By Marcin Goettig

WARSAW (Reuters) - Film director Andrzej Wajda, best known for chronicling Poland's struggle for democracy during half a century of communist rule, has died at the age of 90.

Wajda won international acclaim for "Man of Iron" (1981), which tells the story of the anti-Communist Solidarity movement, and the film's subversive predecessor "Man of Marble" (1977).

Fans, film-makers and political leaders rushed online to pay tribute after his death was announced late on Sunday.

"We all stem from Wajda. We looked at Poland and at ourselves through him. And we understood better. Now it will be more difficult," Poland's former prime minister and the current head of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said on social media.

Communist authorities censored the "Man of Marble", angered by its portrayal of political corruption in the early 1950s Stalinist period, shown through the fall from grace of a Stakhanovite bricklayer.

"Man of Iron," which portrays the 1980 strikes that led to the creation of the Solidarity union and the fall of communism, was awarded the Palme d'Or at the Cannes festival.

In 2000, Wajda received an Academy Honorary Award in 2000, in recognition of five decades of work, the first eastern European director to win the lifetime achievement Oscar.

Wajda's films also won a Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and four nominations for Academy Awards, among other prizes.


"He was one of the greatest Polish artists, one of the best known in the world. Poland was his passion," film director and head of the Polish Filmmakers' Association Jacek Bromski told TVN24 broadcaster.

"For us, for the community he was a pillar of strength, everybody gathered around him. He was always present in the life of the film-making community, he was a mentor, a paragon."

Wajda's last film, "Afterimage", a biopic about avant-garde painter Władysław Strzemiński, tells a story of an artist struggling to overcome the pressures of Stalinist dogma on art shortly after World War Two.

Wajda, who has spent decades using subtle cinematic language and hidden meanings to avoid overt clashes with the communist authorities, has drawn parallels between Strzemiński's efforts and the current conservative government's policy of promoting "national culture".

"We are facing a moment when the authorities are trying to influence art," Wajda, who has criticized the Law and Justice (PiS) government on several occasions, told the local PAP news agency in September.

"'National art' is being discussed, what is art and what isn't. I made a film about the past which says that influencing art is not the role of a government. Artists should do art, not the authorities."

"Afterimage" has been submitted as Poland's candidate for best Foreign Language Oscar.

(Reporting by Marcin Goettig; Editing by Andrew Heavens)