Friday, October 25, 2013

Walesa: Man of Hope (orig. Wałęsa. Człowiek z nadziei) [2013]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing listing

Walesa: Man of Hope (orig. Wałęsa. Człowiek z nadziei) [2013] [IMDb] [FW]* (directed by Andrzej Wajda [IMDb] [FW]*, screenplay by Janusz Głowacki [IMDb] [FW]*) is a biopic from Poland about Lech Wałęsa [IMDb] the Nobel Peace Prize winning founder of Poland's Solidarity Trade Union (which played an instrumental role in bringing down Communism in the former Soviet Bloc). The film won Silver Hugo award recently (awarded to Robert Więckiewicz [IMDb] [FW]* for Best Actor for his performance in the film's title role) at the 49th Chicago International Film Festival.  The film also open the upcoming 25th Polish Film Festival in America to be held between Nov 8-24, 2013 here in Chicago.

When writing about another recent biopic, the Hollywood-produced film Jobs [2013] about the legendary cofounder of Apple Computers, I've noted that such films about "great leaders" can be tricky.  They can be fawning works of adulation and/or they can be hatchet jobs.   The current film about Wałęsa made by Andrzej Wajda [IMDb] [FW]* an admitted friend seeks to portray him in folk hero hues that will certainly annoy many, many Westerners (okay many, many Western liberals...) already appalled by the rise and continued presence of the self-evidently contrived, forced winking, flaming saccharine spouting American folksilla Sarah Palin [IMDb-p] [IMDb-ch].  Yet Lech Wałęsa [IMDb] was not Sarah Palin [IMDb-p] [IMDb-ch], was he?  PLEASE ... say it isn't so?  There was much, much more "there" THERE in the Lech Wałęsa [IMDb] of the 1980s, right?  (I do believe that there was much more to Lech Wałęsa [IMDb] and that the film shows this to be so, BUT what a fascinating question to consider when viewing this film! ;-)

The film is built around the device of Lech Wałęsa [IMDb] (played in the film by Robert Więckiewicz [IMDb] [FW]*) being interviewed in the 1980s while Poland was still under the Communists by an Italian journalist (played by Maria Rosario Omaggio [IMDb] [FW]*).  The device is effective because it underlines the unexpected qualities of the man.  It's clear from her somewhat grandiose initial questions that the Italian journalist is (perhaps necessarily) far more accustomed to interviewing preening Italian celebrities or perhaps Italian politicians.  And here she's interviewing a very practical, "down-to-earth" to downright _earthy_ Polish trade-union-leader proudly wearing an Our Lady of Częstochowa lapel pin, who while admitting to an "authoritarian streak" himself (I love that, and respect him _and the screenwriter_ all the more to (having him) admitting to that ;-), HATES PRETENSE OR JARGON.   "Will this interview help me or hurt me?" he asks the journalist as they begin the interview.  "I suppose it depends on your answers to MY questions," the journalist answers, irritated that he's actually posed the first question ... and to her ;-).   Sizing her up then, he shrugs his shoulders as if to say "What the heck ;-)" and consents to proceed ;-).  Note here the obvious: The right-brewed faux populist Sarah Palin that we know would NEVER EVER CONSENT to an interview like this and in a manner like that. "What the heck?"  Take a chance?  Right.  Instead, she'd SAFELY SPEW on FoxNews about the "lame street media...."

Where then to start Wałęsa's story?  The film-makers decide that December 1970 would be a good place to begin.  Why then?   Well in December 1970 there was an (illegal) strike at Wałęsa's place of employment, the Gdansk (then V.I. Lenin...) shipyard.  He was on the strike committee.  Yet he and his wife Danuszka (played magnificently throughout the film by Agnieszka Grochowska [IMDb] [FW]*) are about to have their first child.  Danuszka's just gone into labor and Lech's heading out the door of their tiny apartment with her to go with her to the hospital when he receives word that the strike (that he's voted against) has begun.  What to do?  GIVEN HONESTLY ONLY A SPLIT SECOND'S AMOUNT OF TIME TO THINK ABOUT IT, he decides (1) to ask his neighbor (present) to go with his wife to the hospital, (2) take off his watch and wedding ring, placing them in the hand of his aghast wife ("Lechku, what THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?") telling her "I'm sorry, BUT THIS IS IMPORTANT ... ;-)" ("BUT ... I'M IN LABOR....") "And if I don't come back, please sell these (the ring and the watch)," and (3) runs out the door to head to the strike WHERE HE SPENDS HIS TIME TRYING TO CALM THE WORKERS DOWN AND KEEP THEM FROM GETTING KILLED.

Of course he gets arrested.  At the police station, he repeatedly asks if he could talk to his wife.  "I need to know if I have a son or daughter."  "Shut up, you'll find out in five years after we're done with you!" "But you idiot, I tried TO STOP THIS STRIKE." "You have ANY WITNESSES?"  "YES, YOUR OWN POLICE."  The police official checks out the story.  It turns out that several of the baton swinging police officers who had been SUPPORTED BY TANKS remember "a guy with a black mustache" who was trying to calm the workers down.  Surprised, the police official tells him, "Your wife and son are okay."  "I have a son!" Lech happily repeats.

There's still the matter of "signing a few papers" and he'd be allowed home.  What papers?  Well, release forms AND ... one stating that he'd be willing TO COOPERATE WITH THE AUTHORITIES if/when they make "occasional inquiries" about some of the workers in the shipyard.  HE DOESN'T WANT TO SIGN.  But he's told (1) "You've ALREADY COOPERATED WITH US in trying to calm down the workers today" and (2) "You're not going home unless you sign the paper."  NOT NECESSARILY TOTALLY OPPOSED TO CIVIL AUTHORITY (EVEN IF it was being run by the Communists at the time) and WANTING TO SEE HIS WIFE AND SON ... he signs the paper and is allowed to go home (and see his wife and newborn kid).

In this early sequence we see WHY WALESA WAS/IS DIFFERENT:  If at times PERHAPS he was/is "a hack" -- he free admits to the journalist his limited education, his distrust of intellectuals who he believed/believes "think too much," and to trusting/following "his gut" -- HE WAS NEVER A STOOGE.

The story then that followed was of one who was BRAVE, often VERY SMART ("I always had a quick sense of KNOWING EXACTLY HOW MUCH WE COULD ASK OF THE AUTHORITIES AND WHEN") and in the absolute _best sense_ of John Paul II's "acting person" theology FREE long before the Iron Curtain came down.  After being arrested in Gdansk by no less than the local Communist Party Secretary coming to his door (with a Kalishnikow carrying police escort ...) at the proverbial "3 AM" and flown then by Polish military helicopter "somewhere East" (HOW FAR "East" he initially CAN'T TELL) he's told by one of the Polish officials transporting him: "You know our friends 'out East' keep asking us why we shouldn't just dispose of you."  Without missing a beat, Lech replies: "If you kill me, you know you'll just make me a Saint."

So this is one heck of a movie about an authentic folk hero.  Yes, his "shoot from the hip" / "anti-intellectual" limits are obvious (and presented in the film as such).  But that is, of course, the WHOLE POINT OF (CATHOLIC/THEOLOGICAL) SOLIDARITY: We (all of us) have been created by God to complete each other (cf. Col 1:24, Rom 12:3-8, 1 Cor 12:12-26).  Great film folks, great film!

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser. 

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