The fascinating creation of the character of Maciek Chelmick played by actor Zbyszek Cybulski with his dark glasses and smooth exterior, completely took European audiences by storm. Maciek blends the existentialism of the gritty resistance, and the existentialism of fashion and coolness; as which he was often called Poland's James Dean, portraying a toughness and boyish vulnerability, which seemed to tackle an essence of both James Dean and Marlon Brando.

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“Poland: A victim of circumstance. Especially on 5/8-9/45, as fascism became communism. Beating Nazism was pyrrhic. Yet human diamonds shone brightly..”

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The following morning, Maciek goes to the truck where Andrzej awaits. From concealment he watches as Drewnowski arrives thinking he will join them, but Andrzej is aware that Drewnowski is only doing it because he has no other choice. Andrzej throws Drewnowski to the ground and drives off. When Drewnowski sees Maciek, he calls out to him and Maciek flees and accidently runs into a patrol of Polish soldiers.

This taut political thriller is a fine example of one of the first Polish New Wave films.

In 1945, on the day World War Two ends, young Nationalist underground member Maciek (Zbigniew Cybulski), who has remained steadfastly loyal to the British government throughout the Nazi occupation, is ordered to kill the new local Communist leader. His outlook is changed as he waits overnight in a hotel when he meets and falls in love with a young girl (Ewa Krzyzanowska).

After the party dies down and everyone heads off to their separate rooms for sleep Maciek arrives at the bar to tell Krystyna that he won't be able to change things as originally planned, and Krystyna angrily tells Maciek to just leave. Before leaving the hotel porter says to Maciek "If we could only celebrate a Warsaw not in ruins."

After sleeping with Krystyna, Maciek goes for a walk with her and ends up in a bombed-out church. He tells her that he is thinking about changing some things in his life, and mentions the possibility of going to technical school. She finds an inscription on the wall, a poem by Cyprian Norwid:

Ashes and Diamonds is not without irony, such as the moment when Maciek and the Party official fall almost ludicrously into each other's arms as the one kills the other; and the victory banquet at the hotel where the polonaise Farewell, My Homeland is played and where some know their careers are at an end while others prepare to accept government posts in Warsaw.

Ashes and Diamonds is considered by film critics to be one of the great masterpieces of Polish cinema and arguably the finest Polish realist film. Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola have cited the film as one of their favourites. A critics' poll by the Village Voice called it the 86th best film of all time.[2]

Ashes and Diamonds has rightly been lauded as one of the finest of postwar East-Central European films, and the most vital work of the Polish School. It is salutary, however, to remember how . . . Read more »

These notes accompany screenings of Andrzej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds on March 13, 14, and 15 in Theater 3.

Cybulski manages, through Wajda, to express a uniquely Polish sensibility - reflecting his nation's troubled history - as well as the kind of youthful frustrations that are still recognisable today. But Wajda's deeply romantic and personal vision, inspired by both Italian neo-realism and by the more baroque images of Expressionism, makes Ashes and Diamonds a gripping experience too.

The final installment in Andrzej Wajda's war trilogy - following "A Generation" (1954) and "Kanal" (1956) - is a coolly romantic wartime movie about Maciek, a young Polish resistance fighter whose demise coincides with Germany's surrender.

Taut thriller about immediate postwar Poland also has a heavier theme of the futility of killing and violence. Its technical knowhow, fine acting and directorial prowess make this an above average drama.

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Maciek and Andrzej quickly flee after the murders and head to the town's leading hotel in Monopol. The hotel banquet hall is currently throwing a grand fête which is being organized  for a newly appointed minor minister (and current town mayor) by his assistant, Drewnowski. Maciek asks Andrzej where he gets his information and Andrezj tells him through Drewnowski the mayor's secretary. "So he works for both sides? I dispise that," says Maciek.

The following morning, Maciek goes to the truck where Andrzej awaits. From concealment he watches as Drewnowski arrives thinking he will join them, but Andrzej is aware that Drewnowski is only doing it because he has no other choice. Andrzej throws him to the ground and drives off. When Drewnowski sees Maciek, he calls out to him. Maciek flees and runs into a patrol of Polish soldiers. He is shot and ends up dying in a trash heap.

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"Listen, I need to talk to you, seriously. You know I'm not a coward. Try to understand, Andrzej. I can't go on killing and hiding. I just wanna live. You gotta understand."

Richly composed and photographed, with atmosphere aplenty, Ashes and Diamonds suffers somewhat from an excess of loose plot ends and of underdeveloped characters, perhaps a consequence of having been based on a prestigious novel.

There was a time, and it now seems long ago, when Polish cinema was admired throughout the West. Before capitalism and the market had their evil way, it was characterised by a deep sense of a fractured national identity and by an extraordinarily sharp idea of how a tragic history affected ordinary people.

"You want me to say: Fine. You're in love. Do as you like. How many times have we been in action together? What if you had fallen in love then? Would you have come to me then? How about during the uprising. You keep forgeting your one of us. And that's what counts."

Told to try again, he is hopelessly riven between the demands of conscience and of loyalty, and is further up-ended by falling for a girl in the hotel at which he and the communist official are staying. She makes him feel that his lifestyle is meaningless in the new, post-war climate.

Ashes And Diamonds (1958)

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After Szczuka receives his reserved hotel room, Maciek manages to sweet talk himself into the room next to Szczuka by reminiscing with the hotel porter, who is also a fellow Warsaw native. The two chat about such things as the older section of town and the chestnut trees which were lost when the Germans destroyed most of the city in the aftermath of the Warsaw Uprising. "You deserve it. We Warsovians have to stick together,"  the porter says to Maciek giving him the room next to Szczuka.

The author describes his interactions with the great Polish filmmaker. Read more »

The third panel in Wajda WWII trilogy (that began with Generation and continued with Kanal) is considered one of his best works; it also shows why Cybulski was labeled the Polish James Dean.

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Though he manages to accomplish his mission on the very evening that fireworks announce the end of hostilities (ironically, as his elderly prey is on his way to see his son who has been arrested as a member of a similar underground group to Maciek's own) he is accidentally shot when running from a military patrol. He dies alone on a rubbish dump in a scene reminiscent of Bunuel's Los Olvidados.

Zbigniew Cybulski in Ashes and Diamonds. 1958. Poland. Directed by Andrzej Wajda

He is shot and ends up running through several clotheslines of sheets bleeding to death, eventually dying in a trash heap.

Wajda's deeply romantic and personal vision, inspired by both Italian neo-realism and by the more baroque images of Expressionism, makes Ashes and Diamonds a gripping experience.

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An overlooked masterpiece of Eastern European cinema, this eminently powerful and sophisticated drama delicately dissects issues and themes rarely visited by war movies.

This great film by Andrzej Wajda is considered the greatest Polish film ever made, and I'm sure that's not too far off the mark.

"Are you speaking as a soldier or a friend? I can only speak to you on this matter as your superior officer. You took this on yourself. Nobody forced you. You fell in love. That's your business. But to put your personal affairs before our cause...you know what they call that."

“I have a large liking for war films or epic protest pictures. Ashes and Diamonds ranks right up there with The Thin Red Line Or The Deer hunter”