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In 1999, Polish director Andrzej Wajda received an Honorary Academy Award(r) for his body of work-more than thirty-five feature films, beginning with A Generation in 1955. Wajda's second film, Kanal, the first ever made about the Warsaw uprising, secured him the Special Jury Prize at Cannes and started him on the path to international acclaim, secured with the releases of his masterpiece, Ashes and Diamonds in 1958. These three groundbreaking films ushered in the "Polish School" movement and later became known as the "War Trilogy." But each boldly stands on its own-a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, the struggle for personal and national freedom, and Wajda's unique contribution to homeland and world cinema. The Criterion Collection is proud to present this director-approved edition, with new transfer of all three films and extensive interviews with the director and his colleagues.
Andrzej Wajda's first three features form a landmark in Polish cinema, and a monument of that great decade of European movies, the 1950s. Working mostly during a thaw in Soviet control over his homeland, Wajda and his collaborators created three films that looked back at the Second World War from the perspective of a new generation whose youth was defined by the catastrophe of Nazi occupation and Soviet control. The first film is titled A Generation (1955), as though to sum up the collective feeling. It's set in Warsaw in 1943, as young workers join the anti-Nazi resistance movement (including an attempt to help Jews escape from the ghetto). Shot in real locations, but with an expressionistic eye, A Generation is especially drawn to the ambiguous supporting character played by Tadeusz Janczar, a much more conflicted and modern character than the nominal hero. (Roman Polanski plays one of the fighters.)
Kanal (1957) tracks the final hours of the Warsaw Uprising, a rebellion by the Poles and their Home Army against the Germans. (The Russian army, parked on the other side of the Vistula River, allowed the Poles to be wiped out without interference.) First we meet the characters in a last stand at a bombed-out field of urban rubble, then follow them in a miserable escape through the dank, gas-filled sewers beneath the city. The desperation of final heroic acts, and Wajda's ingenuity in finding new ways to shoot in the sewer sets, keeps the film balanced in nerve-wracking suspense.
Set on the final day of World War II, Ashes and Diamonds explodes with mixed-up passion and anger, and with the deliberately James Dean-like performance of Polish icon Zbigniew Cybulski. Wadja expands his range here with a visual dynamism that includes a heady use of symbols and striking borrowings from Citizen Kane and film noir. The nervy, dark-spectacled Cybulski plays a Home Army member out to assassinate a Communist official, an assignment bungled in the opening sequence. So the job still needs completing, but the would-be assassin is diverted by a melancholy barmaid and the possibility of turning away from violence... but this is Poland, and wry fatalism prevails. The doomed national feeling is maintained in powerful fashion in these three movies--which are not, technically speaking, a trilogy, though they have always spiritually been of-a-piece.
Criterion assembled this DVD set with Wajda's approval, and he appears in illuminating half-hour interview segments on each disc (along with filmmaker Janusz Morgenstern and critic Jerzy Plazewski). Valuable production stills and posters, Wajda's film-school short "Ceramics from Ilza," and essays are included. Most importantly, the digital transfers themselves are perfectly stunning. --Robert Horton
The quality of the three films was really good. They where great to watch. I really enjoyed the interview with Jan Nowak.Published 1 month ago by Stephen J Harris
I enjoyed all 3 films though to varying degrees. They run in sequence from early in the war to mid-war to post-war. Read morePublished 7 months ago by 70's teen
One of the great filmmakers. Ashes & Diamonds is worth the price of admission on its own. In the commentary by scholar of Polish Filmmaking Annette Insdorf we are provided with... Read morePublished 12 months ago by Greg Reyna
These movies should be mandatory to view in every Polish High School.
These three show Polish patriotism to the core. Read more
PERFECT AND CLASSIC BOXSET. I GUESS BUYING THIS WILL TRULY BE AN HONOR TO SOMEONE WHO LOVES FILMS AND COLLECTING THEM.Published on April 7, 2013 by HAN XIAO
You can find synopses for these films on the internet, so I will go straight to the heart of Andrzej Wadja's war trilogy: You will rarely watch such gritty, heart-wrenching films... Read morePublished on April 23, 2012 by Douglas G. Thomas
written, produced & directed by Andrzej Wadja it is the first war movie in what has become known as his war trilogy. Read more
All three of the films are awesome, so I won't write a review about them. The quality of the films are all superb, another triumph from Criterion. The extras are really good. Read morePublished on January 27, 2009 by Justin Morgan
Sometimes films get reputations way out of proportion with their artistic merit simply because they expound a point of view that the public, or critics, like or agree with. Read morePublished on September 5, 2008 by Cosmoetica