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Ashes and Diamonds(1958)
Maciek, a young Resistance fighter, is ordered to kill Szczuka, a Communist district leader, on the last day of World War II. Though killing has been easy for him in the past, Szczuka was a fellow soldier, and Maciek must decide whether to follow his orders.
For more about Ashes and Diamonds and the Ashes and Diamonds Blu-ray release, see Ashes and Diamonds Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on September 30, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Andrzej Wajda
Writers: Jerzy Andrzejewski, Andrzej Wajda
Starring: Zbigniew Cybulski, Ewa Krzyzewska, Waclaw Zastrzezynski, Adam Pawlikowski, Bogumil Kobiela
» See full cast & crew
Ashes and Diamonds Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, September 30, 2011
Winner of FIPRESCI Award at the Venice Film Festival, Polish director Andrzej Wajda's "Popiï¿½l i diament" a.k.a "Ashes and Diamonds" (1958) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Arrow Films. The only supplemental feature on the disc is a long video interview with director Andrzej Wajda. The disc also arrives with a comprehensive booklet by writer and film historian Michael Brooke, including new writing on the film, a re-print of Marek Hendrykowsk's monograph on Ashes and Diamonds, Andrzej Wajda's lecture on "Cinema: Past and Present" and more. In Polish, with optional English subtitles for the main feature. Region-Free.
It is May 8, 1945. Germany has capitulated and the war has ended. In Poland, there are plenty of happy people. There are also plenty of people making plans about the future, thinking about careers, trying to figure out exactly whom they can trust.
Maciek Chelmicki (Zybigniew Cybulski) is convinced that he cannot trust the country's new leaders, which is why he has joined an underground resistance movement. His latest assignment is to kill an influential communist district leader (Waclaw Zastrzeyzinski), who is expected to attend a large political banquet in a rundown hotel.
Maciek and another member (Adam Pawlikowski) of the resistance movement arrive in the hotel shortly after their target does. They check in and then head straight to the bar, where the beautiful barmaid Krystyna (Ewa Krzyzewska) serves them drinks. Maciek flirts with her and she flirts back. Before he leaves, he casually invites her to come visit him in his room.
A few hours later, much to Maciek's surprise Krystyna knocks on his door. He quickly hides the gun he has been cleaning and lets her in. The two make love. Then they talk about the war, the present and the future. Eventually, Maciek realizes that he has misjudged Krystyna - she is exactly the type of woman he has been dreaming about while fighting the Nazis. Krystyna also realizes that Maciek isnï't like the rest of the guys who come to the bar, interested only in her body and not her thoughts. Maciek is the type of man she would love to have a serious relationship with, perhaps even marry.
Maciek and Krystyna talk some more. Then they head to the lobby and dance. Then they take a walk around the city, almost completely destroyed and full of fresh corpses. It is the strangest romantic walk ever, but the best the two have ever had. Suddenly, Maciek kisses Krystyna and then pushes her away. She has made him weak, a normal man wanting a normal life. But he cannot afford to be weak, not now. Tonight he must be strong, because tonight he must kill.
Based on Jerzy Andrzejewski's novel, Andrzej Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds is a brilliant, incredibly bold film. It takes place over the course of a single night during which Poland is liberated and then immediately occupied again, the strong (the ambitious communists and Soviet lackeys) establish themselves and the dreamers (the true patriots) are defeated.
The focus of attention, however, is on the short but intense relationship between a young patriot-turned-assassin and a beautiful but disillusioned barmaid. When they meet, for a short period of time both become detached from the strange vacuum that has emerged in their country. They begin fantasizing about normal lives but then quickly realize that their fantasies aren't normal.
Of course, what the assassin and the barmaid want is perfectly normal, their country isn't. And the film shows why, by repeatedly switching the absurd into normal and the normal into absurd - which is precisely how bizarre life was in all of the countries the Soviets occupied after the end of WW2.
Ultimately, however, what makes the film so fascinating to behold is how on one hand it favors the communists, portraying them as heroes and patriots, while on the other hand it shows them as opportunists and careerists more interested in serving their "liberators" than their country. Conversely, the resistance fighters are clearly the enemy, yet strangely enough they are also portrayed as patriots whose reasons to confront the communists make plenty of sense.
Clearly, this constant blurring of good and bad, as well as normal and absurd, must have confused the Polish censors, because with the exception of the politically correct finale the film openly suggests that in 1945 Poland's red leaders simply replaced one oppressor with another and the country lost its freedom again. It is remarkable that they misinterpreted its message and did not destroy it.
Ashes and Diamonds Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.64:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Andrzej Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Arrow Films.
Recently restored in 2K, the film's transition to Blu-ray is rather pleasing. Detail is mostly good, but some partial noise corrections have been applied. Interestingly enough, the most obvious ones appear early into the film (see screencapture #8) and seem to affect a couple of daylight scenes. Later on (see screencaptures #1 and 4) they become more subtle and light grain is quite easy to spot. Contrast levels and clarity are pleasing, especially during the nighttime sequences, which are not overly impressive on Criterion's R1 SDVD release of the film. The color-scheme is stable and convincing. Edge-enhancement is not a serious issue of concern. I also did not see any traces of severe artifacting or strong aliasing patterns. There are no serious stability issues and blown through a digital projector the image conveys satisfactory fluidity. (Note: This is a Region-Free Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you will be able to play it on your PS3 or SA regardless of your geographical location. For the record, there is no PAL or 1080/50i content preceding the disc's main menu).
Ashes and Diamonds Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: Polish LPCM 2.0. For the record, Arrow Films have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature.
The Polish LPCM 2.0 track is pleasing. Predictably, its dynamic amplitude is quite limited, but there is good depth is missing from the lossy track found on the Criterion SDVD release of the film (this is especially obvious during the short vocal performance in the bar). Additionally, the dialog is crisp, clean, stable, and easy to follow. I also did detect any pops, cracks, excessive hiss, or audio dropouts to report in this review.
Ashes and Diamonds Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Ashes and Diamonds Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
A classic of Polish cinema, Andrzej Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds is a remarkably bold film that offers a glimpse at the unusual socio-political vacuum that developed immediately after the end of WW2 and shortly before the country's occupation by the Soviets. Despite traces of mild filtering, the film's presentation is pleasing. RECOMMENDED.
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Ashes and Diamonds Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Andrzej Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds Detailed - August 14, 2011
Independent British distributors Arrow Films are set to release on Blu-ray acclaimed Polish director Andrzej Wajda's Popiól i diament a.k.a Ashes and Diamonds. In 1959, the film won FIPRESCI Prize at the Venice Film Festival. Street date is September 12th.
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