Ashes and Diamonds | Popiol i Diament (1958) | Kinoteka 2017

March 25th, 2017
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Andrzej Wajda | Poland | Wartime Drama | 103MIN

ASHES AND DIAMONDS is undoubtedly a film noir. Not only has Wajda borrowed the sinister shadows and the black and white aesthetic from the masters of the genre, but he has given the film a hero who is already as good as dead from the outset. Maciek Chelmicki (Zbigniew Cybulski) and his friend Andrzej are fighters for the Polish Home Army, which battled against the Germans for the Government in Exile in London. Now, on May 8th 1945, their new enemies are the Communists. The men receive an order to kill the party secretary Szczuka. But they fail, and kill two civilians instead. After spending the night with the bar maid Krystyna, Maciek shoots the party secretary the next day, and escapes with Andrzej on a lorry. They meet Drewnowski, a Communist functionary, who is working for Home Army, and warns the two. Maciek, who does not know that Drewnowski is on his side, runs away, is shot and dies on a rubbish dump.

The greatest irony is that Wajda’s interpretation of the film differs diametrical from the production studio ‘Kadr’ and indeed the whole Stalinist state apparatus, which obviously saw the two assassins as counter-revolutionaries, coming to an deserved end. For Wajda, and some of the cast and crew, the opposite was true. But even with a pro-communist interpretation, ASHES AND DIAMONDS is a deeply nihilistic film: even though the war is won, destruction is absolute, and the future looms grey and unwelcoming. The film was shot in a small town where nearly everybody knew each other. Nobody trusts their neighbours: be it for collaboration with the Germans, or the competition for a place in the new order – this is a fearful town. The fireworks, which celebrates the end of the war, and masks the shots fired by Maciek, is anything but a signal for peace. Dark and foreboding, ASHES AND DIAMONDS is not so much the final chapter of WWII, but the first skirmish of an occupation. AS


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