Utpal Borpujari

February 7, 2014

Polish master Wajda’s moving biopic of Walesa mesmerizes IFFI


(Published in Eastern Chronicle, 29-12-2013)

By Utpal Borpujari

Panaji (Goa): He was stubborn, brash, street smart and was not afraid of taking on the authorities. He was a family man, but his trade union activities took a major toll on his family life. His trade union activities not only changed the politics in his home country but led the foundations of the breaking of the Berlin Wall and an end to Communist regimes in most of Europe. The man is Lech Walesa, the man with a Walrus moustache, the man who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership of the Solidarity movement in Poland.

Polish master filmmaker Andrzej Wajda, at 87 , has come up with a remarkable film on this remarkable man’s life, which clearly is a tribute to the never-say-die activist politician. Having been showcased earlier in Venice and Toronto film festivals, Wajda’s “Walesa: Man of Hope” moved viewers to the core at the 44th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) here on Thursday night, with its narration full of political tension, dramatic sequences and some deft touches that brought out Walesa the man and the politician deftly.

Structured almost like a docu-fiction, the film, with its recreation of the famous labour unrests and strikes in Poland that catapulted Walesa to the status of a living legend, kept the audiences captivated throughout its 127-minute duration.
Wajda, the master director that he is, does not go for a straight biographical narrative, but interweaves episodes from Walesa’s political life with his personal life in the backdrop of the often snow-laden landscape of Poland. Aiding Wajda in his endeavour is Robert Wieckiewicz, who not only looks remarkably like Walesa himself, but also brings the character alive with a nuanced performance
Agnieszka Grochowska, as Walesa’s wife Danuta, gives a powerful complement to Wieckiewicz’s portrayal through a performance that is full of dignity and courage.

In fact, the most powerful scene in the film perhaps is the one in which Danuta returns from Norway after accepting the Nobel Prize on behalf of her husband (who did not go fearing he would not be allowed back into the country by the Communist regime if he left Poland) and is strip-searched by the security forces in a clear intimidatory tactic.

The strength of the film comes from the fact that Wajda does not make it a boring, straight narrative and brings out both the strengths and weaknesses of Walesa the leader and the Walesa the human being, even while he has paid a clear tribute to the man.

Shot majorly on location in Gdańsk, where Walesa cut his political teeth as a trade union leader in the shipyard, the film starts in the 1970s when Walesa first participated in the protests, and then shifts to 1980s when he became the undisputed leader of the workers by taking on the authorities in an uncompromising way.
Wajda’s “Walesa: Man of Hope” is a remarkable film in every way – be it cinematically, dramatically and historically. And it never falters in capturing the life of a man who was one of the most-influential global leaders of the 20th century.

(www.easternchronicle.net: go to archives and select 29-12-2013 edition)


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