Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Wałęsa: Man of Hope (2013)

Back in the 1980s the world had two famous Poles, Pope John Paul II and Lech Wałęsa, and it always amused and bemused me as a kid to see my dad ribbing his mother, my Irish nan, saying that the only Pole whose portrait should take pride and place on her wall was Lech's. I guess you could say that from thereon in Lech Wałęsa  has always figured in my life. I even recall drawing pictures of him, perhaps in some way I was trying to create that portrait for my dad. Then again, maybe I just liked drawing that big moustache. 

At the age of 87, Polish film-maker Andrzej Wajda offered up this enjoyable biopic of Wałęsa, a belated and somewhat looser conclusion to what has become his Man Of...trilogy (Man of Marble in 1977 and Man of Iron in 1981 are the other two) drawing back the curtain to reveal that the influences of those first two films was really Wałęsa all along. Like those earlier films, Wajda primarily uses a framing device of an interview conducted with Wałęsa by a fascinated visiting reporter Oriana Fallaci, the real-life Italian journalist played here by Maria Rosaria Omaggio, as Wałęsa tells her how this humble electrician from the shipyards of Gdansk became a bullish, brave trade union leader. the founder of the Solitary movement and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. It stops short at 1989, when the Soviet Empire began to crumble and fall and denies us the chance to see Wałęsa subsequent career as president and the troubles that followed. As such, it could be argued it is a rather one-sided affair of a film, one which toes the party line, but equally you could argue that the clue is in the title; Man of Hope, and it is the optimism that propels the drama.  

A brilliant film deserves a brilliant central performance and Wajda gets this with Robert Wieckiewicz's towering turn as Wałęsa, who captures his charm, courage and downright cockiness with some considerably infectious gusto. But Wajda's film isn't just a political biopic, it is also a truly affecting and touching exploration of Wałęsa's relationship with his somewhat long-suffering wife Danuta, played beautifully by Agnieszka Grochowska, and to their growing family of six children. It's a film with as much heart as it has hope.

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