Ashes and Diamonds,
Marble and Iron
The film thaw in Poland, the rebellion against Stalinism, announced itself in September 1954 when criticism of socialist realism was boldly voiced at a conference of film workers. The outstanding talent of the younger generation emerged in the shape of Andrzej Wajda,1who had studied painting at the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts and, later, film-making at the Łódź High Film School, from which he graduated in 1953, having worked (and hidden) as a locksmith for his uncle during the Nazi occupation. ‘I was scared even to go to the tram stop, because there was always some kind of control going on.’2
The Lodz Film School was the first of its kind: ‘In the 1950s the Film School was an ideological school … it was meant to be a school for “janissaries” and intended to educate a film elite, so to speak, which would later become an ideological commando and play a decisive role in the political and social transformations of Poland.’ Yet even post-war cultural life in Poland was resistant to outright Stalinism, as Wajda recalled:
But at the same time our Rector, Jerzy Toeplitz, brought from Paris a whole collection
of French avant-garde movies … so I was able to see [Buñuel’s] L’Age d’orand Le Ballet
mécaniqueonce again, all the films which opened my eyes to a completely different
kind of cinema … The inconsistency was fantastic: on the one hand our professors at
the school wanted us—perhaps in a way of justification—to make all these socrealist
films, and, on the other, they brought us closer to real art.
Wajda created in Generation(1954) arguably the first genuine tragedy in East European cinema. Based on a novel by Bohdan Czeskzko, it tells of a Communist resistance group operating below the streets of Warsaw.