Three War Films was one of the most unexpected surprises in the Collection for me. I had heard of Wajda before (and remember when he received his special Oscar), but had not seen any of his films. I expected this set to be much more Soviet influenced, laced with dark symbolism and allegorical characterizations that would seem creaky today (I should probably note here that I actually love a lot of Soviet films). Instead, the films were alive with energy and rebellion, clear-eyed reflections on the tragedies that had befallen Poland just a decade before the films were made.
A Generation undoubtedly moved me the most. Not just because it came first and so I was least likely to see it coming, but because I had a strong, almost physical response to the depiction of young adults being thrown into a situation that was way over their heads. I can't think of many films that were able to so clearly depict the plight of the able-bodied non-soldier male in wartime, and many of the images and characters have stayed with me weeks after seeing the film. Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds were also moving, but the former was for me a much less ambitious film and the latter was clouded in the complexity of the essential social context.
Still, I'd probably pick Ashes and Diamonds as the essential viewing here, even if I enjoyed the first two much more on my initial viewings. The film combines the historical vibrancy of the earlier two films with a more assured (some might argue heavy) hand behind the camera, resulting in a complex and powerful story. But really, all three of these films should be added to any film fan's list of must-sees, whether their focus is World War II, eastern Europe, 50s foreign cinema, or, um, humanity.
Ashes and Diamonds