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500 Five-Star: Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

August 2, 2011


Ashes & Diamonds isn’t entertainment, it’s art.  Apparently.  A bloody good job, because there certainly isn’t anything entertaining about it (actually, I lie.  There is one unintenionally hilarious stunt early on involving a man jumping out of an out-of-control car).  It’s a stupid argument anyway.  Plenty of filmmakers have proved that you can be artistic and entertaining-Martin Scorcese, anyone?-so if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to disregard that particular theory.  Ashes & Diamonds might have a moralistic story.  It might be high on symbolism (mostly very forced, and of the religious kind).  It’s also boring, pretentious nonsense.

I graduated from university with a very high degree mark in History and Literature.  Therefore, I can appreciate a good symbolic reference as much as the next person.  I also spent three years writing thousands upon thousands of words on the Second World War, including a fair amount of study on the integration of Poland into the Soviet Union.  I assure you, this film did not go over my head.  I appreciated the fact that it explored a side of victory not usually considered.  After years of occupation and fighting in Poland, the war is finally over; however, it is impossible to celebrate when your country has been ravaged and you face an uncertain future under Communist rule.  It’s an interesting, intriguing setting, but one which is wasted by director Andrzej Wajda.  Questions are asked about the morality of killing and war, the sense of duty to one’s country and how to carry on after such a monstrous event, but the sparse story left me so cold and bored that I had absolutely no inclination to consider the answers.  All of these questions are formed within the character of Maciek, who, when given the order of assassinating a low-rank Communist leader, suddenly finds himself questioning the justification of the order (something which is not helped by his falling suddenly-and conveniently-in love).  The character could have been fairly sympathetic, were it not for Zbigniew Cybulski’s ridiculous portrayal. Hammy to the extreme, it’s an almost unwatchable performance by the ‘Polish James Dean’.

Simply, Ashes & Diamonds is not a film for the masses.  Film students may get something out of it, but if you’re looking to be entertained in any shape or form (God forbid!), it’s best avoided.



I didn’t enjoy this film, at all.  Admittedly though, it has a certain level of craftsmanship that makes it impossible to reject it entirely…plus as a history nerd, I can’t help but be slightly interested in seeing what the more relaxed Khrushchev era meant for filmmakers in the Soviet Union.  I vaguely understand why Empire felt the need to include it in their collection, but I can only give it…


One Comment leave one →
  1. Guardianfan143 permalink
    August 4, 2011 7:44 pm

    Please review the Guardian. Best film ever!

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