After making A GENERATION (1954) and KANAL (1957), Andrzej Wajda completed his loose trilogy of WWII Polish Resistance films with the prize-winning ASHES AND DIAMONDS. Set at the beginning of the transitional period between occupation and socialization, when Communists and old-line
partisans were unofficially at war, the movie tells the story of a young Polish veteran who is torn between the habit of violence and his better instincts.
ASHES AND DIAMONDS is not a movie that travels well. To Poles, it provided a rich and provocative portrait of their nation at a crucial and divisive turning point in its history, the transition from war, occupation, resistance, and victory to a new socialistic order. Those moviegoers distanced by
time and space may find the film a somewhat elusive and esoteric work. The movie's least parochial element is the lead character, Maciek (Zbigniew Cybulski), a moody and capricious lad who more closely resembles young people of the mid-1950s, when the film was made, than the mid-'40s character he
is meant to embody. In a single sequence, Maciek provides his girlfriend and the film s audience with a virtual catalogue of '50s youth attitudes: "Oh, God, how beautiful life could be!" (youthful yearning); "I don't know what is sad and what isn't" (youthful confusion); "I'd like to change
certain things" (youthful idealism); "to lead a different life" (youthful frustration); "it's difficult to speak about it" (youthful inarticulateness).
Cybulski was dubbed "the Polish James Dean." He did indeed resemble Dean and spoke some of the same body language, but his performance as Maciek was little more extroverted than any of his American counterpart's screen portrayals. Cybulski was reputed to be, like Maciek, a hard drinker, womanizer,
and gadfly, and like Dean, he died young.
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. Similar in some ways to the contemporaneous films of Carol Reed, it
does not match them in lucidity, intrigue, or power.
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