Walesa–Man of Hope

Abhijit Ghosh-Dastidar

The Kolkata International Film Festival (November 2013) had an utterly distinctive vision and mature film styles, building on the best of contemporary world cinema, retrospective of Adoor Gopalakrishnan (India), Garin Nugroho (Indonesia) and Reha Erdem (Turkey), homages to Billy Wilder (USA) and Nagisa Oshima (Japan) and selects from Asian, Bengali and Indian Cinema.

Andreej Wajda’s ‘‘Walesa, Man of Hope’’ (Poland, 2013, colour, 124 mins) is a companion piece to Wajda’s ‘‘Man of Marble’’ (1977) and ‘‘Man of Iron’’ (1981). The narrative is built around Walesa’s interview with Italian journalist, Oriana Fallaci (Maria Rosaria Omaggio), which took place in March 1981. Scenes from the Gdansk Shipyard pass to Walesa, shuffling papers for an interview. Walesa was unknown seven years earlier. Oriana is authoritarian and has a dictatorial style. Remaining eccentric and disarming, Walesa (Robert Wieckiewicz) ponders over responsibility towards country and history. He relates his early life as a shipyard electrician, contented with his young wife, Danuta (Agniezka Grozhowslka) and a growing family of six children. Black and White footage harks back to 12 December 1970, when the Council of Ministers approved the increase in prices of food in Poland. There are long ques before empty shops. Cost of train engines are falling. Riot police and tanks attempt to control shipyard workers on strike in Gdansk of December 1970. Walesa brings home a pram. He appeals for freedom and people to control themselves. Police arrest Walesa, threaten his family, but release him in return for signing a paper agreeing to inform on union comrades. Strikers are beaten up after arrest. In the 1970 riot scene, a protester, Rysiek’s feet gets crushed under a tank. The film interview period stretches from December 1970 to August 1980. Walesa is on a strike committee, and is charged by polish state authorities for instigating riots. He visits a hospital where his son is born. He is full of internal anger, and demands penalties from those who failed to produce. Meetings are conducted with Mijjack, a dissenter.

A young couple distributes pamphlets on a train. Police intercept and pull out proscribed pamphlets. The Workers Defence Committee demands amnesty for all arrested workers. The disturbed situation calls for re-evaluation of law, labour ethics and dignity. Walesa smuggles out pamphlets from an underground printing press. Police take Walesa and the little boy in the pram full of pamphlets to the police station. Wife, Danuta’s house is raided. Walesa finds the prison a good place for thinking, and conducts political tutorials. He loses his job after ten years of dedication, and demands law to overcome landlessness. There are strikes at all Polish ports, and a hunger strike by Anna Waliknovis, demanding raising wages. While authorities warn of dismissals if the strikes are not called off, Walesa suggests an open air Holy Mass, to bring back people. Strike demands and pleas for elections are written on hand bills. News on work stoppages in ‘Solidarity News’ pamphlets are censored. Walesa supports the view that free trade unions will protect material and social interests, and emphasizes that he is an electrical worker, and not a politician. Coal miners are on strike. Amid loud jazz and pop music, Poland’s Prime Minister announces that strikes will be granted, under new regulation for trade unions. Lech Walesa is arrested by communists, and passing motorists denounce. Though there are no fears of Soviet tanks, martial law is introduced in December 1981. Socialism is accepted by the whole nation. Walesa’s interment continues, and Radio Free Europe becomes the voice of independent Poland. The Pope sends a letter and security forces spread disinforation. TV screens display Breznev’s coffin and last rites. There is jubilation as Walesa returns home, and he refuses to accept charges of meeting underground leaders of Solidarity, and exchanges with foreign agencies. In December 1983, Walesa wins the Nobel Prize for peace, and hits ‘Time’ magazine cover. His wife receives the Nobel Price in Oslo, and on return to Poland, is subjected to a body search at the airport. 1989 witnesses Walesa’s Round Table Talks with the Polish authorities. Walesa pleads remembrance for all those who shed their blood of ‘Solidarity’. Authorities return Walesa’s wedding ring and watch, confiscated earlier when taken to prison. Walesa is in Washington in December 1989, meting visiting heads of state. The man of hope, demands freedom as human right. In Wajda’s biopic, Walesa’s large moustache remains recognizable, forming the basis of his personality cult. Edelman’s rapid moving camera captures and assembles the quick shifts in events. Although the film stops well before Walesa shouldered the burdens of presidential power, hope arises in Wajda’s dynamic story.

Vol. 46, No. 29, Jan 26 -Feb 1, 2014

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