Of deep focus and dark sunglasses.
DIRECTED BY ANDRZEJ WAJDA
Following loosely in the tradition of Italian neorealism, the Polish Film School sought to convert its country’s postwar realities into a cinema of political and symbolic import. The most prolific member of the group—with a biopic of dockworker turned activist Lech Wałęsa slotted for release later this year—is probably Andrzej Wajda. The recipient of 1999’s Honorary Academy Award for his tremendous body of work, Wajda is still best known for the war trilogy that announced his presence on the international scene in 1955.
Ashes and Diamonds is the final and generally best received of the three films, based on fellow countryman Jerzy Andrzejewski’s novel about two resistance fighters charged with the assassination of a high-ranking communist officer following Germany’s surrender. As Paul Coates outlines in his piece accompanying the film’s Criterion Collection release, Wajda’s concluding chapter was met with no small amount of controversy at home. Its celebration of the Polish Home Army’s resistance against a regime that was then backed by the Polish populace and was fully capable of censoring artistic productions is the stuff of legend.
It helps to have a little of that context in mind, but the film is hardly a stuffy historical lecture. Zbyszek Cybulski plays his sunglass-sporting soldier like a Polish James Dean, and the film’s bold deep focus shots are as impressive as Citizen Kane’s. The influence of its tense, airtight plotting can also be felt in successors as different as Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds and Patrick DeWitt’s recently feted novel The Sisters Brothers.