This epic film records two pages of history – the year 1952, when Poland became a People’s Republic and the height of the Stalinization period; and the year 1976, when a revealing reassessment of the times takes place through a camera team’s investigation into the fate of a former Worker’s Hero.
Man of Marble is the story of Mateusz Birkut, a Cracow farmer who comes to the new industrial town of Nowa Huta and becomes overnight a High Performance Worker as a bricklayer. Birkut’s gigantic portrait is hung on the main square, a docu pic is made on his life, and our simple, modest worker is raised to the level of a National Hero without quite knowing why.
Pic begins with a 24-year-old femme TV reporter, Agnieszka, working on her diploma pic: she is greedy to tell the full story of what happened to Birkut, who has long since dropped from sight. As in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, she must solve the riddle of this man’s life through direct interviews with people and rummaging through museum and film archives. It’s her nervous search for ‘truth’ that raises Man of Marble to a height of suspense, as in a detective thriller.
Scenes of fast-paced discussion through the corridors of the TV station set the mood and drive of the long-distance pic. The hotter Agnieszka gets on the trail, the less easy it is for her to keep her distance or find support from her TV superior to bring the pic to completion.
Man of Marble stands as a milestone in Polish cinema, another high point and perhaps the climax in Andrzej Wadja’s career. All credits are outstanding, but Krystyna Janda as Agnieszka and Jerzy Radziwilowicz as Birkut in the lengthy flashback scenes deserve special praise.