With the post-war period still lingering in the haunted minds of a generation, films similar to Ashes and Diamonds capture the sentiment that while the war may have ended for the western powers, it raged on for years after in the Eastern Bloc. Horrors unparalleled by those in Britain or the United States, their approach to surviving this era of tragedy was better funded and less mired by titan like powers of Asia. Poland’s recovery during the fallout of war was worrying, and this piece from Andrzej Wajda documents it with brutal detail. Deliberating the power vacuum that appeared between liberated Polish resistance members and the Communist forces of the Motherland, tensions began to bubble rapidly.
So much so, that disruption and death was shared by each side. Ashes and Diamonds concerns itself with Maciek Chelmicki (Zbigniew Cybulski), a Polish assassin tasked with murdering a Russian soldier who only a few days ago he fought alongside to push the German forces out of his homeland. The moral strife and impact this has on Chelmicki is conducted with such passionate and intense fear. A man who must do right by his homeland, by killing the man who aided him to reclaim a key part of it. The question of loyalty comes into play rather often, a key underlying theme that the film relies on often. Portrayed well by Cybulski’s emotive style, he presents the dying individualism of the Polish man during the mid-40s. Subsumed by communism and eventually left to rot in turgid surroundings, Chelmicki and his fellow countrymen provide a somewhat convincing argument for the rare occasions where a pride of your country and flag is meritable and admirable.
That feeling does not last long, though. Much like reality, this feeling of national pride slides away rapidly in the face of any turmoil or conflict. Here, the realisation and subsequent mission Chelmicki encounters is enough to throw doubt onto his way of life. The way he perceives his friends, comrades and enemies is turned on its head. Is he as bad as those men who first took his country? Not necessarily, no, but it provides food for thought in all the right spots. Wajda brings his sympathy for the Polish anti-communist resistance and puts together a film that brings out the conflicted feelings that he as a director felt, but also that of the crucial message found within the book.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend, Ashes and Diamonds builds the core of its narrative around this. A devoted director and his stalwart cast of triumphant, hardworking innovation bring this adaptation to the big screen. Reflective, stark, and a damning of the Polish and Russian relations during a turbulent time that impacted the development of both countries for decades to come. Wajda is in charge of such a politically moving film, one that brings with it all the typical strengths of analysing a post-war country, teetering on the edge of collapse.