RiverRun Review – Walesa: Man of Hope- The Trilogy Concludes

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by Camel City Dispatch

By Chad Nance
“Nie chcę, ale muszę (I don’t want to, but I have to)”

– Lech Walesa

Given the opportunity to explain to you why they make films, all of the filmmakers entered in this year’s RiverRun International Film Festival would tell you something very similar to the quote from the Polish union leader, Nobel Prize Winner, anti-Soviet activist and – finally- President of Poland Lech Walesa above. Ask the 87-year-old director of Man of Hope, Andrzej Wajda, and he would surely answer the same way. His film (screening at RiverRun) is the third part of a trilogy that began in 1976 with his film Man of Marble and continued in 1981 with Man of Iron.

man of hope
man of hope

Marble was about a bricklayer who is killed (the first film leaves the outcome ambiguous, but the sequel is clear) during the Gdańsk workers riots of 1970. Incidentally these were the very riots that are portrayed as radicalizing a young Walesa in Man of Hope. This film was followed in 1981 with Man of Iron, which follows the brick-layer’s son as he helps lead a strike at the historic Gdańsk Shipyards. Walesa played himself in this second film of the trilogy.

Man of Hope brings all three films together practically and thematically beginning with Walesa laying his wedding ring and watch on the kitchen table and telling his long-suffering and tough-as-nails wife to sell them if he doesn’t come home. Then Walesa (Robert Wieckiewicz) walks out onto the streets to try to calm his fellow worker’s violent anger at the Soviet puppet regime before things get out of hand. Using archival footage, footage from Man of Marble and his own memory of the events, Wajda uses restraint and class in portraying the riots. He mixes film stocks in way that will remind many of Oliver Stone’s 90’s artistic peak, but applies that tool box in a more cohesive and less obnoxious way. Rather than becoming a show-off stylistic choice, Wajda applies his technique like a true master providing the audience with a “You are there” immediacy while never becoming coy or distracting.

Polish star Robert Wieckiewicz’s performance is a stunning inhabitation of the legendary leader so complete and total that when footage of the real Walesa is used to close out the film the effect is completely seamless. He does not portray Walesa as a saint with no stain, but gives us a cocky, self-assured sinner who will only make confession to the Pope and refuses to bow for any man. This confidence in his own abilities along with a huge working-class chip on his shoulder makes Walesa compelling in the way that Muhammad Ali is compelling. Wieckiewicz plays a Walesa supremely confident about the tide of history and his place upon the wave.

The lovely Agnieszka Grochowska plays Walesa’s supremely capable wife who tolerates her husband’s arrogance, infidelities and occasional abandonment because she too feels the pull of history and understands that her husband may not be the best man in the world, but he is a man uniquely of his time. Her first motivation is clearly her love of the man, then her love of their large family and finally her love and belief in the Catholic Church, which carries her through the darkest of times. Grochowska is a powerhouse turn that quietly steals the film from everyone else.

man of hope
man of hope

The soundtrack is also spectacular.  Wadja’s use of 80’s era Polish punk and reggae music (you read that right) brings a rebellious immediacy to  this story of Poland’s worker rebelling against the oppressive Communist (like American arch-conservatives the Communists pretended to be on the side of “The People” while exploiting them.)  The music makes the film and propels Wadja imagery and Walesa’s story forward like a bat out of hell.

Wadja’s film follows the complete and eipc scope of Walesa’s political career. By the time it arrives at the Gdańsk Shipyards strike we find a director in supreme control of his instrument and telling us the story of his own life and the life of his country as much as he is the story of a man. Man of Hope makes a stirring end to Wadja’s life’s work and his trilogy. Where Man of Marble ended in defeat, Man of Iron ended with aspirations of freedom (personified by Walesa himself), Man of Hope ends in triumph as a less than humble electrician rises to the zenith of global fame and brings his countryman out of the darkness behind the Iron Curtain. With Russian sabers once more rattling in Eastern Europe, this film could not be any more relevant and important. At 87 Wadja once more shows us why he is a master filmmaker and why, in the end, he and Walesa still matter.



the real walesa at gdansk shipyards
the real walesa at gdansk shipyards

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