Man of Iron (found)
n a recent post I wrote about seeing Polish director Andrzej Wajda's Man of Marble(Człowiek Z Marmuru) (1975) and complained about the unavailability of its sequel, Man of Iron (Człowiek Z Zelaza)(1981). Partly as a result of a comment posted to that entry, I have tracked down a deleted American VHS tape of Man of Iron - slightly scruffy quality, but better than nothing and well worth seeing.
Man of Marble told how a trainee television producer, Agnieszka, uncovered the murky truth about a 1950s 'hero worker', Mattheus Birkut, who was fêted then ignored: her attempts to make a film about him were suppressed, and the story ended with her bringing his son to the TV studio (there should have been more, but real-life censorship prevented it).
Man of Iron was made during the 1981 strike at the Gdank shipyard which led (eventually) to the end of Communist rule: it combines documentary footage with the fictional story (some of which was filmed at actual events). The real leader of the strike, Lech Wałęsa, appears in newsreel footage and also, briefly, as himself in two staged scenes.
Winkel, a conformist (and semi-alcoholic) radio producer, is sent by a Party official to Gdansk to attempt to unearth incriminating material on one of the strike leaders, Maciej Tomczyc - the son of Birkut. In flashbacks we discover that Birkut was killed by police during a demonstration in an earlier strike: he was buried in an unmarked grave at the insistence of the authorities, and even then the grave was 'disappeared'. His son, then a student, abandoned his studies and became a shipyard worker where he began agitating for better conditions. Discovered there (in the previous film) by Agnieszka he was brought to the TV studio, but her boss flatly refused to allow her to make her film and sacked her. She married Maciej: Winkel discovers she has been imprisoned because of his anti-government activities and interviews her: she tells him 'You're not afraid of jail if you're there already', and explains how she and Maciej were harrassed into stopping their activities.
Winkel manages to gain entry to the shipyard just as the historic agreement is signed between the workers and the government allowing some improvement in their conditions: he has become disgusted with his rôle and refused to continue in it. As the jubilant workers leave the yard, Winkel is chillingly told by the official who originally sent him to Gdansk: 'This agreement has no validity as it was made under duress'.
Though it doesn't quite have the 'grip' of Man of Marble, Man of Iron makes a fascinating sequel - really coming alive when Agnieszka comes to the fore with her story. Kyrystina Janda as Agnieszka and Jerzy Radzilowicz as both Maciej and his father are excellent, as is Marian Opiana as the dubious Winkel. Taken together, these two films are probably the most important works of cinema to come out of Poland, particularly as they are rooted in real and dramatic events. (The article on Wałęsa details the complex aftermath, showing that the fictional official's threat was far from idle). These films really ought to be readily available on DVD in the UK.
Posted: Mon - November 26, 2007 at 09:44 AM by Roger Wilmut
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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM