Sunday, October 13, 2013

Film Review: Walesa : Man of Hope

"Walesa: Man of Hope"  **** (out of ****)

This weekend the 49th annual Chicago International Film Festival has begun. For my first day attending the festival I saw the latest film from the legendary Polish filmmaker Andrezj Wajda, "Walesa: Man of Hope" (2013).

Who else but Wajda, the greatest Polish filmmaker, could have given us a movie such as this? What other Polish director has, as often as Wajda, put Poland's history on screen? For those of us who admire this great man's work, "Walesa" is a film made in the finest tradition of Wajda's best films. It is the kind of movie, if made in America, would be a sure Oscar contender. The story of a working man who achieved great things out of love for his country and a cause he believed in. An amazing true story.

Like so many of Wajda's films, "Walesa" is a story about the workers. Their daily struggle to be able to make a living and the hardship of living under Communist rule. Lech Walesa (Robert Wieckiewicz) worked at a shipyard and one day became the face and the voice of the Solidarity movement in the 1980s. Eventually he would receive the Nobel Peace Prize and would live to see the end of Communist rule in Eastern Europe.

"Walesa" is a film which belongs side by side with "Man of Marble" (1977) and its sequel "Man of Iron" (1981) two films about a man, also a worker, who came to represent the spirit of average workers during the 1950s. Those movies are among Wajda's greatest achievements and "Walesa" should one day be considered a classic.

Personally I didn't know much about Walesa's life. And since this is a motion picture I am sure much of this man's life was left out. Both the good and the bad, but especially the bad. I'm sure the movie played fast and loose with the facts. Remember the old line of the movie, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", when the legend becomes fact, print the legend. But what "Walesa" does is show us why this man is important. Why a movie about him needed to be made and why he is an important part of Poland's history. Even if we know things are left out, it doesn't matter. The audience can still tell this is a story which carries importance. This man accomplished something.

One of the interesting aspects of the film, in order to help the viewer understand the historic importance of what we are seeing, Wajda uses the old "Zelig" (1983) and "Forrest Gump" (1994) gimmick of using real archive footage and inserting the actors in them. Though at the end of the film we do see the real Lech Walesa, in one of the movie's more sentimental moments.

It is very difficult to say if this movie will find distribution in America. The last film I saw by Wajda at the film festival was "Sweet Rush (Tatarak, 2009)". It was never released in America though his movie "Katyn" (2009) was. My gut tells me a film such as this will not be distributed. Regardless, this is a masterpiece. One of the finest films Andrzej Wajda has directed.