Poland, 1965, 120 minutes, Black and white.
Directed by Andrzej Wajda.
Ashes is a monumental Polish film from the mid-'60s. It takes the Napoleonic Wars in the style of War and Peace, focuses on Polish nobility and their life, the Polish questions of the Austrian empire, freedom and independence and the reliance on Napoleon and the French armies for Polish freedom. The film is a story of society, battles, defeats.
The film was photographed strikingly in black and white. Many of the battle scenes are memorably portrayed. The hardships and pathos of war are vividly shown. The characters are not so clearly drawn - more familiar to Polish audiences. There is a striking musical score.
The film was directed by Andrej Wajda, who was to become one of the leading directors of the Polish film industry during the '70s and the '80s. His films include the monumental stories of Solidarity, Man of Marble and Man of Iron. He also made the film of Danton with Gerard Depardieu. With the changes politically in the late '80s, he became a politician in his native Poland.
1. The impact of the film? Polish nationalism and history? The significance of Poland in the 18th and 19th century Europe?
2. The black and white photography, the picture of elegant society, of people on the land? The armies, the battles, the violence and suffering? The retreat from Moscow? The atmospheric musical score?
3. Audience knowledge of the Napoleonic Wars? Poland and its alliance with France? The Austrians and the defeat of Napoleon? Battles in Austria, following Napoleon's war in Spain? The attack on Moscow - and the fiasco of the retreat? The presentation of the Napoleonic war - the vivid sequences, battles, horses riding, the confrontations?
4. Polish society, wealth, 18th and 19th century elegance? Nobility? The background of the church? The background of Freemasonry and its solidarity - men and women, the rituals for entering Freemasonry? The consequences?
5. The decision of the Polish men to fight with Napoleon, their involvement with the battles, the hardships? Leadership? The Spanish sequences, the violence of the war, the defeats? The impact on Napoleon? On the French? The deaths of the Poles?
6. The picture of men in war, violence, the fights? The style of battle at the period, close combat? Wounds and death? The violence towards ordinary citizens, murder, rape - the convent and the nuns? The violent hangings, the burning of property? The ruthlessness?
7. Rafael and his cousins? Ordinary young Poles, patriotism? Situating them in their lifestyle - Rafael and his father, the attack of the wolves, the horse? His initiation into the Masons? His relationships, falling in love? His going to battle, disillusionment? The violence? His return, the building of the house - and the march on Moscow and its defeat?
8. The Polish nobility, the young men, their hopes, joining in battle? The disillusioning experiences?
9. The older generation, their attitudes towards the young men, war, Polish independence? The women, place in society, personal relationships?
10. A film of the '60s - Poland's political perspectives in the '60s, Communism, Catholicism, looking back at Polish history and independence, relationships with Russia? The scope of Polish film-making and style in the '60s?