Review: WALESA: MAN OF HOPE, A Compelling, Character-Driven Look At An Anti-Communist Hero

Patryk Czekaj, Contributing Writer
Being a charismatic, unhesitating, unstoppable leader and the main driving force of the underground Solidarity movement during the turbulent Communism period in post-war Poland, Lech Walesa has inevitably become a living legend and a symbol of independence not only for Polish citizens but also for the whole world. His unparalleled can-do attitude allowed him to break political boundaries, meaning that his totally peaceful and downright expressive fight for freedom inspired and opened the door for other countries of the Eastern block to engage in a bloodless battle against the evil regime. Walesa understood that plain actions, without thinking prematurely about their consequences, could unite a nation and ultimately lead it to a desired goal.

Walesa: Man of Hope, directed by Andrzej Wajda, one of the most influential Polish directors in history, tells the story of a man who, from a regular electrician working at a Gdansk Shipyard, became a world-famous freedom fighter, Noble Peace Prize winner, and finally the President of Poland. The film's compelling character-driven storyline is propelled by Robert Wieckiewicz's fantastic performance. It is a definite best in his career, and an unquestionable tour de force of getting into character. Not only does he looks exactly like the Solidarity leader, but also all the hand gestures and the specific way of talking immediately remind of that person giving wonderfully refreshing speeches during repeated strikes and outbreaks that took place in the aforementioned Gdansk Shipyard, and later on in other parts of Poland, to which the anti-communism campaign spread in the blink of an eye. What makes his performance even more astounding is the fact that it's as if Wieckiewicz wants to subconsciously convince the audience that he himself could've been an even more worthy candidate for the leader of such a challenging fight.

Though Wieckiewicz is perfectly able to carry the film's storyline on his own, it's Agnieszka Grochowska who gives Walesa: Man of Hope a more private, hearty and welcoming touch. She plays Danuta, Walesa's devoted wife, mother of eight, and a genuinely assertive woman who wasn't afraid both to stand up to enemy law reinforces and to show her feelings in front of other people. Walesa knows that even though he has the power to lift the spirits of a crushed nation, he needs to respect the fact that his wife is the undisputed head of the household and the scenes that take place there give an interesting backstage tour of their daily lives, whether it's spending time with the kids or debating the importance of the privacy that became the true victim of Walesa's gradual rise to fame.

The film is told through a number of retrospectives presented within Oriana Fallaci's interview with Walesa from 1981. Wajda carefully shows all the most important parts of the titular character's life, placing them in chronological order from the moment when Walesa was still an unknown electrician and a stubborn opponent of the ruling party, up until the time he received the Nobel Prize and visited Washington as a true international hero. The overall patriotic atmosphere of Walesa: Man of Hope is enhanced by a great set of grievous and sentimental Polish songs and lots of archive footage from those tragic times.

The good thing is that Wajda didn't create a picture that shows only the good sides of the film's protagonist, but he added some parts, like when Walesa sings the so-called declaration of loyalty under pressure, which caused an anti-Walesa backslash that lasts until these days, or how his absence at home affected the relationship with Danuta. Not only is it a stirring and emotionally engaging addition to Wajda's remarkable directorial career (and a visible, significant ode to his two previous films which chronicle the same period - Man of Marble and Man of Iron), but it's also an enormously valuable history lesson for those who aren't familiar with the situation in Poland before the collapse of communism.
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