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Andrzej Wajda: Three War Films (A Generation / Kanal / Ashes & Diamonds) (The Criterion Collection)

4.5 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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

Special Features

  • Audio commentary by film scholar Annette Insdorf on Ashes and Diamonds
  • Exclusive new interviews on each film with Andrzej Wajda, assistant director Janusz Morgenstern, and film critic Jerzy Plazewski
  • Vintage newsreel on the making of Ashes and Diamonds
  • Ceramics from Ilza (Ceramika Ilzecka), Wajda's 1951 film school short
  • Rare behind-the-scenes production photos, publicity stills, and posters for all three films
  • A gallery of Andrzej Wajda's original drawings and paintings

Product Details

  • Actors: Zbigniew Cybulski, Waclaw Zastrzezynski, Adam Pawlikowski, Bogumil Kobiela, Ewa Krzyzewska
  • Directors: Andrzej Wajda
  • Writers: Andrzej Wajda, Jerzy Andrzejewski, Jerzy Stefan Stawinski
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Black & White, Closed-captioned, Full Screen, NTSC, Special Edition, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Polish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: April 26, 2005
  • Run Time: 286 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0007989ZW
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #55,227 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Andrzej Wajda: Three War Films (A Generation / Kanal / Ashes & Diamonds) (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

I have not seen A Generation, the first film in this box set, but I have seen the others. I felt compelled to write a review, because there was none so far and I wouldn't want anyone to be turned off from these films due to ignorance. I am half-Polish and have visited the country half a dozen times since I was a little boy. What struck me most about Poland when I visited as a young man, was the kindness people expressed to each other, even if they were complete strangers. I asked an older woman for directions in the street and she pulled me close and put her arm around me in a motherly way, pointing in the direction I needed to go. The fact that such kindness and humanity have persisted under decades of oppressive totalitarian rule seems both ironic and appropriate. It's as if the more Stalin beat down on the Polish people, the more resilient and warm-hearted they became. Knowing Polish people helps you understand their films. But, not everyone interested in Wajda can have that luxury, so I will try to give you a summary in a way you would relate to.

Kanal is a very compelling film, very accessible to American audiences. It is taut, suspenseful and portrays the WWII conflict from a perspective I think many Americans will be unfamiliar with. Much of the film takes place in a sewer, as the refugees try to find an escape from certain death at the hands of the Nazis. Fans of claustrophobic thrillers will appreciate this. The atmosphere is almost choking at times. It's a powerful experience. Steven Spielberg revealed in an interview that he screened Wajda's war films to his crew in preparation for Saving Private Ryan, to give them a better sense of how to create the mise-en-scene of war torn Europe.
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These films come with high critical acclaim, yet rarely have they screened in local, Sydney, arthouse cinemas, and seldom are they mentioned in the ubiquitous "Top 100" lists: I wondered how to explain this, but having viewed them I think the answer lies in their being admired rather than loved. The admiration is justified in terms of the formal qualities of the films, such as the excellent cinematography, the complex yet coherent story structures, and the charismatic performances elicited from the actors; the lack of unbridled affection is perhaps a reflection of the earnestness underlying the whole process, and the fact that the characters, while in many ways nuanced, can't escape the burden of representing more than themselves, that is to say, being embodiments of 'types' or movements within Polish history.

Criterion has provided an excellent treatment. The transfers are terrific. Wajda himself, along with his co-writer Morganstern, and a prominent Polish film critic, Plazewski, provide interviews, filmed in 2003 - there is 90 minutes of this and, while highly illuminating in many details, it also hints at the spirit which leadens the actual films. The weight of history and circumstance is felt by the director, and his peers, and it is hard for them to evade a tone of self-importance - this is well-justified, but still confers a heavy tone to proceedings. Criterion also include an early short of Wajda's and period newsreels and historical matter, and a commentary by a film scholar on Ashes and Diamonds - if sold separately, these would all be premium releases, so they represent good value here.

Ashes and Diamonds is billed as the best of the trilogy, and the lead performance by Zbigniew Cybulski is especially lauded.
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CRITERION: A worthy treatment of a brilliant piece of cinematic history - hats off for Criterion.

A GENERATION (1955) - 9/10

For an audience to appreciate the magnitude of A Generation, Andrzej Wajda's first film and the initial story in his war trilogy, some historical background is necessary. The story is set in 1943 in the middle of the Nazi occupation of Poland where the Poles were held under the fascist shadow of Adolf Hitler while the Communist leader Stalin was infiltrating the Polish community for future expansion. Initially, the Poles welcomed the help from Stalin, as they were fighting the same enemy. However, Stalin made a deal with the Allies in the 1943 Tehran Conference, a year and half before the war was over, that would grant him parts of Poland. Consequently, after the war Poles went from fascist regime to communist control while Poland also had suffered the loss of approximately six million Polish lives in the war between Hitler and Stalin. A Generation takes place during this year when the story's protagonist Stach (Tadeusz Lomnicki) gradually becomes involved with the Polish resistance and the Communist party.

In the backdrop of the World War II, the poverty-stricken seem to assemble in the outskirts of Warsaw, as they can only afford living in this location. The naïve Stach is one of these poor who finds himself living on the fringe of shattered society. Together with his friends Stach steals coal from passing German trains, until the day when one of his friends are shot by the Nazis while leaving him wounded. In a tumbling escape from the German train Stach enters the sewers where he encounters a man that introduces him to Sekula (Janusz Paluszkiewicz) who later finds him an apprenticeship as a carpenter.
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Andrzej Wajda: Three War Films (A Generation / Kanal / Ashes & Diamonds) (The Criterion Collection)
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