Andrez Wajda’s biopic film “Walesa. Man of Hope” revolves around Lech Walesa (Robert Wieckiewics), a libertarian and revolutionary, who brought the first trade union to Poland during its communist regime. The film takes us through his life, his deeds and the driving force behind the two.
The film opens with a lady and her assistant in her car. They pull up in front of Walesa’s apartment and she introduces herself a famous journalist from the West. The two of them sit beside Walesa about to begin their interview. Walesa brashly asks her, “Is this interview going to hurt me or help me?” “That depends entirely on what you say,” she says composed. Meanwhile, we see that someone else is monitoring and recording their conversations. We learn later that this person is an official of the country.
Walesa takes us back in time, when he was a simple electrician working in a shipyard. The workers’ conditions are poor; the pay is low, the leave policy is stringent and the working hours milk them dry. The government wants to get work done at any cost, inconsiderate of those doing the work. Most of the workers accept, in defeat, that things are just as good as they can get. For Walesa, though, they can always get better. One guy even reminds him “You aspire for too much, you get shit.” Walesa cannot afford to entertain that thought. This is why he is called Man of Hope.
Walesa takes the lead and speaks against authority, echoing the indignation the workers feel but choose to repress. He keeps up with this behaviour, consistently displaying his intolerant nature and eventually becomes the chief of the tribe. He goes on to set up a workers’ union and the men come together to wage war.
Walesa tells us that this rebellion isn’t as much about him feeling indignant or seeking justice as it is about him channelizing an anger that’s always present inside him. Every act or scenario of injustice only serves him an opportunity to draw from that well of anger deep within. It’s not a hateful anger or rage, but rather the desire to be at war, battling with someone for something.
And film-maker Wajda shows his conquests just like that, in a glorifying manner. He shows Walesa as a cocky, confident “bull of the herd” who takes charge and gets things done only because he enjoys the whole process involved. It not only gives him an outlet for his anger, but also a sense of identity, both of which he grows to need. He simply cannot compromise. Even though the government gives in to his demands, he feels compelled to ask for more. There’s a piece of dialogue on that. It is both starting and amusing.
-- “We just gave you everything you asked for!”
-- “I was satisfied then. Now, I’m hungry.”
Another amusing piece of dialogue gives us an insight into how Walesa sees intellectuals- “They keep talking and talking for hours and arrive at the same conclusion by the end of the day that I come up with in five minutes. And this is why I can never feel small in their presence. I like being around intellectuals.” A peculiar take that remains consistent with his character.
Even with all the beatings and the deaths (that come with defying authority), this whole thing is crafted with delight and conveyed in a sensational, humorous manner. Nevertheless, I still felt that such a representation of Walesa only undermines his heroic deeds. I’m unable to take this character as seriously as I probably should.
When all’s said and done, Walesa is this cool man in this entertaining movie. I wish they had dug deeper into him, and revealed more of what happens inside of him. Here, he’s just a guy who is unfettered; a freight train with no brakes. All the movie wants to say is- You simply cannot stop this man.
But film-maker Wajda is very clear on what he wants to do here. He holds Walesa in high regard and is keen on not just communicating his character, but glorifying him, so we can see him in the same positive regard. Walesa’s shown as a man who goes with his gut, someone who just knows how to say the right things...someone who has a commanding presence. And actor Robert Wieckiewics embodies all of these qualities perfectly. While the dialogue and the circumstances he finds himself in paint him as a hero, it’s the accompanying music that elevates him to Rock-Star status. It blends well with the film doing full justice to Wajda’s approach.
I also liked the way they show Walesa’s family (of seven) cope with the ebb-and-flow nature of his life. At one point, his wife attempts to stop him from taking part in the riot. He gets fired from different jobs repeatedly, but his popularity amongst the workers steadily inclines. He even ends up in prison a few times. But, none of this slows him down. He even tells his wife, “I don’t want to, but I have to.” I think this line clearly reveals how much he has at stake here.
In retrospect, I don’t find Walesa inspiring or his portrayal convincing. I have difficulty believing that this is all there is to him or that a personality could remain static after a certain point. I don’t believe that I know Lech Walesa from this film. I feel as if I have acquainted myself with just his persona and not the man himself. While I don’t object to Wajda’s approach, I feel the film hasn’t fully achieved its potential. But that isn't to say my cinematic appetite wasn’t satiated when I walked out of Walesa. Man of Hope.