A Generation

The bourgeois have their underground army, the proletariat theirs, the Jews in the ghetto rise up.

Warsaw youth under the Occupation.



Last stages of the Warsaw Uprising. Sewers, and all one knows of them, are the only means of travel to the center of the city for a final showdown.


Popiól i diament
Ashes and Diamonds

End of the war, the very last day, May 8th, 1945.

One killing remains, there’s a would-be Communist bigwig to dispatch.

The resistance has its orders. The lieutenant meets a pretty barmaid.

The metaphysical solution is none at all, of course. Stalin’s set on his ear, but Poland’s a ghost and the lieutenant dies somewhere on a vast rubbish heap.


Gates to Paradise

The final scene is precisely that of Schoenberg’s unfinished opera, Moses und Aron, the continuation of which is indicated.

The two main characters are knights back from a Crusade, one turned monk and priest, the other a Count who, trapped in his vices, sees the innocence of a shepherd boy as the only hope, thus inspiring the Children’s Crusade out of France, briefly joined by the monk as confessor.

En route to Jerusalem, the monk hears several confessions that gradually tell the tale.

There is an interesting parody of certain structural elements in Curtiz’ Francis of Assisi, and no question at all but that Wajda’s film has been foolishly ignored.


Krajobraz Po Bitwie
Landscape After Battle

The metaphor is that of a death camp replaced by SS barracks for displaced persons, the screenplay is derived from an eyewitness account.

Poland is dead (the image is from Lang’s Die tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse), the poet crawls under her slab to whine like a starved and beaten dog.

Or he walks out of the camp and catches a freight train for somewhere else, for Poland.

The considerations of meaning have very little use, one thing the poet understands is cannibalism, it was known in the camp, he has been that hungry.


Czlowiek z marmuru
Man of Marble

The famous Stakhanovite bricklayer Mateusz Birkut is maimed by a fellow worker, goes to prison, loses his wife, and dies in obscurity.

A film student traces his story from the sturdy figure of a young proletarian hero carved in marble against the decadence of Western art to his son at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk.

Poland under the Second Occupation of the twentieth century.



A masterful analysis of the essential artistic position in the commonplace predicament.

The three leading characters are each more interesting than the others, a provincial Polish conductor, his wife a second violinist, and the famous maestro in voluntary exile for fifty years.

The husband put upon, the silly cow gone astray, the celebrity “already dead”, to begin with, gradually revealed as something else again.

A notably precise film, made of indeterminate observations that are clarified on long reflection.

The maestro dies waiting in line with the public to buy a ticket for the concert he cannot in good conscience give, so corrupt are the circumstances, the young conductor serves the regime against his better nature, the dozy doll tells him so in the end.

Critics in Warsaw, Paris, New York and Chicago saw an unsatisfactory more or less political allegory.

Bergman is reported to have expressed his admiration (cp. Till Glädje, for example).


Czlowiek z zelaza
Man of Iron

A cog in the State Radio is summoned to investigate a Gdansk shipyard worker leading the strike. The order comes from very high up, there’s no booze in Gdansk (by order of the strike committee), the subject turns out to be a likable guy, the cog slips.



The Polish experience of show trials is acknowledged in Man of Marble.

English-speaking critics had just seen Man of Iron and completely misinterpreted Danton. Accordingly, they were disappointed by the result.

The heavy vortex of revolutionary disintegration and judicial murder is the point of interest for the filmmakers, and there is more here to do with Losey’s The Assassination of Trotsky than anything else, if direct parallels were wanted where things are so obviously what they are.

Most unsuccessfully of all, critics assessed the two leading performances in the light of their own preconceptions and found them dim.

Wajda’s Revolution is vague, wan, full of ghosts who act out the drama on a sea of blood for all to behold, or just a few.

The score is akin to Penderecki’s The Devils of Loudun.



The Warsaw Ghetto.

Dr. Goldszmit, a genius with children.

The significance of the place is dramatically realized with short, slight reference to Zinnemann’s Behold a Pale Horse and Sidney’s Anchors Aweigh (the halo is from CurtizWe’re No Angels).

For the Children’s Tribunal, cf. Seiler & Dupont’s Hell’s Kitchen. For the idyllic orphanage, cf. Losey’s A Child Went Forth.

It was well-received at Cannes, but the hostility of French critics may have led to an impasse, “none of the major film distributors would agree to circulate the film outside Poland.” (Wajda)

The terrible, futile comedy and drama of the place. “I have no dignity,” says the good doctor, “I have two hundred children.”

A certain relationship to Jerry Lewis’ The Day the Clown Cried will be noted.

Vincent Canby of the New York Times dismissed it as “high-mindedness and reverence”.

Rita Kempley (Washington Post) was more to the point, “an eloquent account”, she wrote.

Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader) follows Canby. Time Out Film Guide strikes a pose (“earnest humanist tracts are no longer enough”) but does mention Cartier’s production.

It opens like Polanski’s The Pianist, at a radio station.



The occupying Soviets’ liquidation of the Polish Army’s officer cadre.

And the Nazi liquidation of the universities, simultaneously.

Wajda includes the Nazi propaganda film in which the Bolsheviks are derided for this act, also the Soviet counterpropaganda film.

It’s all in the last reel, a bullet in the back of the head, open pits in the forest, and bulldozers.

Score by Penderecki.



A dirge for the cinematographer Edward Klosinski.

His widow plays herself and a doctor’s wife in mourning for their two sons killed in the Warsaw Uprising.

This lady is dying and doesn’t know it, a young man she has her eye on drowns with cramp in the river.

Filmed quite visibly with a “Digital Intermediate 2K”.

Variety noted Edward Hopper in the widow’s running monologue, but was otherwise incompetent.