Ashes and Diamonds (Polish: Popiół i diament) is a 1958 film directed by Polish film director Andrzej Wajda, based on the novel by Polish writer Jerzy Andrzejewski. It completes Wajda's Three War Films trilogy, following A Generation and Kanal.
The film takes place in an unnamed small Polish town on May 8, 1945, the day Germany officially surrendered ending World War II. Maciek (Zbigniew Cybulski) and Andrzej (Adam Pawlikowski) are veteran Home Army soldiers who have been assigned to terminate communist Commissar Szczuka (Waclaw Zastrzezynski), but botch their first attempt to ambush him, killing instead two civilian cement plant workers. They are given a second chance in the town's leading hotel and banquet hall, Monopol.
Meanwhile, a grand fête is being organized at the hall for a newly appointed minor minister (and current town mayor) by his assistant, Drewnowski (Bogumil Kobiela). Drewnowski is in fact a double agent, present at the first attempt to kill Szczuka. Maciek manages to sweet talk himself into a room with the desk clerk, who is also a fellow Warsaw native. They sadly reminisce about such things as the older section of town and the chestnut trees which were lost when the Germans destroyed most of the city in the aftermath of the Warsaw Uprising. While Maciek and Andrzej bide their time to strike Szczuka, Maciek becomes infatuated with the hotel's barmaid, Krystyna (Ewa Krzyzewska).
Meanwhile, Szczuka is attempting to locate his long lost son, Marek. Unbeknownst to the old soldier (Szczuka served during the Spanish Civil War like many 1930s communists), Marek has been serving in the Home Army and was recently captured by the Red Army. Marek was serving under the officer Andrzej will replace.
Maciek's crush on Krystyna grows as the hour he must assassinate Szczuka nears, while Drewnowski becomes giddy at the thought at what his boss' promotion will do for his own career. Drinking with a cynical reporter until he is quite plastered, Drewnowski barges into the banquet dinner. In short order he sprays the guests with a fire extinguisher, pulls the tablecloth (and everything on it) to the floor and finds himself out of a job.
After sleeping with Krystyna, Maciek goes for a walk with her and ends up in a bombed-out church. She finds an inscription on the wall, a poem by Cyprian Norwid:
Attempting to fix her broken heel, Maciek stumbles into a crypt where the bodies of the men he helped kill that morning are laid out awaiting burial. He then decides he must carry out his orders, and when Szczuka forgoes his car to walk to the detention area holding his son, Maciek takes advantage of the opportunity to shoot him. As Szczuka falls, fireworks celebrating the end of the war fill the sky.
The next morning, Maciek goes to where Andrzej awaits in a truck. From concealment he watches as Drewnowski arrives thinking he will join them, but Andrzej is aware that Drewnowski is only doing it because he has no other choice. Andrzej throws him to the ground and drives off. When Drewnowski sees Maciek, he calls out to him. Maciek flees and runs into a patrol of Red Army soldiers. He is shot and ends up dying in a trash heap.