Stach is a wayward teen living in squalor on the outskirts of Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Guided by an avuncular Communist organizer, he is introduced to the underground resistance—and to the beautiful Dorota. Soon he is engaged in dangerous efforts to fight oppression and indignity, maturing as he assumes responsibility for others’ lives. A coming-of-age story of survival and shattering loss, A Generation delivers a brutal portrait of the human cost of war.
The Criterion Collection presents Andrzej Wajda’s A Generation on a dual-layer DVD in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1. It is available exclusively in Criterion’s Three War Films box set, which also includes Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds. The standard-definition presentation is sourced from a high-def restoration, scanned from a 35mm print struck from the original negative. Because of the film’s aspect ratio, it has not been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
A Generation’s presentation ends up being the weakest in the set, though its issues come down to materials in the end. Scratches and marks are almost always present, either in miniscule amounts or raining through heavily, with things getting worse usually around certain cuts or what are probably reel changes. Wear and fading are also present on the edges a good chunk of the time, while flicker and jumps also occur, thought to a minimal degree.
Thankfully the underlying scan and end digital presentation are both good enough, making sure to not amplify any of the existing source issues. The image manages to be quite sharp and detailed when the source allows it, and compression isn’t too big of a problem. Grain even comes out looking good. Grayscale and black levels manage to look excellent, the shadows looking nice, and whites look clean without blooming. Despite the limited resolution there’s still a nice film look to everything, even when upscaled.
Sound is what it is. The Dolby Digital 1.0 monaural soundtrack shows some general wear with some faint background noise, but there are no severe issues other than dialogue and music can come off a little flat.
Each disc in the set comes with a handful of supplements. A Generation first comes with a new “making-of” called Andrzej Wajda: On Becoming a Filmmaker, running 34-minutes and featuring interviews with the director and film critic Jerzy Plazewski. Each title in the set comes with a similar documentary/interview around the disc’s respective film but this one spends a good chunk of time focusing on Wajda early life and getting into filmmaking, at least after he realized a career in painting wouldn’t work out for him due to the political climate of the time. He did go to the Lodz film school, though rather amusingly he doesn’t think much of it, saying that the school showed no sign of the incredible talent that would come out of it. But he talks about his experience there and how it would eventually lead to him falling into making his first feature film, A Generation, with many stories to tell around that (he mentions they used live ammo, which he is a little horrified to think of now).
He does talk a little about his student films as well, though sadly Criterion only includes one of them here: a 10-minute documentary around the pottery work that has come out of the village of Ilza aptly titled Ceramics from Ilza and featuring footage pottery accompanied by voice-over narration going over the village's history. Criterion also includes a small gallery featuring sections around production stills, publicity stills, posters for the film, and a sampling of Wajda’s artwork, some of which he references in his interview. Each title in the set also comes with a booklet featuring a short essay. Film scholar Ewa Mazierska provides the essay for A Generation, first providing some context around the film’s subject matter before offering an analysis of the film itself, which, as Wajda mentions in his interview, didn’t turn out exactly as he expected.
Altogether it’s not a lot of material for the film itself; a commentary would have been nice but, rather sadly, Ashes and Diamonds is the only title in the set to receive a commentary. Still, the interview is quite good, the short is a solid inclusion, and Mazierska’s essay provides a nice scholarly touch.
Though it comes from a decent scan the presentation is the weakest one in the set, the image still littered with heavy damage. The supplements are also pretty light but all worth going through.