Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

“I’d like to change some things; rearrange my life.”

Just after the end of Nazi occupation, a Polish Resistance fighter (Zbigniew Cybulski) and his partner (Adam Pawlikowski) accidentally assassinate innocent men rather than their intended target (Waclaw Zastrzezynski) — and Cybulski soon has a change of heart about his career when he falls for a beautiful bartender (Ewa Krzyzewska).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Assassination
  • Character Arc
  • Eastern European Films
  • Resistance Fighters
  • World War II

Response to Peary s Review:
Peary argues that this “thematically ambiguous Andrzej Wajda film” — about a Resistance fighter who “checks into the same hotel as the aged Communist [he was meant to assassinate] and looks for an opportunity to complete his mission,” but then “has an affair with [a] pretty barmaid… that affects him greatly” — does not successfully convince “American viewers… that Wajda is on the side of the anti-community resistance fighters,” and fails to evoke our sympathy for the two assassins given that the “Party Leader… is old, humble, walks with a cane,” and has a son who “was raised by people of whom he didn’t approve.”

This is likely due to the fact, as DVD Savant points out, that “A popular pro-Communist novel was the source, a choice that insured smooth sailing during production” — although “the powers that be didn’t know that Wajda’s rewrite would displace the central figure of a People’s Minister in favor of a minor character, a hit-man for the nationalists.” To that end, while his actions at first are questionable (given his seeming lack of remorse for killing “the wrong men at the beginning”), Cybulski — “who became a major Polish star because of this film”, and is often likened to James Dean — eventually garners our sympathy given the vulnerability he displays with Krzyzewska.

Peary notes that the “early and late scenes, those in which guns are fired, are fairly exciting”:

… but the “middle scenes” — while “artistically photographed” — are “slow and deadly.” I’m not sure I fully agree, given that the “middle scenes” are designed to show us both Cybulski falling for Krzyzewska (and thus undergoing a transformation), and the humanity of Zastrzezynski (who wasn’t yet tainted by Stalin’s venom) — and there are enough strikingly shot moments to keep us engaged.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Zbigniew Cybulski as Maciek
  • Jerzy Wojcik’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as international classic.


  • Historically Relevant

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

  1. First viewing (12/16/21). Not must-see. Mostly for Wadja fans.

    I didn’t find this as compelling as ‘Kanal’. But I think the viewer would benefit from a better knowledge of the politics of the time as well as Wadja’s take on those politics in Poland. Otherwise, a number of things can seem unclear to the average viewer. ~ even though I wouldn’t say that the film is all that difficult to follow overall. The film seems to hold a high place in Polish film history.

    Some of the atmosphere is artistically shot.

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