Screening as part of ArtsEmerson‘s Polish Film Festival!
Fictional characters, real events. This is what we’re told to expect at the beginning of Andrzej Wajda’s ambitious follow-up to MAN OF MARBLE (1977), which brings that film’s political and personal sagas — centering on worker unrest at the Gdansk shipyard, and ultimately on the triumphant rise of the Solidarity movement — up to the then-present time, a time during which significant change in Communist Poland went from seeming impossible to suddenly looking inevitable.
Not that it looked like it would be instantaneous; it didn’t, and it wasn’t. MAN OF IRON, as I was told anecdotally by a Polish coworker who was there at the time (and which I subsequently confirmed in conversation with data qua data), was shown no more than a few times in Poland before it was confiscated and banned from exhibition. Happily, some reels had been smuggled out out of the country. Even more happily (albeit eight years later), the Berlin Wall — a quarter of a century ago this month, even — finally came down, at which point the already in-progress dissolution of the rest of the Iron Curtain accelerated beyond anyone’s most hopeful projections. Among the many other salutary effects of the ensuing transformation, MAN OF IRON and other Wajda films returned to circulation in Poland, where they are now considered canonical.
Although technically a sequel, MAN OF IRON is easily appreciated on its own thanks to its generous, flashback-rich exposition. Wajda manages to get a tremendous amount of thematic material into the film — about the persistence of Poland’s Catholic traditions under Communism; the ethical and practical vagaries of cultural work, particularly journalism and film; and the relationships between generations, between students and workers, and quite a bit more — while maintaining a fairly steady focus (it does waver here and there) on his principals: Winkel (Marian Opania), an essentially decent, compromised journalist who is ambivalently cooperating with the Party, and Maciek Tomczyk (Jerzy Radziwilowicz), a dockworker leading the latest wave of strikes at the Gdansk shipyards, where workers are demanding the right to a “free” union, independent of Party control. Winkel is charged with digging up dirt on Maciek in order to discredit him and rob the movement of momentum. From the premise of their pas de deux spins out a story that is unabashedly heroic, melodramatic, and epic by aspiration, most comparable perhaps to late-career works by David Lean or Richard Attenborough. Love and history — writ large, screened large, and repaying your investment of time with an expansion of spirit. The characters — Lech Walesa‘s recurring cameo notwithstanding — may be fictional, but the events and their repercussions are as real as reality allows.
(11/9) MAN OF IRON (1981) DIR. ANDRZEJ WAJDA @ARTSEMERSON
2pm // 153 minutes
Screening as part of ArtsEmerson’s Polish Film Festival
559 Washington St.
Boston, MA 02111