Drink & Watch: Ashes & Diamonds

Two Polish guys walk into a bar and ask for a drink.

The young and pretty blond bartender says: "Starovin or Jarzebiak?" 

"Two small vodkas," the men respond.

The bartender walks over with a clear, unlabeled bottle, sets down two small glasses, and attempts to pour two shots of vodka, as requested; however, one of the men moves the glass to a different spot on the bar each time she tries. Eventually he pulls a small tin container out of his jacket and asks her to fill that instead of the glass.

He smiles wryly. She obliges with a similar smirk.

This all may sound like an introduction to a bad joke, but it's actually one of the best scenes from Ashes & Diamonds, one of the first movies I ever watched with my old professor Jean-Pierre Gorin (who crazily enough used to be married to Alice Waters—although I had no idea who she was at the time). I remember staying after class with him, smoking cigarettes in the parking lot, and him waxing poetically for ten minutes about some of the scenes from this 50's era Polish classic. He called actor Zbigniew Cybulski the "Polish James Dean," and told me a long story about Polish vodka that I can't remember now, but seemed ridiculous at the time (JP had a tendency to ramble about crazy stuff, half in French).

I hadn't watched this movie since 1998 until last night, when I got home to an empty house at twilight, my wife being away for the weekend and my cats dozing on their beds against the windows. Man, some things are so much better when you're older. And when you're drinking a bottle of Potocki Polish vodka, the best vodka in the world—in my opinion.

You can see why Scorcese loves this film so much. The grittiness of the characters. The lighting with the shadows in each room. The menacing anxiety of the communist officials. It's all so much better with vodka!

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll