Popiól i diament (Ashes and Diamonds) (1958)




Director:     Andrzej Wajda.

Starring:     Zbigniew Cybulski (Maciek Chelmicki), Ewa Krzyzewska (Krystyna), Waclaw Zastrzezynski (Szczuka), Adam Pawlikowski (Andrzej), Bogumil Kobiela (Drewnowski), Jan Ciecierski (Portier), Stanislaw Milski (Pieniazek), Artur Mlodnicki (Kotowicz), Halina Kwiatkowska (Staniewiczowa), Ignacy Machowski (Waga), Zbigniew Skowronski (Slomka), Barbara Krafftówna (Stefka), Aleksander Sewruk (Swiecki), Zofia Czerwinska (Barmaid Lili), Wiktor Grotowicz (Franek Pawlicki).

Country:  Polish film.

3rd in the Wajda triology.  Zbigniew Cybulski has been compared to the American actor James Dean.  He plays the role of a Polish resistance fighter.  



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

It is May 8, 1945, the day of the German surrender.  The major Allied nations are celebrating.  But Poland cannot.  The Soviet Union is aiming to take over where the Germans left off in that nation.  Some of the members of the Polish Resistance want to continue fighting to stop the Soviet consolidation of power in Poland.  

Szczuka, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, is the Secretary of the District Workers' Party.  He is the target of an assassination attempt by the Polish Resistance.  Lt. Andrzej, soldier Maciek and another man wait by a church near the road to ambush the Secretary.  A jeep comes down the road and the team kills the driver and the passenger.  The assassins then make their get away.  Soon after the assassination, another jeep pulls up with the Secretary as the main passenger.  They investigate the situation and find the two bodies of the assassinated men.  The assassination team got the wrong men.  A group of Polish workers pass by and see the dead bodies.  They stop to ask the Secretary when will all this killing end in Poland.  The Secretary answers that the killing will most likely continue in Poland for the near future. 

Andrzej and Maciek travel to the Monopol Hotel.  Maciek is very taken with the beautiful bartender Krystyna.  There Maciek is present when the Secretary checks into the hotel.  He is obviously shocked to find out that they have killed the wrong men.  The Secretary will attend a banquet at the hotel given by the local mayor.  Maciek recovers enough to get a room next to that of the Secretary. 

Andrzej goes to talk with his immediate superior, Major Swiecki.  He tells the Major about their failure.  He then learns a bit of bad news himself.  Captain Wilk's detachment has suffered heavy casualties and the Captain himself has been killed.   Andrzej later learns that he will be taking Cpt. Wilk's place.

The party Secretary pays a visit to Mrs. Katarzyna Staniwicz, his sister-in-law.  The Secretary wants to know why she had chosen to raise his son Marek after the death of his wife, Maria.  He specifically wrote her a letter telling her not to raise his son herself.  She claims that she never received the letter.  Furthermore, she has not seen Marek in quite a while. 

Outside the bar at the Monopol Hotel, there is a big picture of Stalin waiting to be hung.  Russian tanks roll along the road outside the hotel. 

The mayor is set to become the next Minister of National Health.  The mayor arrives for the banquet.  He wants to know where is his chief aide Drewnowski.  It appears that the aide has gotten himself drunk.  

Krystyna goes up to Maciek's room.  He learns that her father died at Dachau and her mother died in the Warsaw Uprising.  She has sex with him, but also tells him that she will not fall in love with him, especially since he will be leaving soon.  Maciek, on the other hand, seems to be falling in love with Krystyna.  Maciek and Krystyna take a walk in the rain.  Maciek is now definitely in love with the pretty young, but melancholic, woman.  He seriously considers not shooting the party Secretary.  With real love in his life for the first time, he now has a reason to live.  Back at the hotel he tries to stay away from Andrzej, but gets cornered by his superior officer in the banquet bathroom.  Andrzej holds Maciek to his assignment.  As Andrzej leaves, Maciek asks:  ". . . do you believe in all this?"

The drunken mayoral aide Drewnowski finishes his career by hopping on the banquet table and spraying all the guests with a fire extinguisher. 

The party Secretary learns that the army has captured his son, a member of the Polish Resistance.  A car will be send over to pick him up and take him to his son.  This provides Maciek with a good opportunity to shoot the Secretary.  When the impatient Secretary decides to walk all alone, Maciek is able to shoot him four times.  Almost simultaneously, the celebratory fireworks display begins. 

Maciek returns to the hotel.  He sees Krystyna and says good-bye who by now is deeply attached to him.  As he walks away from the hotel he runs into the now fired Drewnowski.  Drewnowski wants to speak with Maciek, but Maciek does not want want to talk to him, so he runs away from the man.  Maciek smashes into a group of soldiers.  They are startled and want to talk with him, but Maciek starts running.  The soldiers yell at him to stop, but Maciek continues to run.  The soldiers shoot him in the back, but he is able to get away from them.  Maciek tries to continue his flight, but when he reaches a huge dumping area he does not have the strength to continue, falls down and dies. 


Pretty good movie.  My wife thought it was the best of the three movies in the trilogy.  The actor playing Maciek had seen James Dean in Rebel without a Cause and was obviously influenced by the innovative young American actor.  The actor demanded to play the role in dark glasses along with his own jacket, shirt and pants.  The director was upset by this, because the clothes were not historically accurate, but he finally consented.  It's good that the director agreed because the acting and the character proved to be very appealing to the young movie audiences in Poland.  The young Polish movie goers identified with the character of Maciek giving them a hero for their generation.  The director at first also did not like that the character of Krystyna as she was played with an air of melancholy.  He changed his mind on this aspect of the movie too, and the character was also widely popular with the movie audiences. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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