Man of Iron (Czlowiek z zelaza)

Man of Iron

We are going to win. If not now, then next time.

After watching Man of Marble, and being graciously surprised by it, I took a look through the Book for other films that made it from my ancestral country of Poland. There were several, but for purposes of limitation, I focused on films that were strictly from Poland (rather than a joint country effort), and in Polish, for what will be my Poland-a-thon. Naturally, I couldn’t resist starting it off with the sequel to Man of Marble, which also made the list: Man of Iron. Just four short years after Man of Marble, Andrzej Wajda saw opportunity in the Solidarity labor movement of 1980, and decided to make a follow-up to his previous film, exploring similar ground, but in a new historical and contextual setting. Whatever he did, when he did it, it must’ve worked; Man of Iron ended up winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes that year, and while I nowadays don’t necessarily take that as a sign that the film is a surefire winner, with Man of Iron I feel I can relatively take that liberty.

Man of Marble dealt with a film student’s efforts to track down the life history of a legendary working man named Mateusz Birkut (played by Jerzy Radziwilowicz), and to discover why the system he worked so hard for turned on him. This time around, we follow a reporter who is brought on to an effort to discredit and destroy Birkut’s son, Maciej Tomczyk (also played by Radziwilowicz), who has started a strike in his shipyard, and thus seems to be following in his father’s footsteps. The film is structured almost exactly like Man of Marble; we follow the reporter around as he talks to various people, watches snippets of film, and gathers information on his subject; even with the differing reasons for why the protagonist is gathering said information, the film still goes about doing it in the same way. This meant that this film comes off pretty much identically to Man of Marble, and since I liked that film a great deal, this was a more than welcome second helping of everything that I found likable about the first. From the shot composition and cinematography, to the script and structure of the story, it was all a replica of Man of Marble, but without rehashing the same material that the first one covered. This is truly what a sequel should be; more of what worked, without being exactly the same.

I said in my Man of Marble review that I was amazed at how Wajda was able to make a film so critical of its own establishment not after, but during the period it criticizes. I wasn’t entirely correct; Marble criticizes the history of said establishment, and takes that criticism and stares it into the eyes of the present, admonishing them for what has transpired. Iron, however, is the real deal; this film was made in the narrowest of windows between the formation of the Solidarity movement, and its eventual suppression at the end of 1981, just enough time for a film like this to be made a released. And holy crap, does Wajda ever get away with something on this big a scale; I may have overused the word ‘scathing’ to describe similar settings and stories in the past, but never has that word been more appropriate than with Man of Iron, and the fact that Wajda does it all right smack dab in the middle of the Communist suppression movement that effectively erases anyone involved with making exactly such a product as this is unbelievable, and largely why I suspect it won the Palme d’Or. Not only is this an important film, but it still manages to be an entertaining one as well, and it does so pretty much along the same lines as its predecessor. It also does so in such a way that you don’t really need to have seen Man of Marble to get this one, though doing so will of course enhance your understanding of this film and its many mentions of the previous one. Wajda has a much older film on this list, which I will get to after my next one, but I can only hope he is as good in his earlier years as he is in these. This is the type of film that makes me proud of what filmmakers can accomplish, and it certainly deserves more than just a look on your part.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

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One thought on “Man of Iron (Czlowiek z zelaza)

  1. I like this one quite a bit as well (my review just went up not that long ago). I definitely agree with your assessment of it as a sequel – it is most definitely related, and directly related at that, to its predecessor, but it’s not simply rehashing the same material. I really wish it was out on DVD, I’d love to own this one.

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