Saturday, March 31, 2012

Essay on Historical Films

Essay on Historical Films

All kinds of culture, including books, films, pictures, have always played a significant role in the conveyance of particular historical events and facts, in the forming of people’s outlook and perception of history. Therefore, the number of historical films is really great and nearly all of them aim to let people know more about certain epochs in history. What is the significance of historical films for the society? Is it a difficult process to shoot a historical film? What role do director and his crew play in the formation of people’s outlook on history? All these questions will be answered in this paper. While historians discuss the importance of films as historical artifacts, we see films as works of art, which were made due to great work of filmmakers and which bear particular, sometimes hidden, message. The message helps us to see history from another point of view and very often to discover the truth about certain historical events.

The guarantee of success of any film is a skillfully written script, a gifted director and talented cast. The guarantee of success of a historical film is the same components plus the truthfulness and historical accuracy. It is necessary to mention that it is even more difficult and responsible to shoot a film about political events, as very often many things cannot be said openly and then the authors of the film resort to symbols, metaphors, which bear hidden meaning. Thus, by the example of the films “Man of Marble” and “Man of Iron” we see all these means in practice.

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Andrzej Wajda’s films are bright examples of finely made movies, which depict a certain period in history of Poland, to be more precise the formation of Solidarity movement in the conditions of rigid Soviet regime, reigning at that time in Poland. The films embrace a large period in Polish history from 1960s to 1980s.

In order to better understand the crucial role of these films for Polish history it is necessary to outline the political situation in Poland of those times. Soviet regime, which thrived in the USSR from 1920s, came to Poland after World War II and set strict rules. The USSR was the center of Soviet regime and Poland absolutely depended on it. Polish government reported to the Soviet government. Therefore, Solidarity movement became a significant event in Polish history, as it was a manifestation of people’s protest against the existing regime. Solidarity movement united almost a third of population in Poland and became a powerful force, confronting the political government. In fact, this movement was a logical consequence of political oppression of the working class in Poland.

While the official ideology of Polish government was the glorification of the working class and ensuring good living conditions for them, in reality workers were oppressed much. They were instruments in the hands of government. Both Polish and Soviet Union government implanted a false idea of building a socialist state in people; being guided by that idea, they did everything for their countries. When they began to realize the unreality of the situation, they began to revolt and organized the Solidarity movement.

Andrzej Wajda’s films show all the controversies and conflicts in relations between the population and the government in Poland and between Poland and the Soviet Union at those times. “Man of Iron” is a sequel to “Man of Marble” and both these films tell us about the real situation in Poland and arouse many important questions, particularly about the role of the Soviet Union in political and economic life of Poland and many other countries in Eastern Europe, about the role of the Communist Party in the society, etc.

Taking into account the gravity of the political situation in Poland under communist regime, we may understand how difficult and how important it was to shoot these movies. The difficulty is quite clear in the context of total control over people. Certainly, when these films were released, they were banned. Judging by the reaction of the government, we may say, even before watching them, that “Man of Marble” and “Man of Iron” revealed the truth about the regime and the director said many undesirable things to people.

Andrzej Wajda uses a lot of symbols in the film in order to convey the atmosphere of that time. The characters of the film unite in themselves millions of people all over the country. They symbolize certain types of people, living in those times. All the characters have prototypes, which makes the film absolutely true. Watching “Man of Marble” and “Man of Iron”, people recognize themselves in the characters.

In the first film, “Man of Marble” we see Birkut, a bricklayer, and understand that he is that very Polish worker, who is the support of the state as he sincerely believes the government and works for the common good. His principles and views are mostly formed by the Communist Party. Due to the situations, in which he finds himself during the film, we see the discrepancy between his honesty and the falseness of the government, which does everything in its power to keep the image of Poland as a socialist country.

The opposite image of Witek is deliberately used by Wajda in order to show two types of people. In the context of political struggle we watch the development of two destinies of two characters who chose different ways out of the problem. Witek and Birkut started their career together; however, when their life changed and they were treated as spies, their ways parted. Again we see the skillfulness of the director, who manages to show the rottenness of the Soviet system with the help of a small but expressive episode. During the Stakhanovite movement, widespread under the rule of the Communist Party, at a factory workers passed hot bricks one to another. Witek and Birkut were among them, but Witek was in gloves and did not feel the heat of the brick, while Birkut was without them and burnt his hands. This small incident was treated by the Polish government as a protest against the Stakhanovite movement and both Witek and Birkut were tried and sentenced as spies. By this example, the viewers make sure that the Soviet system capitalized on its workers and did not appreciate their labor and contribution to the economy of the country and their own authority. After such turnabout Birkut cannot get used to the fact that his principles and his faith to the government are ruined and now nobody needs him. Neither country nor his friends want to know him, as he is “a traitor”. Thus, he turns to drinking and further is killed during one of the demonstrations of Solidarity. So, we watch the destiny of the ideal worker, who is finally killed by those hands, for which he has always worked.

Witek is absolutely another type of person – when he sees that the government does not need him any more, he does everything in order not to be left out of the communist system. He is a timeserver, so he easily changes his principles and views according to the situation. Soon he gains a good job and is satisfied with his life.

In “Man of Marble” Wajda develops another subplot, concerning the difficulties, faced by Agnieszka, a young director, who tries to tell people the true story about Birkut’s life. All the difficulties and obstacles on her way convey the difficulties, which Wajda and his crew faced while shooting the movie.

The film “Man of Iron” is not as sharp as “Man of Marble”. Rather than criticizing the existing communist regime, the film describes the changes and disturbances in the society, in those times and returns us back to the times of Birkut. The viewers see his son, Maciek, who remembers how his father was shot; the brightest and the most characteristic episodes of those times. The director shows the instability of Solidarity movement despite its benefits, and the split of the country due to all these changes. This time the main character of the film is another person, Winkiel, who, however, has the same destiny as Birkut. He is also lost during these political discords. His views are betrayed but he cannot find himself in new Poland. He searches for truth but he cannot find it.

By the example of two great films “Man of Marble” and “Man of Iron”, we see the enormous work of the crew while shooting these films. Historical films play a significant role in the formation of people’s outlook and views. They have many functions in art and make a great contribution into the history. They make history closer to people and let them better understand it. Living in this or that epoch people do not always fully realize the situation and it is difficult for them to take a sober view of things. The creators of historical films help people to do it, while there may be cases when films are tinged with proper director’s point of view.

The main aim of any historical film and of the crew, working on it, is to send a particular message to people, to show the advantages and disadvantages of certain phenomena. In his films Wajda tried to open people’s eyes on the reality, to make them see the rottenness of the regime, reigning in Poland in the second half of the twentieth century.

Undoubtedly, making a film every director aims to depict important events in the history of a country and to preserve this depiction for future generations, for them to know the real facts of the history.

In order to achieve all these aims the director and his crew should carry out great work. Wajda together with his crew and cast managed to do it. In my opinion, the guarantee of success and truthfulness of his films is the historical accuracy, the veracity of characters, the play of actors and the symbolism of events and people. Andrzej Wajda took nearly all the events from real life; besides, the main characters of the film either had their prototypes in life or were general images of people, living in the society. Such symbols in films as the rail line, which connected Katowice and the Soviet Union and symbolized the dependence of Poland from the USSR, and the posters and statue of Birkut, which were hidden as a sign of quick change of national heroes.

To make a conclusion, historical films cannot be treated the same way as all other films because the play a particular role. They are a kind of intermediaries between people and history, which adds more responsibility to the directors of these films. However, only historically accurate films can play such role. The films “The Man of Marble” and “The Man of Iron”, which are bright examples of real historical films, prove that it is always necessary to take another look at the history not only of our days but of the past as well.

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