Saturday, January 20, 2007

Ashes and Diamonds (Poland, 1957).

As we discussed in class, the central theme in this film is the conflict between individual pursuit and sociopolitical obligations. The film uses the condition of Poland's shattered society in the aftermath of WWII as the frame to play out this conflict. Maciek, the main character, is an anti-communist military-operated assassin who realizes halfway during the operation that he would much rather pursue love than fighting after meeting a bar-girl. As he engages more with his personal life, he begins to see the military operation as irrelevant amid the post-war chaos and political squalor.

I think the film’s title, "Ashes and Diamonds," is a postwar metaphor for Poland—perhaps the situation after the war is either debilitating or transformative— in the sense that amid the squalor some people may have a greater chance for certain life opportunities than they would in a closed society. I don’t know if that makes sense. A common thread found in the main characters is a kind of teleological or temporal paralysis. Maciek is pursuing the assassination to an unknowable and indefinite end, the soon-to-be leader is trapped in a never-ending drunken party, and the bargirl whittles the hours away cleaning glasses. As a viewer, I got the sense that the characters are living empty lives filled with doubt and that the society that they live in has lost all its functions. Anomie: “1. Instability in society caused by the erosion or abandonment of moral and social codes. 2. A feeling of disorientation and alienation form society caused by the perceived absence of a supporting social or moral framework” (Webster dictionary).

The tone of the movie is cynical and fatalistic. When Maciek kills the communist leader, nothing really happens afterwards. The assassination is completely superficial and trivial, and the same could be said about the role of the leader. The entire situation of the country is absolutely ambiguous.


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