Wajda fought communist censorship and truth-denying propaganda to produce formidable, patriotic films that illuminated Polands troubled past and helped steer its history
Andrzej Wajda had a viable claim to be Polands great national artist of modern times, a virtual cinematic folk memory, a man who sought to intervene in Polands history with his movies, converting the ashes of bitterness and historical agony into diamonds of film. He was a director with Poland written on his heart.
In a staggeringly productive career, so much of which he pursued in the face of bureaucratic opposition and censorship while working in uneasy harmony with the agencies of the state Wajda took on the big themes of Polish history, from a country at the very heart of wartime conflict between Nazism and communism,and the cold war collision between west and east. The division of Poland, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, and the fact that his homeland was at the centre of the most toxic acts of geopolitical bad faith in modern history, was something that Wajda grew up with.
His father was one of the Polish officers murdered and buried in the Katyn forest by the Soviets and communist Polands government was for decades complicit in the lie that the Soviets were innocent, a propaganda-untruth whose poisonous byproduct was to help shore up Nazi revisionism and denialism. Wajda himself, like so many other Poles, knew the truth and took the lead once the Soviet empire collapsed. He made a 1991 documentary on the subject of Katy and then a vigorous and remarkable feature, Katy, in 2007 when he was 81 years old which became one of his four nominations for best foreign language Oscar.
He is known for two colossal trilogies on these two massive historical phases: his A Generation (1955), Kana (1957) and Ashes and Diamonds (1958) took on the agonies and divided loyalties of wartime Poland, pioneeringly taking on the 1944 Warsaw uprising. Later his Man of Marble (1977), Man of Iron (1981) and Walesa; Man of Hope (2013) addressed trade unionism in terms of anti-statist dissidence and romantic patriotism.
A Generation is about the chaotic and fearful lives of Poles under the Nazi occupation, a film which brings in the Warsaw uprising, a subject fully addressed by the next film, Kana, which was about a company of resistance fighters: the Home Army. The next film, Ashes and Diamonds, takes its audience to the day of Germanys surrender in Poland, but makes it clear that the countrys allegiance is not simply transferred to the Soviets: on the contrary, some of the Home Army resistance are now the so-called damned soldiers who see it as their duty to carry on fighting against communists. An assassination plot and its grisly, botched aftermath form the narrative.
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