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Poland 2013
Directed by
Andrzej Wajda
127 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Walesa: Man Of Hope

 Wałesa: Man Of Hope can be regarded as a companion piece to Wajda’s earlier programmatic films, Man Of Marble (1977) and Man Of Iron (1981)  which dealt with the Polish trade union environment from which the subject of this film, Solidarity leader Lech Wałesa, emerged (Wałesa appeared in the latter film as himself).

Skilfully mixing documentary footage with fictionalized recreations, Wajda’s film follows the story of Wałesa (played by Robert Wieckiewicz) whose first engagement as a political activist was during the Gdansk shipyard strike of 1970 when he was a shipyard electrician. Eventually he would win the Noble Peace prize and go on to become Poland’s first post-Communist President. It’s a remarkable story especially as Walesa had no political ambitions per se but was driven solely by a sense of natural justice.

In order to tell his story Wadja uses the device of recreating Walesa’s 1981 interview with the then-famous Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci (Maria Rosaria Omaggio) shortly before martial law was declared and Walesa was arrested for inciting unrest.  The interview was an important factor  in making Walesa known in the West and it works well to structure the narrative, and if Fallaci’s questions seem already disposed to myth-making this works well with Wadja’s heroizing intent.

The subject matter like the earlier films in the loose trilogy is relatively dry even though one feels that a good deal of detail has been left out and it will appeal most to audiences who have a personal experience of the harrowing times. The broader appeal is in the depiction of Walesa as a leader – an individual who charisma was a function not of looks and charm but a fearless determination to stand up for what he believed in, helped by a an unapologetic confidence (some would say vanity) and a natural flair for oratory.  As Walesa. Wieckiewicz gives a compelling performance whilst Agnieszka Grochowska is empathetic as Walesa's forbearing wife, Danuta, who was left to look after their six children largely single-handed.

The 87year old Wajda has long been making passionately political films about his homeland and particularly about his people’s struggle to free themselves of first their Nazi, then Soviet, oppressors.  Wałesa: Man of Hope is a commendable addition to his body of work.




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