On March 6, the Polish film and theater director Andrzej Wajda celebrated his 80th birthday. In fact, all of Poland celebrated it with him. I was in the country that week, and I have never before seen such total media interest in a cultural figure. Wajda is certainly Poland's "living national treasure."

Television, radio and press alike gave enormous coverage to the man and his work. This is because Wajda has been more than just a director: he has been the expressive conscience of his people for more than half a century.

In his first films, made in the mid- to late-1950s, Wajda explored -- with courageous honesty in those neo-Stalinist times -- the Polish wartime experience under Nazi occupation. The horrible plight of resistance fighters waging war from the sewers of Warsaw was depicted in "Kanal" (1957); and, in "Ashes and Diamonds" (1958), Wajda brought to life the last day of war in all its complexity of misery and euphoria.