Posts Tagged ‘Soviet bloc’


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


Zbigniew Cybulski,

Ewa Krzyzewska,

Waclaw Zastrzezynski

Running time

110 min.




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)


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Knife in the Water (Polish: Nóż w wodzie) was one of the surprising discoveries of the 1963 season when it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1963 Academy Awards. The filmmaker Roman Polanski with his debut became bracketed with Orson Welles who had similarly made a name with Citizen Kane. Both were mavericks, who flouted norms and later got on the wrong side of the Establishment for different reasons. Knife in the water brought Polanski fame and respect in the film community (and also got him on the cover of Time).
This 1962 film directed by Roman Polański features only three characters out of which two of the actors (Jolanta Umecka, who plays Krystyna and Zygmunt Malanowicz, who plays the young man) had virtually no previous professional experience. Roman Polanski had intended to take on the role of the young hitchhiker himself, but Jerzy Bossak, head of the Polish film unit KAMERA (who held the control over the production), vetoed the idea. Bossak didn’t consider the director attractive enough. ( Curiously he let Polansky dub the voice of Malanowicz over. He had a  strong, well developed bass voice, which was quite inappropriate for the character.)
This film in essentials forms part of trilogy of films based around a psychological ménage-à-trois with _Cul-de-Sac (1966)_ and Death and the Maiden (1994). All three films feature a couple whose lives are turned upside down by an outside character.
In a nutshell the film deals with rivalry and sexual tension between a couple who pick up an young student, a hitchhiker.
Andrzej and Krystyna are driving to a lake to go sailing when they come upon a young man hitchhiking in the middle of the road. After nearly hitting him, Andrzej sarcastically invites the young man to sit behind and to take a nap while they continue driving. When they arrive at the docks, instead of leaving the young man behind, the man invites him over.
Andrzej , the husband is a brute and unpleasant to boot while Kataryna his wife who, as typical of the female species knows when to assert her power over him. We are let in from their brief verbal exchanges that he married beneath his station and he intends to have his way whether right or wrong. Having picked up the younger man he could have let him go on his way. No instead he wants to continue the psychological cat-and mouse game: he knows he is in a dominant position.( At the beginning of the film we see him take over the wheel from his wife.) He has next set his sailboat as the stage for the game. The hitchhiker, as he had rightly calculated is wet behind his ears in the areas he thinks he is an expert, like the sailboat he commandeers. He as the captain is in control over his crew, his wife and the hitchhiker.
Tension gradually builds between Andrzej and the unnamed hitchhiker as they vie for the attentions of the young wife. As the threesome head out to open water, the husband and the student start a kind of jealous sparring which keeps Kataryna mildly amused. She knows the reason and she lets it develop as if she is not involved. What began as a mild battle of wills ends up in a fight that has the student falling overboard and the husband swimming to shore for help.
But things are not what they seem: the wife who is ever browbeaten into submission by her husband merely seems to have acquiesced but not left the contest  completely; as the hitchhiker who has not surfaced from water may seem to have met some disastrous end. Yes, appearances are deceptive, as the husband will soon discover.
The title refers to the climatic point in the film when Andrzej taunts the young man  and drops his pocket knife and it falls in the water.
Krzysztof Komeda’s music is used in the film.

Directed by     Roman Polanski
Produced by     Stanislaw Zylewicz
Written by     Jerzy Skolimowski
Roman Polański
Jakub Goldberg
Starring     Leon Niemczyk
Jolanta Umecka
Zygmunt Malanowicz
Roman Polanski (voice)
Running time     94 min
Language     Polish
‘Knife in the Water is a symbolic film;…directly related to the communistic controversy. Poland’s hard-line leader Wlandislaw Gomulka condemned the film at the 13th Plenary Session of the Communist Party (http://www.cafeinternet.co.uk/).The power struggle between Andrjez and the young hitchhiker demonstrates the rebellion against dictatorship after WWII.
Furthermore demonstrating competition relating to communism, the hiker has a specific skill with the knife he brings aboard… and Andrzej become curious, trying to perform the same tricks as the boy…is symbolic of the people and their skills, talents and beliefs’.
(  Quoted from: Knife in the Water: Displaying Cultural Symbolism? By Kristin Fuller and Robin Seaton-May 1, 2000)
*  Co-screenwriter Jerzy Skolimowski also was interested in playing the young hitchhiker’s part.

* Initially, Polanski wanted to make a criminal story about a couple which takes a young hitchhiker to a boat trip, and at the end the boy dies in mysterious circumstances. In his version the trip was about a week long a involved some other characters. It was Jerzy Skolimowski who proposed to shorten it to one day and limit the number of characters. The final script was created in only three, four days by Polanski, Skolimowski and Jakub Goldberg in Polanski’s apartment. While writing the script they were playing the dialogue, changing the roles all the time.

* The boat used in the movie is rumored to be a former property of Hermann Goering, the Nazi party member and a friend of Adolf Hitler, who used to spend summer holidays in the palace in Sztynort neighboring the filming locations. Sunk during World War II in the Mazurian Lakes, it was restored and is — up to present date — owned by Almatur Travel Agency located in Gizycko, Poland, very popular in Polish showbiz-related circles. The real name of the boat is “Rekin” (“The Shark”).

#  During one of top mast shots, the cameramen Jerzy Lipman was tied to the mast and hold a camera. Although the wind was not strong, the mast swung and the camera was heavy, so it was very difficult to take a good shot. All the time the director Roman Polanski was very excited about the shot and kept asking how it was going. Lipman got very angry and said “Fuck! It is fucking beautiful!” and… dropped the camera to the water. He had forgotten to attach it with the safety cable. The Arriflex camera couldn’t be found by the divers and still lies somewhere in the lake.

# The first scene in the film shows Andrzej and Krystyna driving a car. As shooting from the platform in front of the car was not yet available, the crew was tied to the car, standing on its mask. To get the proper light effects, they held a blanket with a small hole for the camera. Leon Niemczyk (Andrzej) was really driving this car quite fast (this was crucial to this scene), but he couldn’t see anything. He drove the car using the tops of the trees to imagine where the road is.

# After the movie became known in US, Polanski was given a proposal to remake the film in English with some known Hollywood actors (rumors talk about Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor), but he turned it down as he didn’t want to “repeat himself”.

# The couple’s car, seen in the opening and closing sequences, was initially supposed to be a Mercedes, but this was replaced with a Peugeot during filming to avoid political controversy.

# The first Polish film to be nominated for a Foreign Language Oscar.

# This was Roman Polanski’s directorial debut, and the only film he ever made in his native Poland. Shortly after the film was released, Polanski emigrated to France (then to England, and then to the US), where he established his international fame.

Similar Movies
Cul-de-Sac  (1966, Roman Polanski)
Dead Calm  (1989, Phillip Noyce)
Kill Cruise  (1990, Peter Keglevic)
Bitter Moon  (1992, Roman Polanski)
Dark Harbor  (1998, Adam Coleman Howard)
Dead In the Water  (2001, Gustavo Lipsztein)
Open Water  (2003, Chris Kentis)
Red Lights  (2004, Cédric Kahn)
The Lightship  (1985, Jerzy Skolimowski)
Alexandra’s Project  (2003, Rolf de Heer)
Movies of Polanski
The Tenant  (1976, Roman Polanski)
Che?  (1973, Roman Polanski)
Repulsion  (1965, Roman Polanski)
Chinatown  (1974, Roman Polanski)
Rosemary’s Baby  (1968, Roman Polanski)
Macbeth  (1971, Roman Polanski)
Frantic  (1988, Roman Polanski)
Bitter Moon  (1992, Roman Polanski) The  Pianist, Tess and Death and Maiden are other movies
( Ack:allmovie,imdb and wikipedia)

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