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Ashes and Diamonds – Arrow Academy (Dual Format DVD / BluRay) 
Written by: on October 10th, 2011

Theatrical Release Date: Poland, 1958
Director: Andrzej Wajda
Writers: Jerzy Andrzejewski, Andrzej Wajda
Cast: Zbigniew Cybulski, Ewa Krzyzewska, Waclaw Zastrzezynski, Adam Pawlikowski, Bogumil Kobiela, Jan Ciecierski

DVD released: October 24th, 2011
Approximate running times: 104 Minutes (BluRay), 99 Minutes (DVD)
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 1080 Progressive (BluRay), 1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (DVD)
Rating: 12 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono Polish
Subtitles: English
DVD Release: Arrow Academy
Region Coding: Region B (BluRay), Region 2 PAL (DVD)
Retail Price: £19.99

Synopsis: A young Resistance fighter, who is ordered to kill a prominent communist leader, he has seconds thoughts completing his mission, after he begins a affair with a barmaid.

Ashes and Diamonds was co-written and directed by Andrzej Wajda, who’s other notable films include The Promise Land and Man of Marble. The screenplay for Ashes and Diamonds was co-written by Jerzy Andrzejewski, who also wrote for which this film was adapted from.

The plot for Ashes and Diamonds primarily revolves around two narratives, the first one revolves around the Russians occupation of Poland after World War II and the onset of communism in Poland, while the other one centers around young Resistance fighter Maciek, who has been given the task of assassinating a prominent communist leader.

Content wise, if this was just a merely a film about a cold blooded assassin, who’s need to fulfill his sense of duty, for the Poland he knew before the German’s occupation at the beginning of World War II. This film would have most likely not endured and resonated and endured for as long as it has.

Throughout the history of cinema, countless films have had cold blooded assassins as their protagonist. And yet the majority of these film’s fail to humanize these type of characters, while focusing more on the on their darker side of their persona’s. This is where Ashes and Diamonds greatly differs from these aforementioned films, as it finds a perfect balance between the more destructive aspects of its protagonist and the aspects of his persona that evoke sympathy.

Without a doubt this film greatest asset is its well defined characters, that are reinforced by the superb performances from the entire cast, especially Zbigniew Cybulski in the role of Maciek. He spends the bulk of his screen time wearing sunglasses, which often obscure his innermost feelings. It is not until his most intimate moment in the film, where he spends the night with a barmaid that he met earlier in the day that we finally get to see the real Maciek. Another performance of note is Ewa Krzyzewska in the role of Krystyna, a barmaid that spends the night with Maciek. This is also easily the most compelling and at times complex relationship in the film.

Another area in which this film excels it is stark cinematography that at times is reminiscent of the visual style that has become synonymous with the Film noir genre. Visuals this film’s two most striking moments, also happen to bookend its narrative. The film’s opening sequence in which we are first introduced to Maciek, who takes part in the brutal slaying  of two men just outside of church. And of course the film’s blood soaked finale in which Maciek’s preordained fate is realized with crystal clear clarity.

The DVD:

Note: This review is based on a test disc and may not be representative of the final product.

Arrow Academy presents Ashes and Diamonds in an anamorphic widescreen that retains the film’s original aspect ratio. Contrast and black levels look consistently good, details look crisp and there are no problems with compression.

This release comes with one audio option, a Dolby Digital mono mix in Polish and removable English subtitles have been included with this release. The audio sounds clean, clear and balanced throughout. Range wise this mix at times sounds rather limited.

Extras for this release include a interview with co-screenwriter / director  Andrzej Wajda (24 minutes 16 seconds – 4:3 full frame, in Polish with English subtitles). Topics covered include the novel from wh8ich this film was adapted, the differences between novel & film, censorship issues that this film faced and various other production related topics. Other extras included with this release include a  comprehensive booklet by writer and film historian Michael Brooke, including new writing on the film, a re-print of Marek Hendrykowsk’s monograph on ‘Ashes & Diamonds’, Andrzej Wajda’s lecture on ‘Cinema Past and Present’ and more!’, Artwork presentation packaging including three original posters and a newly commissioned artwork cover. Overall Ashes and Diamonds gets a strong release from Arrow Academy.

Note: Also included with this combo release is a BluRay copy that has all the contents that are included on the DVD counterpart.

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