Friday, 14 November 2014

Man of Iron (Człowiek z żelaza) 1981




"A lie cannot last forever"

Andrzej Wajda's seminal 1981 film, Man of Iron (Czlowiek z zelaza in its native Polish) tells the story of the rise of the Solidarity movement which, following the Gdansk shipyard strike, fought to gain recognition of workers rights to an independent union from the then communist Polish government. Made during the brief thaw in Communist censorship that appeared because of Solidarity's success in 1980, it truly is a feature that is a dispatch from the front line; remarkably and rightly critical of the Communist regime. 




This glorious expression of free speech was short lived, as Solidarity was suppressed with a return to martial law just five months after this film's release in 1981. Poland would not achieve such freedom again until the fall of the Soviet Union at the end of the decade. 




Wajda's film is a sequel to his earlier effort, 1977's Man of Marble, which told the story of a fictional over achieving worker hero Mateusz Birkut (played by Jerzy Radziwiłowicz) whose fate becomes something of a 'Citizen Kane' style mystery for young student Agnieszka (Krystyna Janda) to research and produce a film about for her diploma. 




Man of Iron concerns Birkut's illegitimate son, Maciej Tomczyk (again played by Radziwiłowicz) 'the man who started the Gdansk shipyard strike' and who is clearly a parallel figure to Lech Walesa, who features as himself in the movie.




The authorities, fearful of his popularity, recruit a tame and washed up alcoholic journalist called Winkel (Marian Opania) to research the man and ultimately slander him and destroy his reputation. But when Winkel - the classic boozy weak willed cynic who drinks because deep down still believes - meets up with several friends of Tomczyk (including Janda, returning as Agnieszka, as it is revealed she and Tomczyk are now lovers) and hears folkloric stories of his prey, he soon realises he must make up his mind regarding where his true allegiance lies.








This is a deeply insightful and emotive film and a great statement for the Solidarity movement and the hardships and cruelties the Polish people faced during the harsh reign of communist terror.  It's narrative nature means the film is somewhat episodic and, at 2hrs 30 minutes, it is perhaps not for the faint hearted, but if you stick with it you'll be rewarded with an appreciation of the events and situation, a respect for those who refused to be cowed and literally beaten and a great performance from Krystyna Janda in particular.



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