Man of Marble, 1977
(Czlowiek z marmuru)
dir: Andrzej Wajda
Halfway into this movie, three things come to my mind. First is Citizen Kane. Second is Mao Tse-dong and third is Amir Muhammad. Of course many other things got my mind to work, and movies like this one is great because it sets my mind free. It let’s me ponder on history, philosophy, politics, economics, film techniques, aesthetics, all at once. And by this, I mean real history, real politics, not some imagined settings which are not only biased but totally wrong.
There are not many Polish directors that are well known. One can actually count them with one hand. Roman Polanski is Polish but I don’t consider his movies really Polish, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Andrzej Wajda, Agnieszka Holland, Krzysztof Zanussi. Anymore that one knows, one then can be considered a learned world movie buff (actually there are a couple more names that should be quite familiar to people who digs world movies). These bunch of directors made some really interesting and good movies, including Polanski. Here’s a sample:
Polanski: KNIFE IN THE WATER; THE PIANIST (non-Polish films: ROSEMARY’S BABY; CHINATOWN)
Kieslowski: THE DECALOGUE; Three Colours trilogy; NO END
Wajda: ASHES AND DIAMONDS; A GENERATION; LANDSCAPE AFTER BATTLE; MAN OF MARBLE
Holland: EUROPA, EUROPA; A WOMAN ALONE
Zanussi: YEAR OF THE QUIET SUN; CAMOUFLAGE; POSSESSION
In fact, Wajda’s new film, KATYN, actually made it to the nominee list in the recent Oscars, so one should be quite familiar with him (in fact, I was offered the acquisition of the rights to KATYN and THE DECALOGUE plus a few other Polish movies, so stay tuned to the channel).
MAN OF MARBLE is about a young lady, Agnieszka (Krystyna Janda), who is making her diploma film and picks a subject that interests her but the “authorities” would rather forget (reminds me of Amir Muhammad). Told in the CITIZEN KANE style, her subject is a person, Mateusz Birkut (Jerzy Radziwilowicz), a bricklayer who has been identified by the authorities to be used as propaganda tool to show the people the power of the labourers and the potential growth and prosperity of the nation under Stalinist rule. However, Birkut soon fell into disfavour and is then conveniently forgotten. Agnieszka is interested to know what happened to Birkut and went all out to look for witnesses and the people involved to get a true picture of this once hero. As she went further into the investigation, the authorities put an end to her work and stopped her from using the camera and films. Once steely and determined, we finally see her breaking down in the presence of her father who encouraged her to go locate where Birkut is now. Encouraged, she found his son and got to know what happened to Birkut.
This film is a study on the Polish society under Stalinist rule and how they manipulate and create icons and idols to support their political agenda. We see the same thing happening in Communist China under Mao Tse-dong as well, where a particular common citizen is chosen to be the example to the whole country. Sometimes, whole towns are made model-towns for propaganda purposes. Propaganda songs are sung everywhere (one particular song actually mentioned Malaysia, I think it is talking about Ching Peng’s struggle in Malaya – that gives an idea on what era this film is set). At the end, Wadja showed us how he reconstructed a made icon and found a man whose only objective is to be honest and work for the welfare of the people but is a sad victim of political propaganda and agenda, and then had to live a broken life which he didn’t really recover from.
Wajda is widely acknowledged as to be the forerunner of a new generation of Polish filmmakers after the second world war and shortly after Stalin’s death, made his first movie A GENERATION. The movie is a marked move away from the propagandist films made before and Wajda continued to push the boundaries further and further with his next movies such ASHES AND DIAMONDS. Together with Zanussi, they sort of started a movement called “Cinema of Moral Concern” with the expressed objective of morally examining modern Polish history and and modern Polish life.
MAN OF MARBLE is a truly fascinating film. Watch it if you can and if you are interested in history, politics, movies, you will love this film.