Combustible Celluloid
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With: Zbigniew Cybulski, Eva Krzyzewska, Adam Pawilkowski
Written by: Andrzej Wajda, Jerzy Andrzejewski
Directed by: Andrzej Wajda
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Polish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 105
Date: 10/03/1958

Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Rebel with a Cause

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This great film by Andrzej Wajda is considered the greatest Polish film ever made, and I'm sure that's not too far off the mark. Taking place just after the liberation of Poland at the end of WWII, several private factions still feel the need to fight. But the young James Dean-like Zbigniew Cybulski wonders why, especially after he meets and falls in love with a beautiful barmaid. The story takes place over the course of one day and depicts the failed assassination attempt of a new Communist district leader and the subsequent second try. The achingly charismatic Cybulski virtually makes this film work all by himself; after the film's release, legions of young Polish men rushed out to buy copies of his trademark dark glasses. But Wajda's severe, deep-focused, black-and-white cinematography also helps tell the powerful story.

In 2021, the Criterion Collection added a Blu-ray edition of this title to its library. The transfer is glorious, and the audio track is presented in uncompressed monaural. Bonuses include an informative commentary track (from 2004) by Annette Insdorf, who taught Polish film at the University of Columbia. Insdorf also contributes a new video essay. There's also a 2005, 36-minute program with Wajda speaking about the film, and newsreel footage of the making of the film. Film scholar Paul Coates provides the liner notes essay. This is highly recommended.

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