‘Man of Marble’, directed by Andrzej Wajda in 1976, is a Polish drama. Jerzy Radziwiłowicz plays Mateusz Birkut, a bricklayer working on Nowa Huta, a socialist realist settlement near Kraków. When he breaks a record laying 30,000 bricks in one shift, Birkut becomes a socialist legend but rapidly loses faith in the system when he is injured and forced to take up a management role. In the meantime, years later, a film student, Agnieszka, played by Krystyna Janda, is making a documentary about Birkut and his fate but runs into trouble with the authorities. Taking inspiration from ‘Citizen Kane’, Wajda’s movie is a razor sharp indictment of the Soviet control of the country, but also manages to tackle both the Stalinist era and the contemporary effects of Russia on Poland, as well as the challenges faced by filmmakers. The scenes set at the construction site are particularly interesting when juxtaposed against the modern interviews by Agnieszka, examining the way socialist icons are created and the role of the propagandising media has in their creation. The later scenes show the reverse – how a free media can deconstruct these icons as part of a hunt for the truth.
Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s considered one of the greatest Polish movies ever made, and the layering of the film means that it can be read in multiple ways. Watch in a double bill with Wajda’s earlier classic ‘Ashes and Diamonds’ to get a sense of his journey.