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Ashes and Diamonds

Directed by Andrzej Wajda

Poland, 1958

HOME, 23 August 2015

A portrait of post-war Poland, at the point in time when the Germans had been defeated but the communists had not yet managed to establish complete control.

Partisans still fight for a free country. A large-scale portrait of Stalin lays in a rubble-strewn street. The name of Katyn is unspoken, but it is present in every frame of the film somehow. As a fear, as something known.

The film is richly complex and even the minor characters – a hotel porter, a cleaning lady – are fully alive. Myriad memorable scenes throughout. There is one scene in a bombed-out church, the altar demolished and a large crucifix broken in two, the nimbus about Christ’s head shattered so that it seems as though spikes have been driven into his head. We look through Christ in agony at the two lovers who converse. A stained white radiance indeed. Another: when making love, close ups (taking up all of the screen) of the lovers’ faces. Another: the bloody hand of a fatally wounded man appearing from behind a white sheet, smearing blood upon it.

What the film is about above all, perhaps, is unfulfilment. Dreams and schemes going awry. No one gets what they want or manages to escape unharmed. Everyone pays a cost.

A great, great film.