Aleksander Scibor-Tyiski (screenplay), Andrzej Wajda (director) Czlowiek z marmuru (Man of Marble) / 1977
Wajda's documentary-like film, Man of Marble, centers around a young film student, Agnieszka (a character based, in part, on the real-life film director Agnieszka Holland) who has chosen as her subject a national hero of the 1950s, a bricklayer Mateusz Birkut (played by Jerzy Radziwilowicz). Her faculty advisor strongly discourages her from tackling this subject, trying to steer her on to something about steel and industry, as opposed to the now obscure figure who helped build the Polish city for 100,000 people, Nowa Huta.
No one has yet touched on the 50s. Why don't you deal with a
subject that has no risk of ambiguity. A better project would be
facts—facts are steelworks and their output.
Exactly why Agnieska has chosen her subject is unclear; apparently she is simply interested in finding out more about her father's generation. But once she has begun her research she (and the audience) become more and more spellbound by the mysterious story surrounding Birkut. At first, even the head researcher is skeptical about the young director, and is disinterested in the forgotten documentaries she has uncovered for Agnieska: obvious propagandist pieces of the day with titles such as "Birth of a City" (an uncompleted film, where the second director, so the credits list, was Wajda himself) and "Architects of our Happiness." But as she grows to know the young woman, it is clear she becomes more and more fascinated by her behavior and obsessions.
Indeed the lanky Krystyna Janda plays Agnieska in a manner attune to the blaring, jazz-inspired score of composer Andrzej Korzynski. Her every move is a rush forward, her body itself a dare to anyone who might stand in her way. Awake, she is in near-constant motion, edgy, nervous. The rest of the time she collapses into sleep. With the help of three camera men, one an old-timer who admits this may be his last film, and who has a somewhat difficult time adjusting to her insistence on the use of a hand-held camera, she barges into a national museum and slips into a back room where no one is allowed to enter, clandestinely shooting a large marble image of Birkut. When the assistant queries her about her interest in the backroom, insisting "We've got better sculptors here now." Angieska's response is an ironic, "I daresay."
Birkut wins the challenge, laying 30,509 brinks before he nearly falls over in exhaustion. That film and his youthful, handsome demeanor make him a national hero, and for a short while, the young country bumpkin rises in the party ranks, with his friend Wincenty Witek, touring the country in an attempt to explain his techniques and stimulate the workers.
Later in the film the young director, discovers that Witek has been rehabilitated and is now head of the Katowice steel mills. Flying over the mills in a helicopter, we witness a Witek who has sold out to the system, ironically running a company that Agnieska has been encouraged to focus on for her diploma film.
Los Angeles, February 27, 2009
Reprinted from Green Integer Blog (March 2009).