MAN OF IRON (CZLOWIEK Z ZELAZA)
(director: Andrzej Wajda; screenwriter: Aleksander Scibor-Rylski; cinematographer: Edward Klosinski; editor: Halina Prugar-Ketling; music: Andrzej Korzynski; cast: Jerzy Radziwilowicz (Maciej Tomczyk/Mateusz Birkut), Krystyna Janda (Agnieszka), Marian Opania (Winkel), Irena Byrska (Matka Hulrwicz), Wieslawa Kosmalska (Wieslawa Hulewicz), Boguslaw Linda (Dzidek), Franciszek Trzeciak (Badecki); Runtime: 153; MPAA Rating: NR; Musicrama; 1981-Poland-in Polish with English subtitles)
“A not to be missed film for political junkies.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This is respected Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda’s (“Katyn“/”The Conductor”/”Kanal”)excellent follow up to his powerful political filmMan of Marble (1976). Wajda was a supporter of Solidarity and made this compelling passionately shot documentary-like film, using a real situation with imaginary people, at the height of the historical shipyard strike at Gdansk that spread across the country. It wisely uses newsreel footage of the Solidarity strike to tack on a strong sense of reality to its stirring investigative drama that it fictionalizes. There’s even a cameo by Solidarity leader Lech Walesa. It won the Palme D’Or at Cannes in 1981. But since it was filmed under difficult conditions during the uprising, the communist regime in Poland cracked down on the protesters with martial law in 1981 and when the film revealed Wajda’s partisan support for the strikers he was no longer allowed to make films–as all films were produced by the state. It’s written at a feverish pace and with an eye for detail by Aleksander Scibor-Rylski, and ably serves to awaken the public consciousness about these historic events and depicts life in Poland as it really was and not like Communist propaganda would have you believe.
Alcoholic state-controlled Polish television reporter Winkel (Marian Opania) is sent by the party hierarchy from his Warsaw workplace to Gdansk to cover the 1980 shipyard strike from the state’s point of view and make a documentary on one of its leaders. His unsavory mission is to ingratiate himself with shipyard activist Maciej Tomczyk (Jerzy Radziwilowicz, who played Birkut in Man of Marble), the son of Birkut who was one of the 1950s worker heroes during Stalin’s reign of power and was killed in 1970 during a strike. Winkel’s rotten job is to find dirt on the Solidarity member shipyard worker and smear him so he’s discredited. But Tomczyk (a possible stand-in for Lech Walesa) is even more hardened and durable than his dad, likened to a Man of Iron, and cannot be bullied. Winkel increasingly comes to admire Tomczyk for his courage, idealism and sincerity, and dares change his mission’s intent by stalling to release his documentary. Tomczyk’s married to dissident filmmaker Agnieszka(Krystyna Janda), whose efforts to get documentaries about both father and son released have resulted in her being held as a political prisoner and later killed for efforts to discredit the government.
The personal story of Winkel is linked to the more important international headline grabbing story about the Solidarity Movement, which hones in on the bravery exhibited by those who took big risks to put cracks in an oppressive system. Using the state-controlled TV coverage as an example of what’s rotten in Poland, Wajda glaringly shows media cynicism, state censorship and political corruption being part of the equation in Polish communist society. The urgent, angry and intelligent narrative hopes for a possible, but unlikely permanent marriage between workers and academia, as in its excitement over fruitful change in the wind brings history to life in a daring crucial film made as events were transpiring on the ground at a fast clip. A not to be missed film for political junkies.
REVIEWED ON 3/2/2011 GRADE: A-