is the first and arguably the only true sequel to win the Palme D’Or, but it
has far wider historical significance than mere festival laurels. Picking up exactly
where Andrzej Wajda’s Man of Marble
left off, it depicts the heady days of Solidarity’s initial victories with
documentary-like immediacy—and even boasts Lech Wałęsa appearing briefly as
himself. Wajda’s Man of Iron is a
true masterpiece that fittingly opens Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema this Wednesday at the
Walter Reade Theater.
Iron almost immediately undercuts the
exhilarating ending of Marble. It had
seemed Agnieszka, a muckraking journalist in training, would finally reveal the
true fate of Mateusz Birkut, a former labor hero of state propaganda
conspicuously scrubbed from public records, with the help of his son, Maciej
Tomczyk. Oh but not so fast, say her superiors at the television station.
turns out the acorn has not fallen far from the tree in the case of the modest,
self-effacing Tomczyk. Following Birkut’s example, he has become a leader in
the budding Solidarity movement, largely modeled on Wałęsa, Wajda’s Man of Hope. Although muzzled by the
Party, he and Agnieszka have fallen in love. Alas, she is not there to
appreciate Tomczyk’’s increasing prominence as a democracy activist. As an
independent journalist living in a police state, she is exactly where Thoreau
would say she should be.
accordance with the historical record, Solidarity calls a strike in the Gdansk
shipyards in response to the punitive dismissal of Anna Walentynowicz (who also
briefly appears as herself), but their protests are embraced far more widely by
the general public than they ever expected. Recognizing the seismic shift in
the zeitgeist, leaders like Tomczyk and Wałęsa pivot away from small ball agenda items to big picture demands.
Caught flatfooted, the Communist Party resorts to dirty tricks. Enter the sheepish Winkel. A former
independent journalist from Agnieszka’s circle, he has sold out to the powers
that be. Yet, given his history, the Party expects him to win back his former
colleagues’ confidence, only to betray them once again with a report exposing
whatever scandal he can muster on Tomczyk.
is a lot going on in Iron, but it can
be readily appreciated simply as a document of Solidarity’s unprecedented 1980 breakthroughs.
However, it is an even richer experience for viewers who have seen Marble. Try to imagine a sequel to Citizen Kane equally accomplished as the
original, in which William Alland turns his attention to a long lost son of
Charles Foster Kane, at the behest of the Pulitzers, and you will have a vague
idea of Iron’s full significance.
she necessarily has far less screen time given the circumstances of her
character, the truly heroic Krystyna Janda (truly devastating in the duly
banned The Interrogation) returns as Agnieszka,
fortifying the film with integrity in each of her scenes. Arguably, Jerzy
Radziwilowicz surpasses his work as Birkut in Marble, playing the quiet but forceful Tomczyk with richer nuance.
Yet, Marian Opania ultimately stands alone defining Iron as the acutely tragic Winkel, showing the audience just how
hard it is to regain a soul sold cheap. It is an extraordinarily powerful
performance, precisely because it comes from such an unlikely figure.
of Iron is a great way to
start a stellar film series, personally curated by Scorsese. Obviously, he is
an expert in just about everything film related, but the editorial
consideration he brought to bear on the Masterpieces
of Polish Cinema collection is impeccable. Fully restored with newly
translated subtitles, Man of Iron is
highly recommended to anyone who cares about cinema. It kicks off the series
this Wednesday (2/5) at the Walter Reade Theater.
Labels: Andrzej Wajda, Krystyna Janda, Martin Scorsese Presents, Polish Films, Solidarity