Man of Iron (1981): Wajda’s Oscar Nominated Epic

Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda’s Oscar-nominated sequel to his 1972 epic, Man of Marble, depicts the Solidarity labor movement and its first success in persuading the Polish government to recognize the workers’ right to an independent union.

Man of Iron
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Both films deal with the relationship of labor leaders to their communist leaders and the difficulties of the media to cover that story.

The film continues the story of Maciej Tomczyk, the son of Mateusz Birkut, the protagonist of Wajda’s earlier Man of Marble.

The tension in the tale is between Maciej, a young worker involved in the anti-Communist labor movement, described as “the man who started the Gdańsk Shipyard strike,” and the journalist working for the Communist regime’s radio station, who is given a task of slandering Maciej.

The young man is clearly intended as a parallel to Lech Wałęsa (who appears as himself in the movie).

Man of Iron clarifies the ending of Man of Marble, in which the death of Mateusz Birkut ambiguous, stating explicitly that Mateusz was killed in clashes at the shipyards in 1970.

The film was made during the brief thaw in Communist censorship, between the formation of Solidarity in August 1980 and its suppression in December 1981.  As a result, it could be remarkably critical of the Communist regime; later on, it was banned by the Polish government.

It adds footage from the real-life strikes led by Lech Walesa that took place during the film’s production.

There are few scenes with Walesa, who appears as a guest at the wedding of the story’s hero. That man, Tomczyk, is the son of Birkut, the labor leader in Man of Mar.  He’s played by the actor Jerzy Radziwilowicz, who played Birkut in the first film.

In Man of Marble, a student filmmaker in late 1970s Poland tried to uncover the story of Birkut, a working-class hero of the 1950s who was later discredited and killed in a 1970 strike demonstration.

Here, Winkiel (Marian Opania), an alcoholic radio journalist, is assigned by the state to cover the rise of Tomczyk, but also discredit him and the Solidarity movement.

Man of Iron expands on the story of its predecessor while provocatively exploring similar issues.

Critical Status:

The film won the Palme d’Or and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the 1981 Cannes Film Fest, and then the Best Foreign Language Feature Oscar.

 

Oscar Nominations: 1

Best Foreign Language Film

Oscar Awards: None

The Best Foreign Language Film winner was the Hungarian film, Mephisto.

MPAA: PG.

Credits:
Directed by Andrzej Wajda
Written by Aleksander Ścibor-Rylski
Cinematography Edward Kłosiński
Distributed by United Artists Classics
Release date: July 27, 1981
Running time 153 minutes