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Dissidence in Andrej Wajda's Man of Marble

Dissidence in Andrej Wajda's Man of Marble

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Published by: caelestis09 on Jan 08, 2010
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06/19/2013

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Debasmita Biswas15 March 2008
 
Post- Second World War Communist Poland formed a government that demanded absolutediscipline to the state and party. It was a political order that did not allow the existence of dissidence within the society or subsisted in denial of it. Despite the reactionary actions of thestate a latent dissidence found expression in literature and film. Andrej Wajda’s
Man of Marble
and more emphatically,
Man of Iron
are located within the discourse of Polish dissidenceoperating in the era of Eastern Europe and Soviet partnership. Each film is shaped by the political climate of its specific historical context.
Man of Marble
with its
 
taut, aesthetic visionwas produced during the censorship of 1977. The sequel
Man of Iron
was made in thecomparatively liberal cultural politics of 1980-81.
 
The films confront a political entity that hadthe governmental and economic apparatus of a state supported by the superstructure of Sovietoverlordship. This paper will explore the dissident aspects as articulated by and through the film
Man of Marble
and in that context refer to
Man of Iron. 
Andrzej Wajda functions within a particular political society located in aCommunist Poland with democratic pretensions. However, in actuality the state had becometotalitarian within which there was a resistance, an expression of dissidence. In Poland it wasSolidarity, a broad anti-Communist social movement that withstood the repression of theestablishment and eventually overcame it.
Man of Iron
and
Man of Marble
document the rise of Solidarity.
Man of Marble
is amore subtle depiction of the latent dissident voices within the society. It looks at different formsof manifestation of that dissidence. The films convey a political message, more subtly in
Man of 
 
Marble
and more overtly in
Man of Iron
. Wajda’s Solidarity films endure as essential culturalresidue of Poland’s checkered revolutionary past. The dominant ideology of socialism makes its presence felt in these works of Wajda. The films in question debate the intentions of this systemof values whether through indirect references or an open challenge of it.In these films, the socialist ideology is presented in two ways. First as a set of values within which the protagonists of the film function, as in the films of social security in thesixties in Poland, during the period of economic stabilization under Gomulka. Secondly, as a point of reference in the films of the Polish school called "the films of moral concern" in theseventies
1
. In these films, the socialist ideology is present, with its theoretical love for humansand their work and a belief in democracy and equal distribution of material benefits amongcitizens. However, it is simultaneously undermined by the undercurrent of opposition presenteither in a particularly grim or engaging cinematography, a solution to the plot, or other meansdetected by intelligent spectators.Although describing simple events of no specific political importance, the filmscan be read as subversive statements, undermining the dominant ideology through the method of  presentation. Despite an official ban on subversive messages, powerful oppositional statementsare present in the form of Aesopian tales, which the Eastern European spectator deciphers withutmost delight. The film makes fleeting references to Catholicism. First, during the openingcredits roll the sound recordist of Agnieszka’s (played by Krystyna Janda) crew is shownwearing a cross. Secondly, Birkut makes the sign of a cross before the enactment of the heroic
1
"The Political" in the Films of Andrzej Wajda and Krzysztof Kieslowski’, Janina Falkowska Cinema Journal,Vol. 34, No. 2. (Winter, 1995), pp. 37-50.
 
spectacle of laying ten thousand bricks in a celebration of the proletarian spirit. The filmmaker (Bruski) who is recording the event reacts to the gesture with irritation. The assertion of Catholicism, an ideology not accommodated in the atheistic communist discourse, becomes aninstance of dissidence.
 
Agnieszka’s film becomes another act of dissidence. It deals with acontroversial subject and recovers films that were suppressed. The narrative in itself becomesself-reflexive. It is a dissident film about the making of a dissident film that attacks StalinistRealism. Birkut’s life too becomes an instance of dissidence. His idealism and faith in theapparently progressive system is followed by disillusionment. Birkut transforms, from anempathiser to a discontent and finally a dissident. It is presumed that he was shot by the Polishsecret police during a mass protest. Therefore the system that once valorised him later disownshim as a persona non grata. The film prophetically terminates at the Gdansk shipyards, thegermination point of Solidarity. The person Agnieszka meets there is Birkut’s son, MaciejTomczyk, who is the bearer of a dissident legacy. He will also play a crucial role in the next film
Man of Iron
which is a depiction of the Solidarity Movement and Lech Walesa himself makes a brief appearance in the film. Thus the act of dissidence forms a kind of triumvirate with theactual filmmaker (Wajda), the fictional filmmaker (Agnieszka) and the fictional character Birkutin
Man of Marble
. The polemics is further underscored in
Man of Iron
where Maciej’s dissidentactivities are emphasised by the brief presence of the real dissident, Lech Walesa, on screen.Before Wojciech Jaruzelski, Polish military leader and later President, had imposed martial lawSolidarity was already interacting with the different forces of Catholic-conservatism andliberalism within it. It ushered in market forces that paradoxically also affected the fulcrum of the labouring collective. However, Solidarity was, in terms of principles, a democraticmovement, a bold anti-regime assertion.
Man of Marble
tries to delineate the existing discontent

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