Popiełuszko. Freedom Is Within Us - Rafał Wieczyński


Father Jerzy Popiełuszko is a legend of Solidarity. Born in 1947 in the Białystok region, he was ordained in May 1972 by Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński. He was the chaplain of Warsaw nurses, worked at St. Anne's Church which serves the university community, and in June 1980 arrived at the St. Stanisław Kostka parish in Żoliborz district. During the strikes of August 1980 he provided pastoral guidance to the steel mill workers on strike at Huta Warszawa, and subsequently became their chaplain. After martial law was imposed on 13 December 1981 he didn't stop supporting Solidarity. With his parish priest, Father Teofil Bogucki, he celebrated Masses for the Homeland which brought in thousands of the faithful from different circles; he was an active charity worker - also for the benefit of victims of martial law, and his home was used as a contact point by activists and sympathizers of the banned Solidarity trade union. He was an initiator of the Working People's Pilgrimage to Jasna Góra in September 1983. Before that, in May 1983, he conducted the funeral of Grzegorz Przemyk - a Warsaw secondary-school{C}{C}{C}{C} student beaten to death by the communist police, the son of Barbara Sadowska, a sympathizer of the opposition. The communist authorities tried to restrict Father Jerzy's activity as it was gaining wide public support. Accused of abusing church institutions and practices in order to carry on political activity, subjected to provocations and kept under surveillance by the secret police, he was arrested after a search of his home during which previously planted explosives and printing materials were found. He was accused of "activity harmful to the interests of People's Poland", an offence punishable by up to 10 years in prison. He was released upon the intervention of church authorities. Despite preparations for his trial, Father Popiełuszko did not cease his activity, and even refused to go away to the Vatican to study, an option suggested by the Polish primate, Cardinal Józef Glemp. He was kidnapped in October 1984 and then brutally murdered by functionaries of the anti-church Department IV of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Father Jerzy Popiełuszko's funeral turned into a demonstration of many thousands of people against the methods used by the state apparatus of oppression. Father Jerzy's grave became the destination of pilgrimages of Roman Catholics from Poland and the whole world, including Pope John Paul II. Father Popiełuszko's beatification process is currently under way.

Jerzy Popiełuszko was the subject of several documentaries as well as Agnieszka Holland's feature film To Kill a Priest from 1988 which was based on his life. However, the main theme of that film, with Christopher Lambert in the leading role, was not so much the priest's activity as the mechanisms of the system of repression which led to the priest's death. Rafał Wieczyński - once a teenage actor (e.g. in Wojciech J. Has's Niezwykła podróż Baltazara Kobera / The Tribulations of Balthazar Kober), later a maker of documentaries on religious themes - prepared for this project very carefully. The preparations took five years, shooting - with 7,000 actors and extras - lasted about 7 months. The film was shot in the places where the events actually took place, and often features their actual participants. The plot covers Father Jerzy's life from childhood, through military service in a special unit for seminarians, to maturity - the focus being on Popiełuszko's religious and patriotic activity. The film manages to portray not just the course of events but also the special atmosphere of that time. First and foremost, though, it presents a believable picture of Father Jerzy, whose charisma attracted so many people prepared to go in whatever direction he sent them.

Credit for this believability is due to Adam Woronowicz, an actor whose earlier film achievements were modest but who won numerous awards for his theatre roles. Woronowicz has taken full advantage of this opportunity, not only building a very human image of someone who is now a national myth, but also offering an interpretation that measures up to the best achievements of the great Polish actors featured alongside him - to mention Zbigniew Zamachowski, Joanna Szczepkowska (who plays her own mother), Marta Lipińska, and Krzysztof Kolberger.

"It is a film you won't expect", says Rafał Wieczyński about his project. "You might not expect just how interesting Father Jerzy Popiełuszko was as a person. You won't expect just how dramatic and interesting his life was. Maybe you won't expect the grand scale, special effects, and humour we have tried to include in this film in order to move beyond the usual thinking in terms of martyrdom, because this was something not suited to Father Jerzy. Neither will you expect that even today, in the 21st century, this man can be a role model for many, and a friend in everyday life."
  • Popiełuszko. Wolność jest w nas / Popiełuszko. Freedom Is Within Us, Poland 2009. Screenplay and director: Rafał Wieczyński, cinematography: Grzegorz Kędzierski, music: Paweł Sydor, set design: Andrzej Kowalczyk, costumes: Anna Hornostaj, editing: Marek Ciszewski, sound: Maria Chilarecka, Uwe Dresch. Cast: Adam Woronowicz (Father Jerzy Popiełuszko), Marcin Klejno (little Aluś Popiełuszko), Zbigniew Zamachowski (Ireneusz), Marek Frąckowiak (Father Teofil Bogucki), Radosław Pazura (Piotr), Wojciech Solarz (Florian), Piotr Ligenza (Witek), Martyna Peszko (Marysia), Joanna Szczepkowska (Roma), Marta Lipińska (Janina), Krzysztof Kolberger (Father Chancellor), Antoni Królikowski (Grzegorz Przemyk), Joanna Jeżewska (Barbara Sadowska), and Cardinal Józef Glemp as himself. Production: Focus Producers. Co-production: IF Max-Film S.A. Co-financed by: Polish Film Institute, Mazovia Province Government. Official sponsor: Spółdzielcze Kasy Oszczędnościowo-Kredytowe. Distribution: Kino Świat. Length 149 min. Released on 27 February 2008.


Author: Konrad J. Zarębski, February 2009
 

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