Tag Archives: Andrzej Wajda

XL Popcorn – Man of Iron

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 661/1007
Title: Man of Iron (Człowiek z zelaza)
Directors: Andrzej Wajda
Year: 1981
Country: Poland

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.

 

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XL Popcorn – Captain Blood / Man of Marble

Two weeks later and this is no longer a wrist problem, but my whole right arm and shoulder. The dictated reviews shall continue on.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: Captain Blood
Director: Michael Curtiz
Year: 1935
Country: USA

There are times where I really fancy a good bit of swashbuckling to cheer me up in the morning (something is sorely needed today with my wrist tendons feeling hard like stone). My prescription: good bit of Errol Flynn.

This would be my second Errol Flynn picture, the other being the more critically beloved The Adventures of Robin Hood. Both films also have Olivia De Havilland as his costar/love interest. I do not know if it is because I naturally am quite contrary, but I definitely preferred Captain Blood over The Adventures of Robin Hood.

Captain Blood tells the story of Peter Blood, an Irish doctor sold into slavery by a King James II for treating the wounds of an English rebel. After suffering the indignity the slavery his luck turns when the Spanish invade the Caribbean Island he’s being held captive on. With his fellow slaves they capture a ship of their own and set sail for freedom and a life of piracy.

Obviously this is not real piracy, but cinematic piracy. There is no mutiny on any horizons in fact they get along like a house on fire. Thing is this is a 1930s swashbuckling adventure film so historical accuracy is not high on the menu. This film never seeks to be anything other than entertainment so that’s absolutely fine. It does the job it sets out to do.

And finally, although this does not have any bearing on how much I enjoyed the film, I do not think that either Errol Flynn or Olivia De Havilland have looked any better than in this film.

Title: Man of Marble (Człowiek z marmuru)
Director: Andrzej Wajda
Year: 1977
Country: Poland

Journalistic investigations have provided the backdrop of many great films. This is the first one that I have seen where the focus of the depicted investigation is entirely fictitious. That does not however prevent Man of Marble from being one of the most thought provoking films I have ever seen.

I say that the investigation is into someone fictitious, but these people existed in some form it is just that the name is not a real person. And so we delve deep into the rabbit hole of Stakhanovite symbolism (Stakhanov being an exemplar of the overachieving worker). The titular man of marble is Mateusz Birkut, a bricklayer who was chosen to be the poster boy for hard work and efficiency – a so called “lead worker”.

At the head of investigation is Agnieszka (played with a fantastic tenacity by Krystyna Janda), a film student whose thesis is about the former lead worker Mateusz Birkut. Going into the film all that is known about him is what can be found in propaganda films, newsreels and previously unaired footage. Pretty early on it is clear that there is intrigued when Agnieszka comes across a toppled marble sculpture of Birkut lying in a museum basement.

The entire film is told through a series of interviews, flashbacks, well edited newsreels /propaganda films and meetings in the projection room. Also you have to pay tribute to the interesting soundtrack where both contemporary music and Stalinist music go hand in hand.

The big thing that needs to be noted is that this film was released in early 1977. As a country it was still behind the Iron Curtain. Censorship is still rife and yet film denouncing the government so vehemently manages to slip through the net. Sure, there are some details of the film and that did not make it past censors that these are negligible things that got cleared up in the follow-up movie Man of Marble. Andrzej Wajda showed a lot of guts creating a film like this are making use of the few years of censorship relaxation to bring out something so important and affecting.

Progress: 522/1007