As part of its See it Big! series, Wajda’s classic film will be presented in a new, state-of-the-art digital restoration, revealing the original richness of the work of cinematographer Jerzy Wójcik and a vivid impression of Wajda’s strong visual sense. The screening on October 14 will be introduced by the film historian and critic David Thomson, and will be followed by a discussion with Thomson and Sony Pictures Classics co-president and co-founder,Michael Barker.
Beautifully photographed and brilliantly performed, Wajda’s heroic 1958 drama is hailed by many as one of the most important Polish films of all time linking the fate of a nation with that of one man. Based on the novel of the same title by Jerzy Andrzejewski, Ashes and Diamonds tells the story of a disillusioned Home Army soldier, Maciek Chełmicki, a tragic hero, fated by the forces of history to commit a crime.Andrejewski’s book sprang from the emotional and political atmosphere of the first years after the war. Published in the forties, it was one of the literary landmarks of its period. The ten year interval between novel and film is significant, as the message acquired a fresh currency after 1956.
Compellingly played by screen legend, Zbigniew Cybulski, Chełmicki – a representative of Poland’s “lost” war generation – became a James Dean-like cult figure for an entire generation of Polish audiences.
Wajda’s third film is not only one of his most important works, but also the supreme achievement of post-war Polish cinema. On one level Ashes and Diamonds is a straightforward, suspense thriller and on another it has a dimension of high tragedy as in ancient drama. Deep down it has a broader meaning, sometimes missed by non-Polish audiences.
The film’s truth and strength lies in the way it caught certain momentous historical phenomena which appeared for the first time in 1944, were still in evidence in 1958, and to some extent still linger to this day. It has all the ingredients of a national epic – showing individual destinies being reshaped during turmoil.
Many strands from the Polish artistic tradition found their way into the film. There are clear links to nineteenth-century Romanticism; to Norwid, an expatriate poet, from one of whose verses its title is taken; to Juliusz Słowacki and his drama; and most deliberately to the turn-of-the-century Kraków writer and painter Stanisław Wyspiański. His Wesele (The Wedding), still one of the most vibrant plays in the Polish theatrical canon, is a great parable of the nation’s situation in his day. It contains an uncanny riveting scene, repeated almost literally in Ashes and Diamonds. At the end of a country wedding, the guests shuffle through a grotesque dance which anticipates a fateful change in their lives and their country. The Old Establishment now making their final exit with a sense élan to the strains of Michał Kleofas Oginski’s polonez – “Pożegnanie Ojczyzny” (Farewell to Homeland). Wesele is Wajda’s favorite play and fourteen years after Ashes and Diamonds, he captured it on film.
On the most base level, in Ashes and Diamonds Wajda shows that on this particular night a man caught up in his past under occupation, tired of heroism and beginning to feel the possibility of another and better life finds himself in a position from which there is no escape. The director fully put into practice his principle that “the methods must be emotional in order to influence, and the heroes emotional in order to move.”
Museum of the Moving Image, 36-01 35th Avenue, Astoria, NY; http://www.movingimage.us/visit/directions.