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Today Crimea is seeking referendum in a move to break away from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation.

Western powers have denounced the hastily organized referendum as illegal.

Some 59 percent of Crimea’s 2 million inhabitants are ethnic Russians, the minority question which has bedeviled since the early 19 th century resonates even this very day. Nationalism of Hungary Italy against monarchies have not yet sorted the friction between majority rights and minority rule. How the nation-builders got their act wrong we can see at the Paris peace conference after World War I.

That war felled the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, bequeathing to the Allied victors a hotch-potch of ethnic and cultural identities clamoring for statehood. The peace pitted Wilson’s “imperative principle” of self-government for formerly subject peoples was to stop the customary tendency of European statesmen sitting over fine dining and a smoke in the billiard room redrawing maps as though it were toting up gambling losses.

The U.S. President’s principle somehow didn’t extend to Ukraine. His opposition to a sovereign Ukrainian state was backed by the British and French, supporters of anti-Bolshevik forces in the civil war tin the wake of 1917 revolution.While the Paris peacemakers bestowed statehood on the likes of Czechoslovakia and Hungary Ukraine was left to be fought over by Poland and Russia. Poland seized swathes of Ukraine’s territory and the rest was swallowed up in the newly formed Soviet Union,1922.

(British Prime Minister David Lloyd George said he had glimpsed a Ukrainian only once in his life “and I am not sure that I want to see any more,” Margaret MacMillan wrote in her 2001 book, “Peacemakers.”)

To be fair to the high-minded President Wilson he was hoping the resurgent Russian empire would reverse the Bolshevik takeover. Something we have seen similarly in the Middle East. Wave democracy for all your worth the region shall be all the better for it.

Wilson’s tactics in 1919, and the West’s ambivalence toward Ukraine after it finally broke free of Soviet control in 1991, show the limited options available to the U.S. and its allies in response.

Note: One supplicant inspired by what Wilson called “the sacredness of the right of self-determination” was Nguyen Tat Thanh. The man later known as Ho Chi Minh petitioned the conference to grant Indochina independence from France. Wilson never replied, according to “The Wilsonian Moment,” a 2007 book by Erez Manela, a Harvard University history professor.
A surgeon’s mistake is covered by a tombstone. What if a statesman makes a blunder? Mass graves as one sees in Vietnam and elsewhere make any personal tombstone redundant. ( ack:James G. Neuger /bloomber.net)

benny

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Themes

The opening scene shows a chapel with two figures lounging in the grass. In Poland the Church has always been a refuge in any crisis. However crisis for the two does not stem from their faith but has to do with their conscience: The war is over yet death does not stop.
One of them has to assassinate while the other is responsible for him..

Maciek: “I’ve waited for bigger things.”

Maciek(Zbigniew Cybulski) and Andrzej(Adam Pawlikowsky) are vetran Home Army soldiers, and friends,licked into shape by their struggles as members of a resistance movement. Maciek the assassin is young and is the responsibility of the older Andrzej who in turn is responsible to another. This however does  not prevent an attack of conscience. It is an individual thing though Maciek pulls the trigger for the good of many. The dark glasses that Maciek wears is a metaphor: it cuts off clear moral judgment till he does what he is expected to do on a command passed through many hands. Maciek’s intended victim is one who also fought the war on the same side. In a fine performance Maciek brings out his dilemma and tragedy.

The Nazi Germany has just surrendered. The war is over. In such a case why carry on with killing in time of peace? This moral dilemma gives the film its internal energy and it gives each character a point of reference to a particular story set in Free Poland; it also stands true for cases that might be anywhere. Poland as a nation had for long been subjugated by other nations including Russia; in her terrible hour patriots fought side by side suffering the same pain and death; now with their freedom in hand as the Regional Secretary of the Communist says,’The end of war is not the end of our war. What kind of Poland we need to become.’ Szczuka (Waclav Zastrzezynski) representing the pro-Moscow People’s Army, has just survived an assassination attempt and he knows the two cement factory workers killed a little while ago died for nothing. War has decided the fate of nation very little; besides it spills over in times of peace killing the innocents as in time of war. So in the film Maciek gets another chance but very little time to sort out his moral confusion. To complicate matters he falls in love and it tells him that he ought to make some changes in his life. But does he really get that chance?

On May 8,1945 it is decision time: what kind of nation Poland should become. Throughout the night Reds had already fanned out occupying vital installations and deciding who gets what posts and other perquisites the new regime could give. The mayor for his loyalty to the Soviet Bloc has been elevated to a minister. His secretary Drewnowski (Bogumil Kobiela), a double agent dreams that it opens for him plenty of wealth. The newly elevated Minister and his cohorts, mingle with  members of Polish bourgeosie during the banquet to celebrate the victory. Maciek and Andrzej slip among the crowd in the bar.

Maciek observes.”He has got a stupid back,” the guest turns around. Maciek tells Andzej,”His front is stupid  also.”

There has been a complication in that Captain Wilks in whose detachment the two were members, is killed and Andrzej has to take his place by 4:30 in the morning. Maciek would like very much to go with him but he has to finish  his assignment first.

The film resolves the fate of two representatives of the ideological divide Maciek and Szczuka represent. The irony of it all is that each is a double for the other:  one could be the surrogate father for the younger. The younger within a span of day is at hand to give a match to light the cigarette of the older twice. Each time the viewer is left with no doubt the two exude certain empathy that only can be because of their close relationship by blood. Their political divide is as superficial as the Hungarian cigarette (‘because it is stronger,’) that Maciek smokes while Szczuka settles for the American brand. They both are Polish through and through and the ideology of old or new is like rustle of leaves. The tree must still stand whether winds of change came across the Steppes or not.

This film is one among 120 great films and is included in my Movie Lists.

In Depth

Based on Jerzy Andrzejewski’s 1948 novel of the same name, Ashes and Diamonds is the Wajda’s last in the war trilogy, following A Generation and Kanal.  Adapted for the screen by Andrzej Wajda and the author time and space have been condensed to less than twenty-four hours in and around a single location—the hotel Monopol. The title comes from a 19th Century poem by Cyprian Norwid ‘…Or will the ashes hold the glory of a starlike diamond/The Morning Star of everlasting triumph.

In the town’s leading hotel and banquet hall, Monopol., a grand fête is being organized  for a newly appointed minor minister by his assistant. Maciek having missed his mission manages to get an entry into a room with the desk clerk who was present in Warsaw even while the uprising resulted in the destruction of the Old Warsaw The old porter recalls ‘It is like losing your arm.’. He also remembers the chestnut trees in particular. This reminiscence echoes in the part of the Party secretary who we understand had taken part in Spain. His sad memories have a parallel in one of the dramatic moments at the bar, where Andrzej is nervously waiting for dawn Maciek lights glasses with alcohol as a memorial to their fallen comrades. Andzej snaps crossly,”We are still alive.” The realization Maciek played with his life and still he has to play with it is a turning point in the film.

Maciek: “I swear these violets smell sweeter and sweeter.”

The episode with hotel’s bar-maid Krystyna (Ewa Krzyzewska) begins here. Their love is physical as he is not totally at ease to receive her love. Even as she visits him in his room(right next that of his target) he is frantically trying to cover up his real mission.( He must similarly lie to the old porter who warms up to him.). His sense of responsibility will not allow him to becompletely on level. Nor the girl is free from her past ( She tells simply her father was killed by the Germans and her mother during the uprising) and it is she puts a full stop realising he is lost to her forever.

Maciek abruptly takes leave of her as his victim is anxiously waiting to reclaim his son Marek. He has been taken prisoner by the Reds. He also belonged to the detachment of Captain Wilks. By inference Maciek is almost like his son.

We are given to understand Marek is a child of Szczuka and his mother none other than the wife of Major Stanieswiez. who has given order for his elimination! Freedom for Poland cuts across love whether illicit or normal. There is a scene in which Maciek witnesses a domestic tragedy. Fiancee of one of the worker killed by him is comforted by one who is none other than her boss and he has nylon stockings as a gift. They are ready for a roll in the bed. She knows the men have only one thing in their mind. Yes social life, open or secret cannot run its normal course. The old order has been completely over thrown and is visually summed up in the broken down statue of Christ in the crypt.

Before the close we are given a chance to probe Maciek’s emotional undercurrents and his need to change his way of life. It underscores the pathos that the tragedy must awake in us. This crucial moment follows when Maciek goes for a walk with Krystyna and ends up in a bombed-out church. Maciek realizes what he had been missing in life. (He could have had an education or settle down to a regular family life every day warmed by love, awakened by his brief love-making with the barmaid.) The aridity of his past, a life of the mind is brought to him with a sledge-hammer force by the two innocent victims he sees in the crypt. The result of his botched attempt. It was all he had to show for his life as a sewer rat. But he is committed to fulfill his duty.

When he does and as Szczuka falls, it is a dramatic moment and the built up tension in the viewer literally explodes: fireworks celebrating the end of the war fill the sky.

At appointed time Maciek goes to where Andrzej awaits in a truck. From concealment he watches as the other accomplice Drewnowski is exposed.  Andrzej throws him to the ground and drives off. When Drewnowski sees Maciek, he calls out to him and Maciek flees only to run into a patrol of Reds He is shot and ends up dying in a landscape strewn with trash.

No empire or old order however feeble passes away quietly but makes quiet a din. We have in our time seen in the Balkans and it was so when the Ottoman Empire came crashing at the end of WWI.

What a trash new emerging nations make of the fine ‘ideals’ of the old order!

Quote:’The measure of my satisfacton is that during the writing of the book I pictured Mack Chelmicky entirely differently. Now when I see the film I see him only this way, as Cybulski played him.” Andrezjewski

Directed by

Andrzej Wajda

Written by

Jerzy Andrzejewski

Starring

Zbigniew Cybulski,

Ewa Krzyzewska,

Waclaw Zastrzezynski

Running time

110 min.

Language

Polish

Trivia:

The entire film takes place over two days, May 8th and 9th 1945.

One of Martin Scorsese‘s favorite movies. He showed it to Leonardo DiCaprio while making The Departed (2006), as main characters of these two movies have to deal with the same dilemmas.

The title comes from a 19th century poem by Cyprian Kamil Norwid and references the manner in which diamonds are formed from heat and pressure acting upon coal.

Director ‘Andzrej Wajda’ realized that his leading man Zbigniew Cybulski would be constrained by period costume so he allowed him to wear clothes that felt more natural to him.

After the film’s release, sales of sunglasses shot up because Zbigniew Cybulski wore them consistently throughout the film.

Wajda was particularly influenced by The Asphalt Jungle (1950).

Because of the film’s nihilistic tone, the Polish authorities were not keen on it being exhibited outside of the country. Until a low-level official had a print shipped out to the Venice Film Festival where it played to great acclaim.

René Clair was a particular fan of the film.

(ack: imdb,wikipedia,criterion)

benny

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Dekalog 7
‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’

In the seventh episode Kieslowski poses the question of whether you can steal something that is already yours. The world we live in is so complex and there are simple thefts and subtle forms of theft. A young woman, Majka (Maja Barelkowska) is planning to leave for Canada and at the passport office she also wants to obtain a child’s passport and that requires the mother’s signed permission. Majka is Ania’s birth mother, which in the eyes of law could be challenged. The same evening a girl of six, Ania (Katarzyna Piwowarczyk), is crying in a nightmare and Majka attempts to comfort her. The effort ends in failure though when their mother Ewa (Anna Polony) takes charge. The father, Stefan (Wladyslaw Kowalski), holds and soothes Majka, even as Ewa is doing the same with Ania. Could the two women with a child in between live in amity? For a casual observer they represent a happy family but between the women there is an undercurrent of tension. Majka was underage when she became pregnant so Ewa steps in for all intents and purposes as the mother. Ewa wants the sole control over Ania. (The irony is that Ania is actually sired by a young teacher, Wojtek (Boguslaw Linda), from the school where Ewa is headmistress.)

On the following day Ewa takes Ania to a pantomime with all of the other mothers and kids. However, Majka manages to take the child out of the building and disappear. Ania is a pawn in the tug-of- war and is the ultimate loser. As with the first Dekalog 7 proves Kieslowski’s to write for and direct children. He presents an extremely believable and thoroughly tragic commentary on the Commandment that essentially related to material goods. Stealing money and stealing affection are on the same scale but in the eyes of law are not punished equally.

Dekalog 8
Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness’

In the woods close to a familiar apartment complex an old lady, Zofia (Maria Koscialkowska), jogs carefully and she exchanges a few words with her stamp-collecting neighbour and prepares for work. She is a professor of ethics within Warsaw University.  That day as usual she takes class with Elzbieta (Teresa Marczewska), an American translator of Zofia’s work, sitting in.

During the session when Zofia comments on a true-life tale, and impresses upon her students the point that a child’s life is of paramount importance, Elzbieta feels compelled to relate another tale. In this one, set in 1943, a 6 year-old Jewish girl is about to be lodged with some willing Catholic protectors, since her parents are in the ghetto. Unfortunately, at the last minute, the man and woman renege on their promise, leaving the child to an uncertain fate. A tragic story without a doubt but Zofia seems shaken far more deeply than the situation warrants, suggesting a hidden connection (since she is of roughly the correct age for wartime exploits). The question is, how does Elzbieta know the story and why is she choosing now to have her say?
Advancing in years and well grounded in logic and ethics do not remove life’s incidents perhaps forgotten or glossed over. Elzbieta and Sofia meets accidentally and yet there are points in the past that connect them.

Motives and actions do not exactly match point to point. An action carries so many overtones, some of which are of contrary to what is done. This point is brought home to Sofia by her translator.
compiler:benny

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Dekalog 4:

Dekalog 4 hangs upon the Commandment, “Honour thy Father and Mother”. In the familiar apartment block, teenage Anka (Adrianna Biedrzynska) has lived with her father Michal (Janusz Gajos) all her life. Their bond is very close considering that her mother has been dead soon after she was born. Even the existence of a friend Jarek (Tomasz Kozlowicz) closer to her in age has not hurt the relationship. Her father leaves for abroad and she discovers a letter addressed to her, with instructions that it is only to be opened after Michal’s death. In succumbing to the temptation and breaking his command she realizes her own relationship with both have changed. Personal desire of  Anka compete with the moral obligations imposed on her by her father and also the society and in violation there are consequences. Anka finds a second letter, addressed directly to Anka in her mother’s handwriting. When Michal reappears, she confronts him with the contents and thereafter that bond which had held so securely for long is broken forever.

Dekalog 4 deals with sexual love and when it is between May-December it is treading on thin ice of social conventions. Given the family structure in which this is expressed the result could be explosive indeed.

Dekalog 5
‘Thou shalt not kill.’
A state is a vast machinery where man is a cog that enmeshes with other parts to keep it running. Some are small and others have much more importance. The Fifth segment deals with three such cogs whose lives are bound to meet. Jacek (Miroslaw Baka) is one of the luckless youths with a mean streak. The middle-aged taxi driver (Jan Tesarz) is the second and Piotr (Krzysztof Globisz), a young and idealistic lawyer is the other. The cabdriver picks up Jacek and heads out of town; behind, Jacek fingers a cord, nervous yet determined to kill. In a horrifying act, all the more brutal for its mindless nature the taxidriver is killed. There are two deaths in this film in fact, one reckless and the other legal. Both are executed without an iota of compassion. Do two deaths set thus in juxtapposition cancel each other out? What follows is a sort of carnaval where Law takes its course with regards to the condemned man while his failed defence lawyer Piotr looks on.

Dekalog 6 (1988)

“Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery”is a commandment that needs be examined afresh considering how lack of living space bears upon ordinary people in Warsaw to settle for concrete high rise apartments where privacy is often lacking. Voyeurism was practiced then as now. Of course Susannah had to deal with the elders and Bethsheba, with David, a royal admirer. But in the modern times couples copulate under the very noses of everyone else. All one needs is to have a yen ‘for watching how others live across the block.’ Tomek (Olaf Linde Lubaszenko) who works in the local post office spends his free time spying on Magda (Grazyna Szapolowska) and her succession of lovers. Lust in the eyes calls for desperate measures and Tomek does what he can with all the skills in his possession. He can make silent phone calls or even disguise as her milkman. When his brief contacts however unsatisfying, feeds his lust, one day he chases Magda down after creating a crisis at the post office. He pours out his lust that repels Magda. But that night Magda titillates Tomek, and coolly tells her lover of the peeping Tom. Following this there is a fistfight in the carpark. Magda doesn’t believe in love but in sex.
Irony of love is such Magda becomes now obsessed. Love redeems and lust enslaves. But given the flawed human nature condemned to guilt, loneliness and fear even lusty Magda must own up to her role and be vulnerable.
compiler:benny

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Dekalog 2

Inspired, though not chained to, the second Commandment, Dekalog 2
deals with a hospital consultant (Aleksander Bardini) who lives alone surrounded by his cacti in one of the nondescript apartment complexes. He has a bustling housekeeper. Most of energy is spent on medical matters and he tends critically ill patients such as Andrzej (Olgierd Lukasiewicz). Burdened with possibly terminal cancer a violinist Dorota (Krystyna Janda)  his wife is so desperate that she hangs around near the consultant’s flat, even though he only officially sees relatives at 2-5 on Wednesdays.
Dorota is pregnant but not with the child of her husband. So her desperation is not purely for her husband’s cure but for the certainty. In case he regains health she must abort the baby that is someone elses.  The consultant and Dorota already know each other under rather unfortunate circumstances( she ran over his dog a few years previously.)
As a physician he invites Dorota in and he explains how difficult it is to make accurate predictions. At the moment all he can counsel is to wait and see,- news, which fails to satisfy Dorota. She is fixated upon obtaining a definitive answer for what is really a moral and psychological problem. The consultant is unwilling to play God just for her. She uses him rather to make a choice between two lives, that of her husband or her unborn child.
Once again, great camera-work and a suitable choice of music form part of the greater whole.

Dekalog 3

On a snowy Christmas Eve, Janusz (Daniel Olbrychski) a taxi-driver has dressed up as Santa Claus to surprise and delight his children-(an annual tradition).Toting a sack bulging with presents, he stomps merrily into the apartment block where his wife (Joanna Szczepkowska) is delighted. They head off to Midnight Mass. There Janusz briefly spots a familiar face amongst the crowd, that of Ewa (Maria Pakulnis) who had come visiting in the neighborhood.
Later on, Janusz and his wife are disturbed by entry of of Ewa. On the brink of hysteria, Ewa hurriedly explains how her husband has gone missing and that she can’t find him anywhere. Should he help her in such a special night when she could have turned to others as well? Kieslowski in this episode explores with affairs of the heart and their consequences. While Janusz surely loves his family, there was an episode between him and Ewa that had not been fully settled. Things are not what they seem especially when Ewa takes Janusz back to her flat. The dynamics, which guide the actions of the characters are under deep shadows that the past casts on the present, however commendable they may appear to be. The principle actors do a fine job of emoting with each other, expressing the ambiguities and uncertainties of love.
Excellent camerawork is another strength of this part.
compiler:benny

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Dekalog-1988

Is decalogue relevant in this time and age? In the ten part series Dekalog, Krzysztof Kieslowski examines the dilemma of fundamental sin in the lives of ordinary Warsaw citizens. Note the geographical microcosm where the episodes take place. Poland with its checkered history under oppressive regimes one after the other, has always been a staunch support for the Church be it of Catholic or Hebraic persuasion. The Ten Commandments refer to the relationship between man and God and sin being as clear as any disruption in the above equation. Dekalog has a strong storyline and characters well fleshed out and is often brilliant but uneven, which however should not deter us from considering the film as a masterpiece.  The episodes were meant for TV.

The first of Kieslowski’s 10-part series, Dekalog 1
“I Am the Lord God”,
Krzysztof (Henryk Baranowski) is a scientist who puts his faith in science and logic to govern daily life (Decalogue I). He brings up his young son Pawel (Wojciech Klata) in an apartment block flat. In the absence of a mother their home is dedicated to technology: on assorted computers they can plot out their lives, perform calculations and even, thanks to Pawel, control appliances around the apartment. He has long since lapsed as a Catholic. Pawel has a female role-model in his aunt Irena (Maja Komorowska. For a 11 year old Pawel life and its spiritual meaning is of no interest. Life is wonderful as long as he’s able to go skating.
His Christmas present is a new pair of ice skates and, as the ice looks thick, Pawel’s keen to try them out.  One evening the boy does not return home.
The loss of a child is always devastating but given the age and the potential of such a boy with so much in him to flower we can feel the waste and tragedy and it is in the generation of these emotions that Dekalog 1 succeeds. In such poignancy of futlity and despair how strong are analytical methods and reasons, or what we call a scientific temper?
benny

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