Introduction: It is not exaggeration to say that films played a major role in the struggle for Poland’s independence. For many of the Polish film makers, Film was not just tool of entertainment, but a medium to express their opinions and views. In late 70s film makers like Andrzej Wajda and Krzysztof Zanussi started a movement known as the “Cinema of moral concern”. The movement’s aim was to undertake, in Frank Turaj’s words, a “moral examination of modern Polish life and modern Polish history,” and would become the most important movement in Polish cinema. Thematically, their films concentrated on the pathologies of ’real socialism’: widespread bureaucracy and corruption, materialism and greed, nepotism and ruthlessness in achieving career goals, as well as people’s double moral standards: one for home, one for work. The films often articulated the frustration of the younger generation, whose ambitions were thwarted by their seniors, who had money and power. Wajda’s “Man of Marble” along with Krzysztof Zanussi’s “Camouflage” was the first child of this movement. Wajda continued his journey of making the “Cinema of Moral Concern” and his efforts brought out another master piece, “Man of Iron”.
Spoiler warning: This review contains the full story and analysis of the film. Please try and watch the film before you read this review.
Story:“Man of Iron” (Czlowiek z Zelaza) is the story of Maciej Tomczyk, son of Mateusz Birkut – the protagonist of Wajda’s earlier film “Man of Marble”. In “Man of Marble” we only catch a glimpse of Tomczyk and it is in this film his character gains importance as the hero of the new era- “The the man who started the Gdansk Shipyard strike”. Winkel, an alcoholic television reporter, is chosen by the Party leaders as the man responsible for digging up the lives of the strikers of Gdansk shipyard, especailly Tomczyk.
Winkel’s task is to uncover the facts about the life of Tomczyk and to prepare a script that presents Tomczyk in bad light, there by, dragging Tomczyk through mud. It is through the eyes of this televiosn reporter we get to know about Tomczyk. Winkel meets many people including Agnieszka, who is now married to Tomczyk and is a political prisoner. As he starts uncovering the facts, we are presented with multi-layers of information about the relationship between the Tomczyk and Birkut and how the son comes to terms with his father. More so, we are presented with the build up of Tomczyk’s charcter from a normal shipyard worker to a “Man of Iron” forged by experience. It is through the interviews of Winkel we find the answers to the questions left unanswered in the film “Man of Marble”.
As the story progresses Winkel is torn between his conscience and his desire to survive during the communist regime.The information he gathers draws him closer to the solidarity movement and at a point he starts feeling sympathatic towards the shipyard strikers. As a story, this film is not only portrays the life of Tomczyk but also explores deeper in to the life of Birkut. This is also the story of Winkel who is caught in the midst of propagandistic communist regime who understands that the situation can be changed in Poland and in the end instead of finding any accusing evidence against Tomczyk he himself is repoliticized.
Analysis: “Man of Iron” is not actually, in strict terms, a sequel to “Man of marble”. These films are two independent films about two different eras dealing with two different people. But like in the Godfather series, “Man of Iron” successfully expands on the story of its predecessor while exploring the many of the same issues like role of media, the relationship between the labour leaders and the Party. In “Man of Iron” Wajda successfully dealt with the role of media in times of a revolution. He also explored the difficulties faced by media to cover a true story. Wajda, like many other film makers of the ‘movement’ had a considerable experience in documentary. This is clearly shown in this films which draws on realist-documentary tradition. In this film he blends reality with fiction with utmost ease and it is very difficult view this film as a piece of fiction. The footage from the solidarity movement strikes is successfully woven in to the dramatic story. At the same time, there was a strong element of self-reflexivity in this film – many of the characters represented professions such as journalists, filmmakers, actors, and the film concentrates on their professional activities, rather than on their private lives.
Acting wise the film boasts great performances by Jerzy Radziwilowicz, in a dual role as Mateusz Birkut and Maciej Tomczyk (son of Birkut), Krystyna Janda in the role of Agnieszka and Marian Opania in the role of Winkel.
Technically this film boasts a complex and well woven plot and the screenplay is perfect to the core. Music by Andrzej Korzynski lends a haunting and nostalgic quality to the movie. Editing, cinematography and art direction are perfect and add to the documentary effect of the film.
“Man of Iron” is certainly one of the milestones in the history of Polish cinema and Poland itself. Its one of those few films which transcends the limits. In the times when film is considered as a mode of mass entertainment, films like these will define a new purpose and meaning to art.
Conclusion: For those people, who are interested in neither Polish struggle nor the importance of an artist in the struggle for independence, this film is still worth watching for many other reasons. This film gives an insight in to the Polish freedom struggle and the solidarity movement. It also captures the essence of the struggle of the Polish people to achieve not only independence but also unity. Personally this film offered me so much than entertainment. It’s a visual document about life in Poland during the communist regime. For me “Man of Iron” is not just a film, but it is truth at 24 frames per second, a document of Polish history and one of the greatest film about a film about a film. The characters in this film might be fictional but Wajda made them so real and a part of the history, it’s as if the fictional characters have walked in to the pages of history and made a place for themselves permanently. Finally, both the films, “Man of Iron” and “Man of Marble” deals with the growing problem of using the media for constructing and/or deconstructing reality which presents us to the dangers of believing in the truth that doesn’t exist.