Andrzej Wajda’s biographical feature about Lech Wałęsa will be the Polish candidate for best foreign language film.
Robert Więckiewicz as "Wałęsa" in Andrzej Wajda's film, photo. Marcin Makowski / MAKUFLY / Akson Studio
In a recent interview, Andrzej Wajda admitted that only now, with water under the bridge since the days of Solidarność, that he felt the time was right for a biography of the mustachioed nobelist. He did so in order to help acquaint the younger generations with the legendary union activist and politician. The film is the third panel of his history trilogy begun with Man of Marble and Man of Hope.
The new film's plot revolves around events of the 1980s that led to the end of communism in Poland. The film is now the Polish candidate for an Academy Award in the foreign-language category.
Robert Więckiewicz in Andrzej Wajda's "Wałęsa. Man of Hope", photo: Marcin Makowski/MAKUFLY/Akson Studio
Two decades in the life of Lech Wałęsa, leader of the Solidarity trade union and Poland's first post-Communist president, filmed by the nation's master chronicler, was reason enough for a long standing ovation honoring director Andrzej Wajda at the 70th Venice International Film Festival.
The premiere was marked by Wajda's reception of the Persol prize from the Venice International Film Festival, celebrating him as a "legend of international cinema". Alberto Barbera, director of the festival, states:
Wajda is not just the most emblematic director in post-war Polish filmmaking. He is the director who has been capable, in his work (over 50 films in his more than 60-year career), of raising the most decisive and important questions about the history of his country, and consequently, of Europe in its entirety...
Andrzej Wajda is no stranger to awards, receiving the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in Venice at the 1998 festival and the Oscar for Lifetime Achievement in 2000, to name several more recent accolades. The master of cinema calls Wałęsa. Man of Hope the hardest film of his life. "I am an old man, an old film director, and this might be the last film in my life," the Washington Post quotes him as saying. "But I would not want to part with life without having made this movie. This is my duty." Wałęsa. Man of Hope completes the trilogy begun by Man of Marble (1977) and its sequel Man of Iron (1981), and shows the evolution of modern Poles and their country through the prism of their discontent with the nation's imposed communist system.
An exceptional filmmaker and an exceptional festival brought together two 70th anniversaries: that of the Venice festival and Lech Wałęsa's 70th birthday. Wałęsa attended the premiere screening in the company of his wife and the Polish Minister of Culture Bogdan Zdrojewski.
The Venice red carpet and the enthusiastic reception of both men, Wajda and Wałęsa, reaffirmed their position as celebrities and figureheads, then the critics' response to the new film was twofold. The Moscow daily Moskovskij Komsomolec review reads, "We will most likely never again see such great films about socialist times. [...] Andrzej Wajda is 87 years old. [...] He lives and breathes this topic. He is incapable of not making films about what he lived through." Italy's La Repubblica writes that the screening was an historical event.
Meanwhile, Polish critic Urszula Lipińska calls it an "intimate drama" more than a historical film, "a personal story, not too overburdened with facts, almost a family story that more than anything shows that the Solidarity revolution took place in private homes and impacting them at the same time". Another Polish reviewer, Zdzisław Pietrasik, notices that for the first time Wajda gives more attention to the topic rather than the cinematic form, explaining that "Everything is subject to the rigour of the narration through which the creator wants to show as many episodes of his protagonist's life as possible. At the same time he takes care that the message is clear and understandable for viewers who lack knowledge of Poland's most recent history".
International rights to Wałęsa. Man of Hope have been acquired by Films Boutique in Berlin. The company's CEO Jean-Christophe Simon said: "We always found the story of Lech Wałęsa to be universal and very inspiring for the audience: if a simple worker can turn into such a charismatic leader, resisting the Communist authorities, and change the world the way he did, then anything can happen." The film also screens in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, with Polish cinema release scheduled for the 4th of October.
Editor: MJ, 06/09/2013, updated by LB 18/09/2013
Sources: BS's article for Culture.pl, Variety, La Biennale, Washington Post, FilmNewEurope