2013 Vol. 5 No. 3 — Fall / Films

Wałęsa: Man of Hope

FilmStill1How privileged I felt to be able to attend the premiere of Wałęsa: Man of Hope at the Teatr Wielki in Warsaw, Poland, and what a splendid scene unfolded before me as I entered. It was an atmosphere of happiness and excitement as elegantly dressed arrivals greeted friends, all of them aware that this would be a very special evening.

It’s been a long time since I last experienced something like this. In the past few years every expression of patriotism had been hijacked by noisy politicians from whom it’s best to keep one’s distance.


Lech Wałęsa and Polish President Broniłlaw Komorowski at the film’s premiere at Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki

The curtain rose, the producers and sponsors of the film were introduced. Missing among them was Andrzej Wajda. He was not feeling well that evening. While this was disappointing and sad, his absence left the spotlight on just one hero of the evening – a man sitting beside President Komorowski in the presidential loge – Lech Wałęsa.

FilmStill3Robert Więckiewicz, the actor who played Wałęsa, read a letter from Wajda, ending with these strong words: “Let these scenes remind us that there are times in the life of our nation when we are capable of being united.”

Today it is easy to forget that indeed it was so, yet it is also hard to believe that Wajda’s film will somehow be able to repair a fractured nation. Nevertheless, I think that many of today’s opponents of Wałęsa will want to see this film. Because it is unquestionably a mirror of our times.

WAŁĘSAMan of Hope is not an outstanding work of art but that is not what I value in it. It is, after all, very hard to relate history that is so recent that we can still feel its breath on the back of our necks, and its hero is here among us.

WAŁĘSAAnd yet this film is a pleasure to watch, feeling the whole time that our history, our living history, is unfolding before us; we are conscious of the fact that the director himself was an active participant in the events, and a witnesses to the great drama unfolding before him. It is an important film, a necessary film. It doesn’t matter that the narration is rather wooden. Wajda doesn’t delve into psychology, is not much concerned with an artist’s eye for beauty. He made sure that the acting is superb and concentrates on what is the most important; he knows what will quickly fade from memory.

WalesaFilmPoster_engThis film is Wajda’s version of history. There will be other versions. However, Man of Hope, is, in my opinion, a credible document. It is emotional, because that is the temperament of both Wałęsa and Wajda. It is optimistic, and proves that there are times in history when one man can achieve a great deal. And at a certain moment such a man appeared in Poland.

The director selected scenes from Wałęsa’s life in order to reveal the communist governing class and thus carefully constructed the context, the historical reality. Every scene included details that illustrated the reality of the People’s Republic in the 1970s revealing in them the fundamental changes in the life of Polish society at that time, changes that ultimately led to their victory over communism.

Wajda used as a foundation for the film Wałęsa’s interview with the great Italian journalist, Oriana Fallaci. This part of the film ends in 1981, just before the imposition of martial law.

WAŁĘSAFallaci’s interview serves two purposes: it tells the story of the events of December 1970 and, at the same time, it is a faithful portrait of the leader of Solidarity – his intelligence and heroism, his ignorance and brazenness. It also shows the connections between individual actions, sometimes coincidental, sometimes unexpected, that together created a tidal wave that carried Wałęsa to leadership. The film is not a hagiography. Wajda does include Wałęsa’s encounter with the UB, the security police, but he does not attach too much importance to it. This episode becomes irrelevant considering the scale and the force of the changes Wałęsa brought about. Wajda’s scenario included all that is most important to the truth, and to the final result.

WalesaFilmPoster_polThis film is for those who are proud of the means by which the Poles transformed the system, the way Poles brought about the breakdown of the Soviet Bloc, and also for those who do not know much about Poland and Poland’s role in tearing down the Iron Curtain. And it is important also for the coming generations of Poles who will no longer know about life in the People’s Republic or the difficult, disciplined and united journey to freedom.

Obviously, not everything in this period of our history turned out as well as we would have liked, nor was everything in the film successful. Without a doubt, the leading actors were superb. Wałęsa himself will be the subject of many more interpretations. But this was the first, and it will stay with us. It will continue to remind us: What is really important in the life of a nation?

FilmStill2Wajda deserves full honours for completing his magisterial triptych, a work of Homeric proportions. After Man of Marble, after Man of Iron, Man of Hope – what a wonderful title – is the artistic crown on the preceding record of Polish history, despite all its mistakes and losses, the era ultimately ended successfully. Man of Hope is the crowning glory of the lifetime achievement of an outstanding artist, and a gift of favorable winds on our nation’s sails.

WATCH the film trailer


Malgorzata Dzieduszycka-Ziemilska
Diplomat, journalist, author, traveler. Prior to 1989, she was a theatre critic and organized an avantgarde theatre festival. As an official in the post-Communist government, she served as the consul-General in Montreal, as permanent representative of Poland at UNESCO in Paris, and as Minister Plenipotentiary for the Jewish diaspora. Her recent work includes several cultural exhibits and television programs, and several books, the last a reportage of her travels in Mongolia, "Wszyscy jesteśmy nomadami" ("We Are All Nomads").
Tags: , , , , , ,


  1. Thanks for the latest issue of CR. Am looking forward to the read. Bravo to authors and editor(s) !

    I was thrilled by the film review of WALESA. Exciting. Important. And so well done.
    Can’t wait to see the film !


  2. Kinia Adamczyk Kinia Adamczyk says:

    Małgosiu, so nice to read you!

  3. i am really enjoy reading your post. awesome.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *