Ashes & Diamonds (1958)

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Released 30-Mar-2009

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Interviews-Crew-An Interview with Director Andrzej Wajda
Trailer-Open City by Roberto Rosellini
Trailer-Closely Observed Trains by Jiri Menzel
Trailer-Europa Europa by Agnieszka Holland
Trailer-The Tin Drum by Volker Schlöndorff
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1958
Running Time 102:36
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Andrzej Wajda
Studio
Distributor

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Zbigniew Cybulski
Ewa Krzyzewska
Waclaw Zastrzezynski
Adam Pawlikowski
Bogumil Kobiela
Jan Ciecierski
Stanislaw Milski
Artur Mlodnicki
Halina Kwiatkowska
Case Amaray-Transparent-S/C-Dual
RPI Box Music Filip Nowak


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown Polish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)/480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Ashes and Diamonds is universally accepted, from a critical point of view, as the most mature film amongst the trilogy of films that make up the Wajda War Trilogy box set. This is true in terms of style but not necessarily plot. The plot requires the viewer to understand the historical context of the film to appreciate it. Polish viewers watching the film at the time of it's release would have understood better the conflict that is presented in the film, derived from the events that occurred in Poland at the end of world War II.

     Maciek Chelmicki (Zbigniew Cybulski) is a young resistance fighter for the Polish Home Army, loyal to the Polish Government-in-exile in London, who, together with Andrzej (Adam Pawlikowski) has been designated to assassinate Szczuka (Waclaw Zastrzezynski), a Communist district leader, on the last day of World War II. At the beginning of the film they find out that they have killed the wrong person. They follow Szczuka to the Marpol Hotel where he is staying and in the meantime Maciek begins to fall for Krystyna (Ewa Krzyzewska), a young barmaid at the hotel. In getting to know Krystyna, Maciek yearns to leave his fighting behind and have a normal life, yet the conflict of duty, loyalty and orders is always weighing on him throughout the film.

     Zbigniew Cybulski is outstanding in this film, he steals the limelight in every scene that he is in, so much so that the many sub-plots in the film get pushed into the background and can only be better appreciated after multiple viewings of the film. His performance can be best described as a mixture of James Dean, Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson. It was a great tragedy, therefore, that Cybulski died young at 39, from injuries sustained whilst running to catch a train. Surprisingly, he did not work in many films in his career, rather settling on work in the theatre, but this performance in Ashes and Diamonds has made him an icon in his native Poland.

     The film was shot during a period in Poland's history known as 'Polish October'. The government allowed liberal reforms for industry and culture. It was in this context that Maciek states in the film that he disliked the Soviets for not helping the resistance during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. Such sentiment would definitely not have been allowed before 1956, and the plot itself, compromising of an assassination of a Communist leader was highly controversial for the time, especially amongst government circles, less so for the average Polish person who greatly sympathised with the Home Army resistance during World War II. However, to call Ashes and Diamonds an anti-communist film would be inaccurate. Rather it is a statement about the future direction of Poland in relation to it's generations, as is quoted from Polish 19th century poet Cyprian Norwid's poem in the film:

     So often, are you as a blazing torch with flames

     of burning rags falling about you flaming,

     you know not if flames bring freedom or death.

     Consuming all that you must cherish

     if ashes only will be left, and want Chaos and tempest

     Or will the ashes hold the glory of a starlike diamond

     The Morning Star of everlasting triumph.

    The analogy is made between the process of making diamonds from ashes via pressure acting upon coal and the fact that diamonds are valuable, hard and tough yet highly combustible when burnt. In this poem we understand that the final day of the War represents a possible liberation for Poland and yet it also represent possible future oppression. This then is is the conflict presented in the 1948 book by Jerzy Andrzejewski and in the 1958 film, whose screenplay was also adapted by the original book's author, Andrzejewski.

     The film was smuggled to Venice for the 1959 Venice Film Festival where it awarded a special FIPRESCI prize for enterprising filmmaking. Martin Scorsese also showed it to Leonardo DiCaprio as preparation for his role in The Departed, as this is one of his favourite films and the two protagonists of both films are motivated by similar conflicts.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The transfer is the best amongst the three films in the Wajda War Trilogy box set.

    The aspect ratio of the DVD is 1:66:1. It is 16x9 enhanced for widescreen televisions.

    The film is presented on a single layer on the disc, taking up 3.8 gb of space with an average bitrate of 5.5 mb/s. As a result of this, with the film being 102 minutes long, there is low level noise evident during scenes with blacks in the background, but this is only subtle, it is not excessive.

    Ashes and Diamonds was shot in Black and White, with excellent contrast highlighting day and night scenes.

    Film artefacts are very minor in comparison to A Generation and Kanal. White Artefacts can be seen, all very briefly, at 12:58, 16:46, 17:58, 22:41, 29:52, 30:58, 42:37, 60:53 and at 90:00. There are white lines across the transfer at 28:09 and 28:30, these are also very brief. There are also two brief instances of digital tape dropout towards the end of the film.

    Subtitles are removable and white.

    There is no RSDL change as the film is presented on a single layer of this dual layered disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    In comparison to Kanal, the soundtrack to Ashes and Diamonds is exceptional!

    There is one audio track in Polish Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono encoded at 192 bps.

    I believe that dialogue has been post-synchronised, as in Kanal, but dialogue is clear throughout. There are no clicks or audio drop outs.

    The music is similar in theme to Kanal, but more subtle and used only sparingly as this films contains a lot of dialogue scenes.

    There is no Surround Channel Usage as the movie is in mono, spread out over 2 front speakers.

    There is also no usage of the Subwoofer.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Interview - An interview with Director Andrzej Wajda (41:13)

Again, this is the same, exact interview that was included on the first and second disc of the box set, A Generation and Kanal. Why Umbrella have included this extra again on this disc is unknown. As I wrote previously in my review for Kanal, this interview with director Andrzej Wajda gives excellent background information to all three films in the Boxset. Those who do not wish to have details of the plots of the films revealed should only view this interview after viewing the movies first. Wajda also discusses the changing political situation in the three years between the three films as well as discoursing on his actors and crew. During the interview he discusses the impact of Zbigniew Cybulski who had been to Paris and had seen James Dean act in his films of the mid-1950s. Wajda credits Cybulski's acting as the main reason why the plot of Ashes and Diamonds deviates away from the events of the end of World War II, as in the novel, and instead focuses on Cybulski, whose performance in this film was so engrossing. This extra is non 16x9 enhanced.

Trailer - Open City by Roberto Rossellini (3:26)

An Umbrella trailer for Open City.

Trailer - Closely Observed Trains by Jiri Menzel (1:58)

An Umbrella trailer for Closely Observed Trains (also known as Closely Watched Trains).

Trailer - Europa Europa by Agnieszka Holland (2:10)

An Umbrella trailer for Europa Europa.

Trailer - The Tin Drum by Volker Schlöndorff. (2:25)

An Umbrella trailer for The Tin Drum.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

Ashes and Diamonds has been released in Region 2 (United Kingdom and Czech Republic) and Region 1 (USA).

The Region 2 UK release is identical to the Region 4 release. The Region 2 Czech Republic release has no extras and is of inferior quality transfer-wise in comparison to the Region 2 UK release as the bit-rate is much lower and it is presented on a single layer DVD5 disc.

The Region 1 Criterion US release has a transfer that is less compressed than other Regional releases, it's average bitrate is 8.3 mb/s and it is the only release that utilises the complete capacity of a dual layered DVD as all the other Regional releases use only a single layer on their versions of the film. It contains the following extras:

* A commentary by film scholar Annette Insdorf, who comments on the film's historical context and content. Annette Insdorf has provided commentaries for fellow Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski's films and also François Truffaut. Her commentaries, speaking from personal experience, are thorough, unique in tone and highly informative.

* Andrzej Wajda: On Ashes and Diamonds, a 36-minute exclusive new interview with the director, assistant director Janusz Morgenstern, and film critic Jerzy Plazewski (36:25) 16x9 enhanced.

* Vintage newsreel on the making of Ashes and Diamonds, a short newsreel, released to Polish cinemas in 1958, used as an original trailer for the film. (1:21)

* Behind-the-scenes production photos, publicity stills, posters and an essay by film critic Paul Coates.

There is also a Region 1 release of Ashes and Diamonds by the distributor Facets, but as was the case with the Facets release of Kanal this version is not as good as the Region 2 UK/Region 4 version or the release in Region 1 from Criterion.

Again, similarly to the first and the second films in the Wajda War Trilogy boxset, The Region 1 Criterion release has a better transfer and extras than the Region 2 and Region 4 releases.

Summary

    Ashes and Diamonds is often referred to as Andrzej Wajda's masterpiece, and that may be, but it requires multiple viewings and an understanding of the historical context of the film to be properly appreciated. This film would appeal to cineastes rather than mainstream cinema viewers for that reason.

     The video and audio transfer of the film is quite good, easily comparable to other DVD releases of mainstream films from the 1950s. Again, similarly to A Generation and Kanal, the Criterion Collection release of the Wajda War Trilogy films is the best version available, however the Region 4 release is quite acceptable if you don't need the extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S550, using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationSony HTDDW1000
SpeakersSony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Yes, it does require multiple viewings.... -
Watch the doco with the director - it explains everything - NewcastleBoy (read my bio)