Boy, don’t I love surprises. Well, good ones. I started Andrzej Wajda’s Man of Marble not expecting much, and ended up getting a whole lot more than I thought I was gonna get. Since I’ve started on this quest, and particularly since I started this blog, I’ve learned that it usually ends up badly for me when I go into a film blind, so I did a little Google searching and Wikipediaing on this one before I started it; not enough to spoil the movie (the Wikipedia article, for instance, only has a smattering of plot information, and doesn’t actually have a section for a complete plot summary), but just enough so I knew what I was getting into. Seems I didn’t do quite enough, since this ended up being a lot more than what I thought it would be; in a good way.
The story deals with a young filmmaker, making a documentary about a fictional Polish hero figure named Mateusz Birkut, who in a few decades before had become a symbol for the overachieving worker type the propaganda machines had tried to make dominant in the Stalinist era. His star rose, and of course, then fell, and our intrepid documentarian is seeking to get the details behind the life story of this man, and his tumultuous relationship with the government that both served him and made an example of him. In the process, the film is also a scathing expose of the Soviet influence on Post-War Poland culture and economy, and much like In the Year of the Pig, it’s pretty damn amazing that Wajda was able to make a film like this not after, but right in the midst of the conflict it so unflatteringly exposes to the world. I don’t know what I was expecting with my first Polish film (especially since I am Polish myself), but I wasn’t expecting it to be so… progressive. Maybe it’s been all the lower-budget stuff I’ve been watching as of late, but when I popped this in, I wasn’t expecting it to look so much like a professional, Hollywood film, which it does, and it impressed the hell out of me. The cinematography, while not being anything to gawk at, was extremely solid, and even the handheld shots had a purpose and a function to them that even today’s Hollywood shlock could stand to learn a lesson or two from. The script reminded me often of Citizen Kane, and the two films do share a similar backbone to their stories, but Man of Marble takes it and adds multiple layers on top of it, of subtext and metaphor, all dealing with Polish history and the influence of outside forces on it. Even if I weren’t Polish, I still think this film would’ve been fascinating to me, and most of that is thanks to the film’s amazing ability to be readily accessible. There is very little subterfuge used in getting the hidden messages and subtext across with this one, like there is in almost every other film of its like that I’ve seen; it’s clear as a crystal bell (without being in-your-face about it), and it was really very nice to feel for once that I didn’t need either a degree in foreign history or the cognitive skills necessary to unravel the enigmas wrapped in metaphors wrapped in subtext that so many other films dealing with slices of their country’s history tend to do.
I’ve had some interesting thoughts run through my head after watching this one. For one, why is it that most of the foreign entries of the list from non-major filmmaking nations tend to be exposes of either historical or modern governments or social movements or things along those lines? Is that all that filmic “third-world” countries made, or did the List makers simply choose them for their historical significance to each country, and instead pass over the “popular” style films from these countries of the type that Hollywood churned out year after year? It’s becoming exceedingly rare for me to run into a film from the list that’s, one, not from the modern era, and two, not in either English or French, that seems to have been made just to be a damn fine movie in its own right. I don’t really know why I’m saying all this, though; I’m just spouting whatever’s coming out of my head in response to this film. But I guess I shouldn’t complain; if whatever it is is giving me films like Man of Marble, then I’ll happily ask for more (even with this one being rather long). This one has a sequel that also made the list, so here’s hoping that one is just as good as this one was, but for those who are interested in giving this one a try, as long as you’re not too turned off by propaganda exposes or films that are a little overly critical of their governments, this will be a surprising find for you. I hope so, at least; it was for me.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10