"Man of Iron" is the son of "Man of Marble," and this second installment in Andrzej Wajda's saga of the Polish workingman concludes with the second-generation hero regrave of his murdered father:
"Nothing can destroy this. . . We have seen it with our own eyes. . . And none of this can now be undone."
It's an emotional wipeout. Is this a good movie? It's difficult to tell, at this moment. It's certainly of compelling interest to see, through 140 minutes somewhat awkwardly strung together by scenes of direct interview, the union movement slowly progress to that pitch of victory. And it's unbearably wrenching to watch it all with the ironic burden of knowing what happened after this triumphant conclusion.
Both of these films have won prizes, as well as sympathetic attention, around the world. If you were moved by the earlier one, about a man who turned from a model worker used for propaganda purposes in the 1950s into a true leader who was then destroyed, you will be more gripped by this one. But even someone who found "Man of Marble" well-meaning but tedious may be absorbed by "Man of Iron."
It cannot all be the poignancy of the current situation. Dramatically, the second picture is more straightforward, closer to the events it covers, and less gimmicky about telling its story. In "Man of Marble," the hero's past exploits were slowly uncovered by a brash young film student as a state-financed research project, then censored by the state. In "Man of Iron," a burnt-out television reporter has been ordered by the state to do a film debunking the hero, and, during the course of piecing together the story, his cynicism and selfishness turn to idealism.
"Man of Iron" picks up its hero as a student, estranged from his father through a disagreement over tactics. (Both are played by Jerzy Radziwilowicz.) When the father is killed on the streets, the son carries on in his memory, with the aid of that film student -- admitting that she had previously been "an overwrought little idiot" -- who is now his wife.
Although the story unfolds in a slow and jerky way, partly through interviews and partly through dramatization, there are some fine, self-contained vignettes. In one, the son puts his shoes on the corpse of his father, lying in a morgue with his name tag fastened to a bare toe, and walks barefoot to bury him. In another, a woman blubbers that she "had to take two pills" to be able to fire the hero for political activity. When she excuses herself by saying that otherwise "my replacement would have done it instead," he asks, "What if she refused? They can't fire everyone."
Then there is the moment when a state official, disgusted at the triumph of Solidarity, leans from the window of a chauffeured car and says, "Why so gloomy? The document has no validity. Nothing signed under durress does." No -- that is one of the vignettes whose power was unfortunately not entirely provided by the filmmaker. MAN OF IRON -- At the K-B Janus.