pretty hilarious at points: the cleaner gleefully anticipating a busy night; the off-key celebratory polonaise like a drunken march into the future; (the cleaner: probably somebody’s birthday) the fantastic culmination of Drewnowski’s career-suicide disruption of the banquet in him stamping up and down the table spraying a fire extinguisher into everyone’s faces. Pacing is excellent: dodging between political satire, thickening intrigue, romantic core, slapstick comedy. Apparently AW ordered condensation of the plot into a single day, and AaD does feel like a singularity, a staggering messy dawn.

So often, are you as a blazing torch with flames
of burning rags falling about you flaming,
you know not if flames bring freedom or death.
Consuming all that you must cherish
if ashes only will be left, and want Chaos and tempest
Or will the ashes hold the glory of a starlike diamond
The Morning Star of everlasting triumph.



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