A Generation was a pessimistic film about the young resistance movement during WWII nazi occupation and Kanal was an extraordinarily pessimistic film about the near-total destruction of the resistance movement at the depths of WWII nazi occupation. Naturally this third film is a completely pessimistic film about the remnants of the resistance movement at the very end of WWII when the soviets were taking over. Wajda has become less sympathetic to the resistance fighters as the films have progressed, from the idealistic, lovestruck youth of A Generation to the murderous Maciek here, a sunglasses-sporting hit man, who will finally kill his intended target after destroying a few innocent lives.
Maciek (Zbigniew Cybulski, the Polish James Dean in the aftermath of this film, later star of The Saragossa Manuscript) takes orders from his more serious friend Andrzej, who works for the bald Major, who works for some vague remaining idea of the resistance army. Maciek, then, is far removed from any real authority, feels more like a freelance gangster than one of the desperate young soldiers of the previous films. Further complicating the alliances, Maciek’s Russian target shows up at his sister-in-law’s house where the Major is plotting to kill him in the next room. The movie goes out of its way to humanize the Russian – and to give Maciek a way out, as he meets a girl named Krystyna and contemplates leaving the dying resistance behind. Eventually Maciek does get his man, and is immediately hunted down and shot, dying like a dog in the street.
Andrzej, at right, mistakenly reporting mission success after killing the wrong guys, as their intended target strolls in at center of frame:
Krystyna with Maciek:
Set on the last day of WWII. Sam Fuller was also interested in what happens on the final day of a war: see Run of the Arrow and The Big Red One. There’s more humor and fun in this one than the others, despite the grim subject matter. Played in Venice along with fellow war-resistance film Il General Della Rovere, also The Magician, Night Train, Some Like It Hot and Come Back, Africa.
Until 1958, it had been impossible for a Polish artist like Wajda to make a film in which an opponent of the new society was presented as a tragic victim. The Stalinist period in Poland from1949 to1953 had brought open terror, arrest and torture of members of the Home Army, as well as enforcement of Soviet cultural models. The Thaw in 1956 resulted in a more independent Polish Communist regime. Finally the arts, liberated from Soviet-imposed socialist realism, were allowed to return to the Polish tradition of poetic metaphor and political allusion. During long years of dismemberment and foreign occupation, literature and drama in Poland had always kept alive belief in the nation’s revival. In Ashes and Diamonds, Wajda continues this tradition, posing the question of Poland’s postwar identity.