Monday, December 12, 2011

Man of Marble - Movie Review

'Man of Marble' is a 1976 Polish film directed by Andrzej Wajda (of 'Kanal' and 'Ashes and Diamonds' fame) about a fictional over-achiever brick layer who becomes a hero in the building of a town near Krakow. How the myth of Birkut was made and broken down, as symbolised by the bringing down of his marble statue, is what the movie is about.

The film shows the making of the myth of Birkut through the eyes of a young film maker Agnieszka, who traces the rise and fall of the bricklayer through old footage, archives, interviews which are not easy to obtain. She is tailed by her film crew and is constantly in and out of studios watching old clippings of Birkut (much of the movie is shown through black and white documentaries as she tries to recreate what happened). Birkut is propped as an achiever, filmed and complimented, becomes a hero, statues put up. But as Birkut becomes to voice his opinion the myth behind his creation is slowly brought down by the system, his hands are made ineffective so he does not work again and his marble statue which was a symbol of over achievement brought down and with it public memory of Birkut.

Birkut's over achieving work of laying thousands of bricks in a shift is based on the socialist idea of Stakhanovite movement where workers competed to over achieve in their areas of work in Russia - the inspiration being Aleksei Stakhanov who mined 102 tons of coal in a shift in 1935 and set a record. The Stakhanovite movement was allegedly propaganda to inspire other workers.

I would have never known of the Stakhanovite movement if not for this movie which shows how such myths were created through propaganda. Allegations against the movement are that the star workers were provided better tools and conditions and that the figures were rigged sometimes. At the peak of that movement industries had competitions during the week to have sudden spurts of activity. Creating such myths and bringing them down was done in a calculated manner and most toed the line of the myth that had become larger than themselves. It is a very interesting film made in an even more interesting manner with the documentaries, the slow unravelling of the mystery that Birkut was and his personal life. Fantastic stuff!

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