is an electrician with a Nobel Peace Prize and a Presidential Medal of
Freedom. That could be none other than
Lech Wałęsa, the co-founder and leader of Poland’s first independent trade
union, Solidarity. Notoriously
blunt-spoken and inconveniently principled, Wałęsa has become a figure of
controversy in post-Cold War Europe—so much so honorary Academy Award winner
Andrzej Wajda felt compelled to set the record straight on film. Representing
Poland as its official foreign langue Academy Award submission, Wajda’s Walesa, Man of Hope (trailer here), merits serious
award consideration wherever it is eligible.
Więckiewicz is a strong likeness for Walesa, as Wajda would know, since the
Solidarity leader appeared as himself in the director’s 1981 Palme D’Or winning
Man of Iron. Revisiting the era of his classic duology, Wajda
even includes brief Easter egg snippets of Man of Marble and its companion film.
However, Wajda’s fictional characters are merely cinematic window-dressing,
yielding to the historical record.
yet reflective, Walesa was one of the few people capable of impressing
celebrated Italian iconoclast-journalist Oriana Fallaci, whose interview with
the still relatively young Solidarity leader serves as the film’s framing
device. Even at this early stage of his
career, Walesa has accepted his role as a man of destiny. Yet, as he explains to Fallaci (played with
suitably charismatic flair by Maria Rosario Omaggio), it was not always
so. Resolutely opposed to violence on
both moral and pragmatic grounds, Walesa initially advocated more modest
demands. However, he instinctively recognizes
the national zeitgeist has reached a turning point.
Walesa is not hagiography, except
perhaps with regards to Walesa’s long suffering wife Danuta. Więckiewicz’s
portrayal certainly suggests the Solidarity leader did not lack for confidence,
but there is a roguish charm to his bluster (as well as the obvious historical
justification). He also constantly tries
his beloved Danuta’s patience, but the love shines through in all of Więckiewicz’s
scenes with Agnieszka Grochowska. Still,
Wajda clearly has special sympathy for Ms. Walesa, saving his greatest outrage
for the abusive treatment she receives from the authorities when returning from
Oslo with her husband’s Nobel Prize.
a searing indictment of the Communist era, Wajda’s Katyn is tough to beat. While
his Walesa obviously shares some
common themes, it is a different sort of film.
More personal in scope, it celebrates the Walesas, his comrades in
Solidarity, and his unique foibles. While
Katyn’s sense of outrage is impassioned
and visceral, Man of Hope is
celebratory and even nostalgic for the idealism and solidarity (if you will) of
Solidarity’s headiest days.
Frankly, it is rather baffling Walesa: Man of Hope has not had more
Oscar buzz. How many films feature two defining
figures of their eras (Walesa and Fallaci) on-screen, with a third titan (Wajda)
behind the camera? It is a quality
period production, with Magdalena Dipont’s design team perfectly recreating the
look and dank, depressed vibe of Brezhnev-era Gdansk. Refreshingly earnest and
enthusiastic, Wajda’s Walesa gives
thanks for Poland’s new era of freedom and pays tribute to those who fought to
realize it. It is the sort of film all
American civics students should see.
Highly recommended (especially to the Academy) Walesa, Man of Hope should have a considerable life on the festival
circuit and eventual distribution, regardless of what Oscar decides.
Labels: Andrzej Wajda, Communism, Lech Walesa, Oriana Fallaci, Polish Films, Solidarity