When flicking through the 1001 list it becomes fairly obvious that there is a distinct lack of sequels outside of the so-called trilogies. It’s a similar rule when it comes to major awards for cinema, which makes it all the more remarkable that not only does Man of Iron (the sequel to the excellent Man of Marble) find a place on the 1001 list but also stands as the only sequel to win the coveted Palme D’or at the Cannes Film Festival.
Back when I watched Man of Marble I remarked on how incredible it was that such a film could be made behind the Iron Curtain that so openly criticised the government. With Man of Iron not only did Wajda manage to do this feat of daring once again, but managed to do it in an incredibly brief window (about 18 months) where such a film could escape from incredibly censorship because of a change in government.
Of course, by the time this film was released the government was back in full force and banned its broadcast within Poland. Thing is, by then the cat was out of the bag and Man of Iron was gathering critical notice for it’s open criticism of the Polish government and for the depiction of the worker’s strikes.
As with Man of Marble this film tells a lot of the story through the use of flashback and mock film footage of the strikes (although a number of the protesters were real). The focus of this film is Maciej Tomczyk, the son of the revolutionary from Man of Marble, who is a key figure in the Solidarity Movement.
However, the framing narrative is rather different. Where Man of Marble told the story of a young student trying to make her diploma film, Man of Iron follows a government journalist who is send to dig up information so that they can smear Maciej and the Solidarity Movement (as the best they have so far it telling the story of all the bananas left to rot on the ships as the workers are on strike).
The pressure that this journalist is under is incredibly real (compared to the student in the previous film, who returns in the final act of this film) and it tells with the amount he feels the need to smoke and drink in order to keep his nerves under control. I mean, he could be beaten, imprisoned, killed or any combination of the three. All this and yet he is so moved by the plight of the workers that, in one of the final scenes, he renounces his undercover status.
Man of Iron is an incredibly poignant film that is only able to exist because of a brief moment where censorship was relaxed. It’s a film that feels somewhat forgotten despite being a winner at Cannes and an Oscar nominee. Due to the rush to make it there is some of the polish missing that could be seen in Man of Marble, but wow the urgency can be truly felt in every scene.