Czlowiek z marmuru (Man of Marble) (1977) 

 

 

 

Director:   Andrzej Wajda.

Cast:     Jerzy Radziwilowicz (Mateusz Birkut / Maciej Tomczyk), Krystyna Janda (Agnieszka), Tadeusz Lomnicki (Jerzy Burski), Jacek Lomnicki (Young Burski), Michal Tarkowski (Wincenty Witek), Piotr Cieslak (Michalak), Wieslaw Wˇjcik (Jodla), Krystyna Zachwatowicz (Hanka), Magda Teresa Wˇjcik (Editor), Boguslaw Sobczuk (TV Producer), Leonard Zajaczkowski (Leonard Zajaczkowski, Cameraman), Jacek Domanski (Soundman), Irena Laskowska (Museum Employee), Zdzislaw Kozien (Agnieszka's Father), Wieslaw Drzewicz (Hanka's Husband).

 in Poland, criticism of Stalinist Realism of Nowa Huta, a new socialist city (followed up by "Man of Iron")

 

Spoiler warning:  a lot of the plot is given away in the following commentary.

1976 Poland.  A young film maker named Agnieszka is working on her thesis by making a documentary about Mateusz Birkut, a 1950s bricklayer who was made into a Polish construction worker hero and then fell from grace and disappeared.  Part I of the film deals with Birkut's rise to hero status and his eventual disillusionment with the Stalinist system that made his hero status possible. 

Making Birkut a hero for all laborers was typical of the communist systems.  Communism as an economic system is not efficient, often with lackluster economic performance, and, therefore, the communist rulers had to create working stiff heroes in order to inspire greater efforts on the part of disillusioned workers.  The West would make fun of the communist working class hero films, saying they were films where the hero falls in love with and marries his tractor. 

Birkut was a hand-picked worker to be a hero.  The film makers arranged for a demonstration of team bricklaying.  The goal was for a team of bricklayers, led by Birkut, to lay 28,000 bricks in one workday.  The bricklaying was made into a contest with time.  The team actually surpassed their goal of number of bricks laid.  Along with this film, an heroic statue was made of Birkut and a huge painting of him was placed in the town square.  In addition, he would travel around the country giving demonstrations of team brick laying.  And film makers followed Birkut and his wife around showing how he was rewarded for his hard work. 

Birkut is a bit of a sap.  He really believes in the sincerity of the project, rather than seeing it for what it was: a cynical attempt to get workers in a bad economic and political system to work harder for higher production goals.  And in a sense, this naivetÚ was the source of his ultimate de-herozation.  Because once he found out the truth behind the great pretense, he became very rebellious toward the system and runs afoul of the system's rulers. 

Part I is a little boring, but, on the other hand, if you see it as a kind of black comedy, it's not so bad.  If you can laugh at all the machinations of the Stalinist power brokers, the first part is a bit funny.  The process of making Birkut into a hero is so ridiculous, that it's funny in a black sort-of-way.   

Things start to change when one day at a team bricklaying demonstration, someone hands Birkut a red hot brick and he burns his hands terribly.  The medical treatment for this is so shoddy that Birkut's career as a bricklayer comes to an end.  Birkut has a hard time realizing that some of the workers did not care much for a fellow worker who collaborated so much with the terrible communist economic system.

Things start to change when suddenly Witek, Birkut's bricklaying partner, disappears.  Birkut searches for him everywhere and this causes embarrassment for the communist bureaucrats.  They warn him, but Birkut is very stubborn and will not cease his efforts to find Witek.  Witek has been accused of being a spy. 

Part II deals with the fall from communist grace of Birkut and the great difficulties Agnieszka has in trying to finish her film.  The supporters of her film begin to be scared that she is touching on too hot of a political nerve and she will have to fight to persevere. 

Good film.  Good bashing of the communist system of covering up everything bad with many layers of lies.  Jerzy Radziwilowicz was very good as Mateusz Birkut.  He has such an idealistic, sappy looking face and an attitude that perfectly captures the character's naivetÚ.    And Krystyna Janda as Agnieszka was also very good.  She was fascinating to watch.  Her body language at times was so bold that it reminded me of male bravado.  She always wore pants and she was always wide open with body stances that were sexy in an unusual manner.   And she always carried a huge duffle bag slung over her shoulder everywhere she went instead of a purse.  Krystyna Janda gives an interesting character performance to watch and enjoy. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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