Ashes and Diamonds (film)

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Ashes and Diamonds
Ashes-and-diamonds-polish-poster.jpg
1958 Polish poster by Wojciech Fangor[1]
Popiół i diament
Directed byAndrzej Wajda
Produced byRoman Mann
Screenplay byJerzy Andrzejewski
Andrzej Wajda
Based onAshes and Diamonds by Jerzy Andrzejewski
StarringZbigniew Cybulski
Ewa Krzyżewska
Wacław Zastrzeżyński
Music byFilip Nowak
CinematographyJerzy Wójcik
Edited byHalina Nawrocka
Distributed byKADR
Release date
  • 3 October 1958 (1958-10-03)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryPoland
LanguagePolish

Ashes and Diamonds (Polish: Popiół i diament) is a 1958 Polish drama film directed by Andrzej Wajda, based on the 1948 novel by Polish writer Jerzy Andrzejewski, and starring Zbigniew Cybulski and Ewa Krzyżewska. It completed Wajda's war films trilogy, following A Generation (1954) and Kanal (1956). The action of Ashes and Diamonds takes place in 1945, shortly after World War II. The main protagonist of the film, former Home Army soldier Maciek Chełmicki, is acting in the anti-Communist underground. Maciek receives an order to kill Szczuka, the local secretary of the Polish Workers' Party. Over time, Chełmicki increasingly doubts if his task is worth doing.

Ashes and Diamonds, although based on the novel which directly supported the postwar totalitarian regime in Poland, was subtly modified in comparison with the source material. Wajda sympathized with the soldiers of the Polish independence underground; thus, he devoted most of the attention to Chełmicki. During the three-month development of Ashes and Diamonds, the director made drastic changes to the baseline scenario, thanks to his assistant director Janusz Morgenstern, as well as Cybulski, who played the main role. The film received permission from the authorities to be distributed only through Andrzejewski's own intercession; even though, it was unallowed to be screened at the main competition at the Cannes Film Festival. However, Ashes and Diamonds appeared at the Venice Film Festival, where it won the FIPRESCI award.

At first, Ashes and Diamonds were met with positive critical reception, both in Poland and worldwide. Although the film led to ambiguous interpretations–after the Revolutions of 1989, it was criticized for falsifying the collective memory of Polish partisans–it maintained the reputation of one of the most important Polish motion pictures in history.

Plot[edit]

An excerpt from the iconic scene of the film, during which Maciek Chełmicki (played by Zbigniew Cybulski) lights several glasses of rectified spirit on fire to commemorate fallen comrades. Polish film historian Tadeusz Lubelski noted that the scene connotes several meanings; it is not only the "mourning of the prematurely deceased friends", but also a "patriotic gesture" or simply "getting drunk after a dangerous operation".[2]


The action of Ashes and Diamonds takes place on 8 May 1945, at the end of World War II. The film starts near a small country church. There, the former Home Army soldiers, Maciek, Andrzej and Drewnowski, prepare to assassinate Konrad Szczuka, a political opponent and a secretary of Polish Workers' Party. The ambush fails, as the attackers realize that they have mistakenly killed two innocents.[3]

The film shifts to the fictional town of Ostrowiec, where Andrzej and Maciek's superior, Major Waga, resides. Having learned the assassination attempt failed, Waga orders Andrzej and Maciek to perform the task for the second time. They come to the Hotel Monopol Restaurant, where a banquet in honour of the victorious war begins. The combatants do not participate, though. While sitting in the bar, Maciek and Andrzej listen to the song "The Red Poppies of Monte Cassino" and reminisce their fallen comrades. In honour of them, Maciek lights several glasses of rectified spirit on fire. Contrary to them, their comrade Drewnowski gets straight to the banquet hall, where he discusses career prospects in postwar Poland with Pieniążek, a representative of the democratic press.[4]

Afterwards, Maciek goes to his hotel room to check his gun. However, a barwoman Krystyna, with whom Maciek had made a flirtatious conversation, enters the room. Both young people realize they fell in love, then go for a walk. It begins to rain, so Krystyna and Maciek decide to find shelter in a ruined church. Krystyna notices a poem inscribed on the wall, and Maciek recites it in a sombre tone. Both lovers soon part themselves, then Maciek returns to the bar where he discusses with Andrzej the sense of their duty. Meanwhile, completely drunk Drewnowski spoils the banquet, covering the other guests with foam from a fire extinguisher, and leaves the ball in shame. Szczuka, who takes part in the reception, learns from an officer about the place of his son Marek's residence.[5]

Maciek suddenly recognizes Szczuka and exits the hotel after him. Then, while asking Szczuka for a light, Maciek shoots him in the heart. The next day, Maciek plans to leave Ostrowiec by train. However, he finds Andrzej beating Drewnowski for the betrayal of the underground. When Drewnowski calls Maciek's name, the assassin flees with fear. He accidentally runs into some soldiers of the Polish People's Army, who shoot at him and fatally wound him. Maciek, still trying to run away, dies in agony on the dump.[6]

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Writing[edit]

Andrzej Wajda, the director of the film, in 1963

Ashes and Diamonds is loosely based on the novel by Jerzy Andrzejewski, which was published for the first time in 1948.[7] The novel itself was a mandatory school set book in communist Poland and enjoyed respect among the contemporary authorities.[8] The first directors who tried to adapt the book into a film were Erwin Axer and Antoni Bohdziewicz. In Axer's script, which adhered to the spirit of the original, the roles were supposed to be more caricatural. Historian Tadeusz Lubelski retrospectively commented on Axer's script with the following words: "Communists are even more decent and busy, aristocrats and former Home Army members – even more vile and reckless."[9] Bohdziewicz's script contained a similar propaganda message, depicting the command of the Polish resistance in a bad light. There, Major Waga blackmailed Maciek to kill Szczuka, threatening him with a war trial; in the end, Maciek decided to support Szczuka.[10] However, none of these scripts were implemented, and policymakers considered Bohdziewicz's vision too "defensive."[11] Jan Rybkowski also planned to direct an Ashes and Diamonds' adaptation, though he eventually decided to focus on a comedy titled Kapelusz pana Anatola (Mr. Anatol's Hat) and gave Andrzej Wajda an opportunity to launch a project.[12]

In November 1957, Wajda carried out a letter conversation with Andrzejewski, during which the future director suggested several changes to the initial version of the story. A thread which concerned the judge Antoni Kossecki was deleted so that the main plot focused on the confrontation between Maciek and Szczuka. Also, Wajda suggested that the story be condensed to only one day, with Maciek acting as the central hero.[13][11] Wajda and Andrzejewski completed the screenplay in January 1958, giving it for scrutiny to the Commission for Screenplay Assessment. After long consideration, the Commission, whose members were Aleksander Ścibor-Rylski, Andrzej Braun, Krzysztof Teodor Toeplitz, Tadeusz Konwicki and Andrzej Karpowski, decided to vote for the screenplay's acceptance.[14]

Development[edit]

Having the screenplay accepted, Wajda prepared for the development of Ashes and Diamonds within the "KADR" Film Unit. At first, the director intended to shoot the film in Łódź; however, he finally chose an atelier in Wrocław, the decision made due to possible savings and to prevent the policymakers from intervening too much in the film development. On 3 February 1958, the acting Chief of Cinematography Jerzy Lewiński made a decision to start the production of Ashes and Diamonds, without consulting the authorities.[15] The contract for the commission guaranteed Wajda a salary of 69,000 Polish zloty, whereas Andrzejewski received 31,500 Polish zloty.[15] The overall budget of Ashes and Diamonds is estimated at 6,070,000 Polish zloty.[16]

Wajda then began gathering the film crew. Stanisław Adler became the producer, whereas Jerzy Wójcik took the cinematography, and Filip Nowak was commissioned to select music material for the film.[17] It was decided that Ashes and Diamonds be first filmed in the atelier, then in the open air.[18] The main scenography made in atelier represented the Monopol Hotel restaurant; however, the film crew did use also authentic locations, such as the St. Barbara's Church in Wrocław and a chapel near Trzebnica.[16]

The director experienced some issues with the selection of the future cast. However, he found support in the person of Janusz Morgenstern, his assistant director. Morgenstern, more familiar with the acting market, encouraged Wajda to put Zbigniew Cybulski in the role of Maciek, although the director considered the candidature of Tadeusz Janczar.[19] Having come to the film set, Cybulski instantly refused to play in a partisan uniform suggested by costume designer Katarzyna Chodorowicz, and insisted on wearing his "fifties' style dark glasses, jacket and tight jeans."[20] Wacław Zastrzeżyński, a theatrical actor with barely any film experience, was cast as Szczuka.[21] Adam Pawlikowski, a musicologist, took the role of Andrzej, whereas Cybulski's colleague Bogumił Kobiela was cast as Drewnowski.[22]

Filming[edit]

Photography for Ashes and Diamonds started in March 1958, and finished in June 1958, after 60 shooting days.[23] The film was shot in 1:1.85 format, which had never been used before in Polish cinema.[24] During filming, the crew made crucial changes in the scenario, which affected the future reception of the film. For example, Cybulski suggested that Szczuka should hold Maciek while dying; Wajda added scenes containing Christian iconography; and Morgenstern invented the most widely known scene, during which Maciek and Andrzej light up the glasses filled with the rectified spirit.[25] The ending was changed, too; Wajda cut down the scene from the novel, during which some soldiers of Polish People's Army commented on Maciek's death with following words: "Hey, you, ... what made you run away?"[26][25]

The most troublesome task was to convince the communist authorities to display Ashes and Diamonds. Party intellectuals were dissatisfied with making Maciek Chełmicki the main character of the film. It was then that Andrzejewski himself, who–with the support of his fellow writers–convinced PZPR activists that the ideological message of the film was correct; without the help of the author of the novel, Wajda's work would have never been released.[27] The official screening took place on 7 July 1958, after which Ashes and Diamonds could be distributed in cinemas.[28] Despite the protests of Aleksander Ford, who demanded that the authorities ban the film, its official premiere took place on 3 October 1958.[29] Nevertheless, due to the still existing doubts about its message, Ashes and Diamonds were banned from taking part in the main competition of the Cannes Film Festival.[30] Then Lewiński sent Wajda's work to the Venice Film Festival, where–apart from the main competition–it won the award of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI).[31]

Reception[edit]

Ashes and Diamonds have been an international success. According to Janina Falkowska, this is Wajda's most recognizable film,[32] and–in the opinion of Marek Hendrykowski–the most important achievement of the Polish Film School, which highlights the director's characteristic style, while dealing with the Second World War.[32] Despite the condemnation of the film by some Communist critics, many supporters of independent Poland identified themselves with the role of Maciek.[32] Cybulski himself has been compared to James Dean in his performance, which was complemented by the fact that with his appearance, Polish actor personified the contemporary generation of the 1950s.[33] In total, around 1,722,000 spectators watched Ashes and Diamonds during the opening year.[34]

Critical reception in Poland[edit]

Ashes and Diamonds - a poster by Tomasz Wójcik, 2017

Polish film critics were generally delighted with the film adaptation of Andrzejewski's novel. Stanisław Grzelecki assessed Ashes and Diamonds as "a new, outstanding work of Polish film art."[35] According to Krzysztof Teodor Toeplitz, "Ashes and Diamonds is not a brilliant film, but it is certainly a great film".[35] Jerzy Płażewski enthusiastically commented on Wajda's work: "[...] we have a new, excellent Polish film. It's called Ashes and Diamonds."[35] Several other Polish film and literary critics–from Stanisław Grochowiak, through Stanisław Lem, to Andrzej Wróblewski–also considered Ashes and Diamonds an exceptional work.[35]

In the foreground, due to the then-prevailing Communist regime, among the issues discussed by critics were attempts at ideological interpretation. The tragic actions of Home Army soldiers, who supposedly unjustly continued their struggle against the new political reality, were pointed out at that time. These voices, however, included Jan Józef Szczepański's opinion, which was devoid of ideological tone. In his opinion, Wajda showed the viewer the qualities of Polish young people during the war.[36] Simultaneously, critics connected with the authorities had doubts about whether the director would not glorify this generation, which would induce the audience's solidarity with the "reactionary" soldier. Among them, Zygmunt Kałużyński and Wiktor Woroszylski had the greatest complaints about Ashes and Diamonds. Kałużyński sought an anachronism in the portrait of Maciek's persona, considering its styling more appropriate for contemporary times than for 1945. In turn, according to Woroszylski, "the Home Army soldiers have been endowed with such a clear sense of the absurdity of their misdeeds that [...] hands are falling."[36] Marxist reviewers also criticized Ashes and Diamonds, highlighting its alleged lack of educational functions and the marginalization of Szczuka, who was depicted in the film as a mediocre party activist. Stanisław Grochowiak, who found in Wajda's drama the "eschatological dimension" of the classical tragedy, rejected such propagandist interpretations.[36]

Critics looking for aesthetic issues in Wajda's work have interpreted it in a different way. Jerzy Kwiatkowski noted the high expression of adaptation in comparison with the original. Alicja Helman, in turn, put forward the opinion that "there is everything in this film–too much, too good, too beautiful", but at the same time it emphasizes "zeal, anxiety, takeover, great emotional passion".[37] Ernest Bryll devoted a broader analysis to the evaluation of the antique structure of film work, with an inseparable fate showing the tragedy of the main character's actions.[37] The role of Zbigniew Cybulski, as well as the musical arrangement and the cinematography of Jerzy Wójcik, were widely accepted.[38]

After the Revolutions of 1989, Ashes and Diamonds faced the accusations of falsifying history. Wajda was supposed to falsify the reality, because in his film the underground soldiers chased Communists, even though the reality was the opposite. Andrzej Werner accused the film of a historical lie,[39] while film critic Waldemar Chołodowski criticized Wajda's work for suggesting that the representatives of the underground should be isolated from society.[40] Krzysztof Kąkolewski deplored the fact that Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds for Polish and international audiences were for years a source of knowledge about the times after the Second World War. However, he also noted that the director–in contrast to the author of the original–toned down the propagandist message of the book, in which the underground soldiers were directly depicted as bandits.[41] Conversely, Tadeusz Lubelski stated that Wajda's version warms up the image of the underground to a much greater extent than the ones proposed by Axer and Bohdziewicz. Unlike Kąkolewski, Lubelski was convinced that the moment of the Polish October was perfectly captured during the shooting of the film.[42]

Critical reception outside Poland[edit]

In Western Europe, Ashes and Diamonds was widely praised by film critics. The Italian critic Nevio Corich found in the film a lyrical reference to Baroque art.[43] Some film experts, such as Fouma Saisho, pointed to the poetic qualities of the work. Georges Sadoul compared Wajda's work to those of the prominent director Erich von Stroheim.[43] In his 1999 retrospective review for The Guardian, Derek Malcolm compared Maciek's death to the ending of Luis Bunuel's Los Olvidados.[44] However, some critics were irritated by the alleged mannerism of the work and the exposition of Baroque ornamentation.[43] Dave Kehr from Chicago Reader shared an opinion that "[f]ollowing the art cinema technique of the time, Wajda tends toward harsh and overstated imagery,"[45] while the Time Out London review stated that "Wajda's way is the sweet smell of excess, but some scenes remain powerfully memorable – the lighting of drinks on the bar, the upturned Christ in a bombed church, and Cybulski's prolonged death agonies at the close."[46] As David Parkinson from Empire said, "[Wajda's] final installment of the classic Polish trilogy is heavy in symbolism but remains affective and intimate viewing."[47]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Ashes and Diamonds received the FIPRESCI Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1959.[48] The film was also nominated twice for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards, with Zbigniew Cybulski nominated in the "Best Actor" category and Andrzej Wajda nominated in the "Best Film from any Source".[49][50]

Legacy[edit]

Ashes and Diamonds is considered by film critics to be one of the great masterpieces of Polish cinema and arguably the finest film of Polish realist cinema.[51] Richard Peña in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die considers the ending of the film to be one of the most powerful and often quoted endings in film history.[51] The film was ranked #38 in Empire magazines "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.[52] In the 2015 poll conducted by Polish Museum of Cinematography in Łódź, Ashes and Diamonds was ranked as the third greatest Polish film of all time.[53] Director Martin Scorsese has listed it as one of his favourite films of all time.[54]

Ashes and Diamonds had a significant impact on the development of the Polish Film School, causing a polemical reaction from other directors of the movement. In 1960, one of its members, Kazimierz Kutz, directed a polemical film entitled Nobody Cries (Nikt nie woła, 1960). Unlike Maciek Chełmicki, the protagonist of this film–also a soldier of the independence underground–does not carry out the order, but tries to start life anew and settle in the Recovered Territories.[55] In How to Be Loved (1961), Wojciech Jerzy Has made a pastiche of an iconic "scene with lamps". Here, Cybulski's character is not a conspirator ready to act, but an unshaven, drunken mythomaniac recalling his alleged heroic deeds.[56]

The myth of Cybulski also resounded in Wajda's later films. In his works Landscape After the Battle (1969) and The Wedding (1972), there is a renewed reference to the final dance.[57] Under the influence of criticism from conservative reviewers, the director made The Crowned-Eagle Ring (Pierścionek z orłem w koronie, 1992). This work included self-plagiarism of the scene of lighting glasses in a bar (Cybulski was imitated by Tomasz Konieczny, while Rafał Królikowski embodied Adam Pawlikowski), but the scene was set in a different, self-ironic context.[58] However, while conservative circles regarded Wajda's The Crowned-Eagle Ring as a fair settlement of accounts with the past period,[59] the film aroused embarrassment among liberal critics, with Jakub Majmurek writing about "the most painful aesthetic self-disgrace" on the part of the director.[60]

Former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters claims that Ashes and Diamonds had "an enormous impact" on him as a young man,[61] and the lyrics of the Pink Floyd song "Two Suns in the Sunset" from the band's 1983 album The Final Cut references the film.[62]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Seven countries, seven posters, one classic film". British Film Institute. May 18, 2015. Retrieved November 25, 2015.
  2. ^ Lubelski 2015, p. 226.
  3. ^ Falkowska 2007, p. 54-55.
  4. ^ Falkowska 2007, p. 55-56.
  5. ^ Falkowska 2007, p. 56-58.
  6. ^ Falkowska 2007, p. 59-60.
  7. ^ Kornacki 2011, p. 13-18.
  8. ^ Coates 1996, pp. 288.
  9. ^ Lubelski 1994, p. 177.
  10. ^ Lubelski 1994, p. 182.
  11. ^ a b Lubelski 1994, p. 184.
  12. ^ Lubelski 1994, p. 176.
  13. ^ Kornacki 2011, p. 20-29.
  14. ^ Coates 2005, p. 39.
  15. ^ a b Kornacki 2011, p. 45.
  16. ^ a b Kornacki 2011, p. 50.
  17. ^ Kornacki 2011, p. 50-51.
  18. ^ Kornacki 2011, p. 54.
  19. ^ Kornacki 2011, p. 87-89.
  20. ^ Shaw 2014, p. 50.
  21. ^ Lubelski 2000, p. 166.
  22. ^ Lubelski 2000, p. 166-167.
  23. ^ Kornacki 2011, p. 103.
  24. ^ Kornacki 2011, p. 286.
  25. ^ a b Lubelski 1994, p. 186.
  26. ^ Andrzejewski 1980, p. 239.
  27. ^ Kornacki 2011, p. 316.
  28. ^ Kornacki 2011, p. 317.
  29. ^ Kornacki 2011, p. 318-319.
  30. ^ Kornacki 2011, p. 320-330.
  31. ^ Kornacki 2011, p. 378-379.
  32. ^ a b c Falkowska 2007, p. 60.
  33. ^ Haltof 2002, p. 89.
  34. ^ Kornacki 2011, p. 413.
  35. ^ a b c d Kornacki 2011, p. 343-347.
  36. ^ a b c Kornacki 2011, p. 348–362.
  37. ^ a b Kornacki 2011, p. 363-369.
  38. ^ Kornacki 2011, p. 369.
  39. ^ Werner 1987, p. 32-45.
  40. ^ Lubelski 2000, p. 157.
  41. ^ Kąkolewski 2015, p. 17-21.
  42. ^ Lubelski 1994, p. 185-187.
  43. ^ a b c Falkowska 2007, p. 62.
  44. ^ Malcolm 1999.
  45. ^ Kehr 2017.
  46. ^ Time Out London.
  47. ^ Parkinson 2006.
  48. ^ "Popiół i diament". FilmPolski (in Polish). Retrieved 2019-04-24.
  49. ^ "Best Film from any Source". BAFTA Awards. Retrieved 2019-04-24.
  50. ^ "Foreign Actor in 1960". BAFTA Awards. Retrieved 2019-04-24.
  51. ^ a b Schneider, Steven Jay (1 October 2012). 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die 2012. Octopus Publishing Group. p. 350. ISBN 978-1-84403-733-9.
  52. ^ "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema – 38. Ashes and Diamonds". Empire.
  53. ^ "Polska – Najlepsze filmy według wszystkich ankietowanych". Muzeum Kinematografii w Łodzi (in Polish). 2015-12-28. Retrieved 2019-04-24.
  54. ^ "Scorsese's 12 favorite films". Miramax.com. Archived from the original on 26 December 2013. Retrieved 25 December 2013.
  55. ^ Lubelski 2015, p. 979.
  56. ^ Lubelski 2015, p. 252.
  57. ^ Garbicz 1987, p. 323.
  58. ^ Falkowska 2007, p. 63-64.
  59. ^ Kąkolewski 2015, p. 67-68.
  60. ^ Majmurek 2013, p. 9.
  61. ^ ""Solidarność" jest przykładem dal reszty świata". Interia.pl. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  62. ^ "The European Masterpieces Part 3: Ashes and Diamonds (1958 Andrzej Wajda)". Momentary Cinema. Retrieved 24 May 2018.

References[edit]

External links[edit]