The Ambiguity of the Image: Ashes and Diamonds as Postwar Prism
Andrzej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds (1958) is often considered the best and most iconic film in all of Polish cinema. Released at a critical juncture in the artistic and political life of postwar Poland, the film reevaluates Poland’s liberation from the Nazis and fraught transition to socialist rule. Taking advantage of relative liberalization under Władisław Gomułka after 1956, Ashes and Diamonds constructs a remarkably ambivalent picture of the anti-communist resistance and new communist class. Probing the borders of permissibility, Wajda presents a sympathetic portrait of both the young resistance fighter Maciek and the local Communist leader Szczuka. This lecture will examine both political and aesthetic dimensions of the film, viewing it as a bold—albeit coded and Aesopian—treatment of postwar politics amidst an atmosphere of censorship, and an aesthetic departure from Wajda’s earlier works towards greater expressionism and symbolism.
Justin Wilmes is an Assistant Professor of Russian Studies at East Carolina University. His primary research examines post-Soviet cinema and culture, but extends also to Russian drama, translation, and Polish culture. He has published in the journals Russian Literature, The Polish Review, Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema, The Pushkin Review, and New England Review, among others. His current book manuscript is titled Alternative Spaces: Auteur Cinema in the Putin Era.