“Man of Marble” (Czlowiek z marmaru) examines the story of the rise and fall of a working class hero, Mateusz Birkut, through the eyes of a rebellious young film maker, Agnieszka. As part of her thesis film, Agnieszka – a student from Krakow film school, embarks on a difficult journey of seeking the truth behind the one time national hero, Birkut, who was hailed as a national hero for his extraordinary feats in brick lying and became as famous as any film star, only to disappear from the record books in 1952.We first get to know about the story of Mateusz Birkut through a series of communist propaganda films, “Birth of a City” and “Architects of Our Happiness”. It’s through these films Birkut is shown raising to the level of national hero from a naive and hard working brick layer.
Agnieszka is puzzled about the whereabouts of this one time national hero of the fifties. How can this man disappear with out a trace? This is the question that urges Agnieszka to delve deep in to the life of Birkut. As the film progresses, the truth about Birkut is presented to us through the discerning eyes of Agnieszka, in the form of interviews with his former wife, friends, enemies and others who knew Birkut.
What follows is a series of interviews, outtakes, censored footage and it is through these multi layers of information, the true portrait of Birkut emerges: the disturbing story of an innocent brick layer who becomes a pawn in the game of the communist era of Poland and the story of the fate of human life as sculpted by the media, decided by the politicians.
As a story, this film is not only portrays the life of Birkut but also the struggles of Agnieszka as a film maker during the communist regime of Poland.
One thing that we can notice when watching “Man of marble” is that the non liner narrative structure of the film is very similar to “Citizen Kane”. Like in “Citizen Kane”, where we come to know of the life of Charles Foster Kane through the objective eyes of Thompson, in this film too, the truth about Birkuts’ life and his short lived stardom is presented to us through different layers of information from the probing eyes of Agnieszka.
The biggest difference between “Citizen Kane” and “Man of Marble” is that in the former film, it is difficult for the viewer to empathise with Thompson and his struggle to uncover the facts about Charles Kane Foster, where as in “Man of Marble” the character of Agnieszka is as important to the story as the character of Birkut. In “Citizen Kane” the element of the story (Charles Kane Foster) is the most important thing but not the story teller. In “Man of Marble” the storyteller is as important as the story itself.
Wajda, one of the greatest film makers of the world has dealt with this story, about revolt against submission, with the utmost sincerity and left no scope for any sentimentalism. On one side of the coin is the character of Birkut, the symbol of innocent people who gave themselves to Stalinism during 50s.The other side of the coin is the character of Agnieszka, who is presented to us with the symbolic struggle of himself, as a filmmaker and an artist, devoid of freedom of expression during late 70’s. Through these parallel stories Wajda explores the importance of media in making or breaking of a revolution.
Acting wise the film boast two great performances by Jerzy Radziwilowicz, in a dual role as Mateusz Birkut and Maciej Tomczyk (son of Birkut), and Krystyna Janda in the role of Agnieszka.
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 Marble” 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.
According to Wajda, this story was based on a news article in which A brick-layer who had come to the employment office was rejected a job because they were in no need of brick-layers but foundry workers. However, he was recognised by a clerk as a well known “labour leader” and an ex-star of the previous political season. This triggered the thought in Wajda to make a story of a hero from the past and he was looking for a contemporary subject for his film. So he thought of an agent through whom he would be able to tell the story from the perspective of his times. Among the many talented students of Lodz Film School was Agnieszka Holland, the director of “Europa, Europa”. And that is how he got the idea of a young student of film school, would try to uncover the mystery of the bricklayer’s life. A few weeks later the script was ready but it’s only after fourteen years of struggle Wajda was able to make this film.
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 is a detective film in which we search for the historical truth and a thriller that keeps you glued all to the seat all through its 150 minutes. You can watch and enjoy this film as a pure fiction even with out relating it to Poland or its struggle. For me this is one of the greatest and important films.
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 Marble” 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.