Man of Marble

Andrzej Wajda

Poland, 1977


Andrzej Wajda’s “Man of Marble” (Polish: “Człowiek z marmuru”) is now considered one of the foremost films from behind the Iron Curtain. The film, released at a time when the country’s media was carefully screened by censors, criticises the system from within.
Agnieszka, a film school student, wants to make a television film about an over-achieving worker in the 1950s, Mateusz Birkut – a bricklayer at Cracow’s Nowa Huta district who beat records when he led a five-man team to lay 30,000 bricks in eight hours.
Through talks with people who knew Birkut and archives of old newsreels found in vaults, Agnieszka discovers the truth about the hero of the time, as well as the truth about the time in which she lives and – last but not least – about herself.
The film, shot in 1976, could not openly discuss the subject but the people watching during the time of protests at the Gdańsk shipyards knew – it was clear that Mateusz Birkut probably died on the coast during the riots in 1970, when the militia and the army were ordered to shoot workers protesting against the situation in their country.


Andrzej Wajda

Andrzej Wajda – a film and theatre director, screenwriter and film stage designer. He was born on the 6th of March 1926 in Suwałki. His father was an officer of the Polish Army. He grew up in Suwałki and then in Radom, where he stayed during the war, attending underground educational classes and studying in a private school of painting. Simultaneously he worked for the railways as a warehouseman, porter, cooper, locksmith, and finally as a draughtsman in the railway office. After the war he studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow (1946-50) and then directing at the National Higher School of Film in Łódź (he graduated in 1960).

In 1956 Wajda made a film titled Sewer (Polish: Kanał), which proved to be a turning point in his career and is now generally considered a pioneering work that gave rise to the so-called Polish school of cinematography. In 1958 Wajda directed Ashes and Diamonds (Polish: Popiół i diament), a film that definitively established his position as an outstanding director, which was later proved by his subsequent works. In 1972-83 he was the manager of the “X” Film Team and in 1978-83 – the president of the Polish Filmmakers Association, which later awarded him with the title of an honorary chairman. In 1977 he became an honorary member of the Association of Polish Artists and Designers and in 1989 – a member of the Committee of Cinematography. He is also a member of the French Academy of Fine Arts and the chapter of the European Film Academy, as well as an honorary member of BAFTA.

As a theatre director, Wajda has been for many years strongly involved in the artistic activity of the Cracow Old Theatre (in the period 1962-98). From 1989 to 1990 he was the director of the Warsaw Popular Theatre (Teatr Powszechny). He was also the originator and founder of the “Manggha” Centre of Japanese Art and Technology in Cracow, opened in 1994.

In the period 1981-89 he was a member of the consultative committee of “Solidarity” and cooperated with Lech Wałęsa. In 1988 he became the head of the Board for Culture and Media of the Citizen’s Committee, also associated with Lech Wałęsa.

From 1989 to 1991 Andrzej Wajda was a Senator of the Republic of Poland and from 1992 to 1994 – a member of the President’s Council for Culture.

In 2002 he established the Andrzej Wajda Master School of Film Directing in Warsaw.

He is a winner of over one hundred film prizes, including the most important ones: Palme d’Or at the International Film Festival in Cannes for “Man of Iron” (1981), Felix (1990), Golden Bear at the International Film Festival in Berlin (1996) and Golden Lion at the International Film Festival in Venice (1998), as well as the Oscar (2000) for lifetime achievement.

He was awarded honoris causa PhD titles by numerous higher education institutions, including the Bologna and Washington Universities, the National Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre in Łódź, the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, the Warsaw University and the All-Russian State University of Cinematography in Moscow, as well as many Polish and foreign distinctions.


  • A Generation (Polish: Pokolenie – 1954)
  • Sewer (Polish: Kanał – 1956)
  • Ashes and Diamonds (Polish: Popiół i diament – 1958), Lotna (1959)
  • Innocent Sorceres (Polish: Niewinni czarodzieje – 1960)
  • The Ashes (Polish: Popioły – 1965)
  • Everything for Sale (Polish: Wszystko na sprzedaż – 1968)
  • The Birch Wood (Polish: Brzezina – 1970)
  • Landscape after the Battle (Polish: Krajobraz po bitwie – 1970)
  • The Wedding (Polish: Wesele – 1972)
  • The Promised Land (Polish: Ziemia obiecana – 1974)
  • Man of Marble (Polish: Człowiek z marmuru – 1976)
  • The Maids of Wilko (Polish: Panny z Wilka – 1979)
  • Man of Iron (Polish: Człowiek z żelaza – 1981)
  • A Chronicle of Amorous Accidents (Polish: Kronika wypadków miłosnych – 1985)
  • Korczak (1990)
  • The Ring with a Crowned Eagle (Polish: Pierścionek z orłem w koronie – 1992)
  • Holy Week (Polish: Wielki Tydzień – 1995)
  • Miss Nobody (Polish: Panna Nikt – 1996)
  • Pan Tadeusz (1999)
  • The Revenge (Polish: Zemsta – 2002)
  • Katyń (2007)
  • Sweet Rush (Polish: Tatarak – 2009)
  • Wałęsa. Man of Hope (Polish: Wałęsa. Człowiek z nadziei – 2013)
  • Powidoki (2016)


Director: Andrzej Wajda

Writing Credits: Aleksander Ścibor-Rylski, who used some facts from the life of a bricklaying record holder Piotr Ożański

Art Direction: Edward Klosinski

Music: Andrzej Korzynski

Make up: Anna Adamek

Color: Color

Duration: 153’

Cast: Jerzy Radziwiłowicz, Krystyna Janda, Tadeusz Łomnicki, Krystyna Zachwatowicz

• 1977, Polish Feature Film Festival – Journalists’ Award
• 1978, Cannes (International Film Festival) – FIPRESCI award
• 1979, Brussels (International Film Festival), Crystal Star best actor award for Jerzy Radziwiłowicz
• 1979, Belgrade (“FEST” International Film Festival), Grand Prize and best actor award for Jerzy Radziwiłowicz
• 1980, Cartagena (International Film Festival) – Jury’s Special Award


  • David Ansen, Newsweek 1981
  • Tadeusz Lubelski Wajda. Portret mistrza w kilku odsłonach, Wrocław 2006
  • New Horizons of Film Education, NOTE ABOUT THE DIRECTOR from materials concerning the film “Ashes and Diamonds”, developed by: Sylwia Galanciak


It all started from a little anecdote that Jerzy Bossak had read in some newspaper. A bricklayer came to an employment office, but was sent away empty-handed, as Nowa Huta needed only men for the steel foundry. However, one of the office workers remembered the face of that man. Indeed, that was a famous brick-laying leader, a shining star of the previous political season.
It was not much to begin with, but our artistic manager also knew whom to assign with the task of adapting that story for the purposes of a script. Ścibor-Rylski was the screenwriter of The Ashes (Polish: Popioły) and I knew that he was the author of Węgiel (Coal), a novel written in a social realist style, which I had not even tried to read, but I did not know that he also contributed some texts to the so-called “Library of the Leaders of Labour” – profiles of a few well-known bricklayers…
The leader of the socialist labour, a bricklayer, was a man and he would be the hero of those times, the fifties, while I wanted to make a modern film. So, I needed a medium which I could have used to tell all those events from the present-day perspective. Of course, it should have been a young person for whom Stalinism of that period would have been a distant past. Many outstanding young talents were studying at the Łódź Film School in that period and one of them was Agnieszka Osiecka. I think it was her who gave me the idea that the bricklayer’s secret should be discovered by Agnieszka, a young student of the National Higher School of Film. In a few week’s time the script was ready and I was full of enthusiasm when I was reading it. I knew I was holding a rough diamond.


How Man of Marble was created Jerzy Bossak hit upon an idea to make a film about present-day moral decay of a former leader of labour from the Stalinist era and, together with Wajda, persuaded Aleksander Ścibor-Rylski to
write a script about such a character. Ścibor, who in the first half of the fifties of the previous century used to write booklets for the series Library of Leaders of Labour created the character of director Burski who in the period of construction of Nowa Huta convinces a young bricklayer named Birkut to give a display of “breaking the bricklaying
speed record.” Wajda added a character of a young director, Agnieszka, who wants to make a film on that topic in our times.

Tadeusz Lubelski, “Wajda”, Wydawnictwo
Dolnośląskie, Wrocław 2006, p. 96.

However, in 1963, when the script was ready, it was declared unacceptable by the censorship. In addition, printing the script in a Warsaw cultural magazine Kultura did not help in its promotion.
The period of settling accounts with Stalinism was yet to come in the times of Edward Gierek. Perhaps, paradoxically, it did the film some good after all. Thanks to the new realities and modern film techniques, a truly remarkable work was created. However, it would not have been possible if it had not been for the unexpected aid of the decision-makers who sympathized with Wajda, i.e. then head of the Committee of Cinematography, Mieczysław Wojtczak, and the Minister of Culture and Art, Józef Tejchma.
At the very beginning the film was screened in only one cinema in Warsaw. However, as people were standing in long queues to watch it, the authorities decided to add three more cinemas. Within 10 months it was watched by 2.5 million people. At the same time the director fell victim to a wide-ranging press campaign aimed at discrediting
Man of Marble. The authorities feared a public debate on their very origins.




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