Walesa: Man of Hope (2013)

This late-career effort by the Polish master feels tonally odd, but it gives a broad and largely engaging look at Poland’s most important figure during the Solidarity movement of the 1980s that sparked the decline of Soviet communist rule. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,412

Dir. Andrzej Wajda
2013 | Poland | Biography/Drama | 119 mins | 2.35:1 | Polish & Italian
NC16 (passed clean) for some nudity

Cast: Robert Wieckiewicz, Agnieszka Grochowska, Iwona Bielska
Plot: The depiction of the life of Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of Poland’s Solidarity movement, Lech Walesa, as events in the 1970s lead to a peaceful revolution.
Awards: Won Pasinetti Award – Special Mention (Venice)
International Sales: Films Boutique

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Polish Solidarity Movement; Politics & Humanity
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex

Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

In one of his last films, before he passed away in 2016 at the age of 90, Polish master Andrzej Wajda explored one of the most important figures in his nation’s 20th-century political history. 

Lech Walesa was perhaps the most significant figure of the Solidarity movement of the 1980s that sparked the decline of Soviet communist rule in Poland. 

Walesa: Man of Hope isn’t a full life story of the shipyard electrician who would become the first democratically-elected president of Poland.

Instead, it focuses on those few crucial years of political struggle as he refused to back down from Soviet threats aimed at him and his family, thus earning the respect of the community of working-class labourers. 

With the natural ability to say the right words at the right time to galvanise his followers, Walesa might have seemed like a born leader, though he would be the first to deny that he possessed leadership qualities. 

“I am a man full of great internal anger.”

Wajda portrayed him as a family man, who must sacrifice his time—and put his life on the line—for the sake of effecting transformative change in the stifling political landscape. 

Tonally, the film feels odd, with Wajda’s decision to punctuate the drama with songs that feel more at home in heavy metal or rap music videos rather perplexing—perhaps in a bid for the film to reach out to a younger generation of Polish audiences? 

In that sense, Walesa: A Man of Hope is one of his more mainstream-looking efforts, shot in a style and aesthetic that may not necessarily excite more arthouse-leaning cinephiles. 

It still does its job effectively, which is to introduce more viewers around the world to the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who will turn 79 later this year.  

Grade: B


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