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Man of Marble

Vanguard // Unrated // October 28, 2003
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Don Houston | posted November 29, 2003 | E-mail the Author
Movie: It wasn't long ago that film critics and consumers alike were scoffing at Vanguard Cinema for a lack of quality in terms of content and technical matters. The company took such criticism to heart and worked to improve both aspects at once. Since that time, they gained access to a number of excellent foreign films, most notably the back catalog for Andrzej Wadja, the Polish directing genius, and have planned their release over time. The latest such release is Man Of Marble (Cztowiek Z Marmuru). Here's what the boxcover said:

"Not only is Andrzej Wajda's award winning MAN OF MARBLE one of the most important films in the history of Polish cinema, it is one of the most compelling attacks on government corruption ever made. It is a Citizen Kane - styled story where Wajda introduces us to a young woman in Krakow who is making her thesis film. She is looking behind the scenes at the life of a 1950s bricklayer, Birkut, who was briefly elevated to the status of a communist hero. She wants to know how his heroism was created and what became of him. She gets a hold of censored footage and interviews with the man's friends and ex-wife, and the filmmaker who made him a hero. A portrait of Birkut emerges as a man who believed in the socialist ideals, the workers revolution, and in building housing for all. The young filmmakers hard-driving style and the content of the film however unnerve her supervisor, who thinks it's content is getting too close to a political nerve. The film project is killed with the excuse she is over budget but the young filmmaker pushes forward against all odds to finish her film."

The story saw the exploits of the young student director as she led an investigative approach to what the truth behind the bricklaying hero was. Did the man really exist or was he a fiction character of the massive propaganda campaign? As she dug ever deeper, she discovered that Birkut was in fact an ideal man who truly cared for his fellow worker; the basis for making communism/socialism work as espoused by philosophers throughout the years. She found that he embodied the principles needed but was left wholly unprepared to deal with the realities of any system that relies on people and he soon was turned from hero to criminal by those who wanted to use him as a visual aid without his opinion or help. In short, the system that sought to use him as a dumb, malleable worker for their own benefit, quickly tired when he used his position to advocate his fellow workers, at which time he was taken out of the picture after being discredited.

I think Wajda, himself a victim of the political leanings of corrupt governments over the years, hit this one square on the head. Much like his films on Capitalism and War, the famed director presents a compelling cautionary tale that shows how revisionist history works as well as how the powers that be will distort any truths in order to accomplish their goals. Lest you think the movie is solely about the two political systems so properly skewered here, keep in mind that the themes of corruption and misuse of government resources to bury inconvenient people are particularly fitting in these times, regardless of your political leanings. For all it's strengths in direction, acting and writing, I think this one is well worth a rating of Highly Recommended, even without the advertised extras and the minor print flaws. Check it out.

Picture: The picture was presented in 1.33:1 ratio full frame color with numerous occasions of black & white footage used. The print used in the transfer had a number of scratches and minor technical flaws but it was watchable due to the content itself. There were some DVD transfer problems as well but again, they were minimal in terms of annoyance factor.

Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of either DTS or Dolby Digital 5.1 Polish, with a variety of subtitles ranging from English, German, Spanish, French, Italian or Pycckuu. I watched with the English subtitles and they generally appeared well done although there were a number of instances where the people talked a lot more than was translated. In any case, the vocals were decent and the music suitable with little separation between the channels.

Extras: None, not even the advertised trailer and Andrzej Wajda retrospective.

Final Thoughts: History is replete with examples of regimes that sought to control the media and use it to discredit their opponents for their own gain. In this day of the Internet, even private groups seek to do the same thing, albeit with less degree of certainty, and movies such as this one remind us to be careful how we build, and ultimately destroy, our heroes. I look forward to more releases by Vanguard, particularly if they continue to obtain such gems as this one, but I'd really appreciate it if the company would spend more time restoring the prints before transferring them to DVD. In all though, it was well done and looked better than the small trailer I saw on videotape several years back (even the subtitles are much better on this one).

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Highly Recommended

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