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In 1976, a young woman in Krakow is making her diploma film, looking behind the scenes at the life of a 1950s bricklayer, Birkut, who was briefly a proletariat hero, at how that heroism was created, and what became of him. She gets hold of outtakes and censored footage and interviews the man's friends, ex-wife, and the filmmaker who made him a hero. A portrait of Birkut emerges: he believed in the workers' revolution, in building housing for all, and his very virtues were his undoing. Her hard-driving style and the content of the film unnerve her supervisor, who kills the project with the excuse she's over budget. Is there any way she can push the film to completion? Written by
Wajda's MAN OF MARBLE is one of the most compelling attacks on government corruption that I have ever seen. It is a "Citizen Kane"-styled story of a female film student who tries to trace the history of Birkut, a long-forgotten "hero" of the Polish Communist government.
She begins by viewing propaganda film that praises Birkut as a devout worker who slaves away at brick-laying for the officials. He has the appearance of a vigilant, Hercules-like strongman who breezes through the labor without breaking a sweat. Then she goes to interview the director, who was hired by the government. He tells her about the reality of making the film, such as how Birkut was given extra food and water (unlike the other bricklayers). Wajda uses these two conflicting scenes to deconstruct the false imagery that propaganda gives its viewers. He shows us how officials manipulate such situations to their own political good.
The student goes on to interview other subjects who describe the brutal reality of Birkut's off-camera existence. In one devastating scene, she meets his wife, who breaks down and tries to avoid being interviewed. As the truth becomes clearer and clearer, the government begins to intercede in the production of the student's film.
Wajda was a film-maker who was not afraid to criticize the harsh Polish government that eventually was defeated by individuals such as Lech Walesa. MAN OF MARBLE is a testament to those who had to live through the oppression of Communism, and also to those who are still living under its iron fist.
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