MAN OF HOPE is Poland’s Oscar Entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Award directed by legendary Andrzej Wajda . The New Europe has its beginnings in Gdansk! “Wałęsa. Man of Hope” is a story of a contemporary hero – Lech Wałęsa (Robert Więckiewicz). The movie begins with Oriana Fallaci (Maria Rosaria Omaggio) appearing at the Wałęsas’ flat in an apartment block to interview the future Nobel Prize winner. The emotion-packed conversation with one of the world most famous journalists constitutes a fabric of the movie narrative. Fallaci poses questions no one else ever wanted or dared to ask the legendary leader of the ”Solidarity” movement. By doing so, she unveils the truth of a man gifted with charisma and amazing political intuition.
The actual biographical story begins in 1970: Soon after the communist authorities have bloodily suppressed the workers’ protests, Wałęsa is forced to sign an obligation to collaborate with the Security Services. The following scenes showing hero’s path to political maturity are interwoven with the Wałęsas’ family life. The relationship between Lech and Danuta (Agnieszka Grochowska), their house full of kids and daily problems are as important as politics – they thought they were to live regular lives in their Gdansk apartment, but instead they were surrounded by momentous, political events, calling for taking a stand. Behind the strong man there is – as it turns out – a much stronger woman, his wife.
Sometimes freedom needs to be fought for and your homeland needs to be protected. Politics and love, fear and sense of security, necessity of subordination and a will to rebel – the film, just as Lech Wałęsa’s life, is full of contrast. His sense of duty towards the nation intertwines with that towards the family; the love of his wife and children with the love of his country. Is Lech making the right choices? What is the price he needs to pay?
Here is Cinema Without Borders interview with Robert Więckiewicz.
Bijan Tehrani: How were you originally introduced to this project, and how were you approached for playing Lech Walesa in MAN OF HOPE ?
Robert Wieckiewicz: There was a kind of audition for this character. Initially there was an idea that the character should be played by three actors. One playing the younger version, one in the middle, and the third one should be playing the older version. But Andrei changed his mind and decided to choose one actor for the whole part. At that point, I was just invited to the project and it was that simple.
BT: Everyone living in Poland knows Lech Walesa, but did you do a lot of research in preparation for the role?
RW: I didn’t need to meet him before shooting or during shooting. Lech Walesa is a totally different person today than he was back in that time, and so I did not need to meet him because it would not help me with creating and building this character. My approach was different; I had to watch a huge amount of documentaries and archival footage from that time, and I focused on Walesa from that time because I wanted to play him from that perspective. At that time, he would not have known that he would later become President. Memory can make an ocean from a glass of water, so I did not want to meet him.
BT: One thing that is very interesting in MAN OF HOPE is that you really portray Walesa’s transition over time really well. So when you see him during the interview with Oriana Fallacci versus when he first started, you can really see the change! How did you manage to effectively portray this transition of the character over time?
RW: Well, thank you. There are two different kinds of scenes in this film; the first type, which we all know about(at least in Poland) include the scenes from documentaries, the scenes at Victoria’s Gate and all of the other iconic footage of Walesa that people are familiar with in Poland. The second types are the private scenes, like with his wife, and those scenes included the interviews with Oriana Fallacci. These scenes I had to create myself, because the well known scenes I already knew and I saw it as it happened, but the private scenes I had to create. I remember him—in 1980 I was 14 years old—so I remember Walesa from that time and he was a hero, he was like Superman. I remember my father had a moustache; almost every many in Poland had a Moustache because of Walesa, so I remembered him quite well. For me, the most important thing is always the script. If you have a well written script, it will provide all of the information that I need as an actor to create and build the character, so that was the case with this film.
BT: Have you worked with Andrzej Wajda before? What is he like to work with?
RW: No, this was the first time. He is a master of cinema, he is well known in Poland and also here in America. He is 87, but he is very energetic and he has plenty of ideas and he can still see everything and make very interesting solutions to scenes. For me, it was a great adventure working with him and a great acting lesson.
BT: I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Wajda in person when I visited Poland, and he is such a wonderful and humble man. Even at his age, he has a made a film that has a young tone in the language of filmmaking.
RW: Yes! Inside he is still young and, as I said before, he still has a lot of energy and he thinks as a young man. He thinks very freshly, so to speak.
BT: How did he work with you as an actor?
RW: Andrzej Wajda gives total freedom to his actors. I had total freedom creating this character and once I wanted to ask him a question about how to do something, he said something like, “Listen Robert, I hired you, so you don’t need to ask me. You should be telling me the answer.” Wajda works well with actors because he has a strong trust in his actors, so from my point of view he is perfect. I like to work like that because I need freedom with acting and I don’t like when the director is very strict and is constantly telling you what to do. He is also very focused on framing; he is constantly looking into the monitor and is constantly focused on the whole story, even while filming. He pays attention to every detail. Sometime he would create things that were strange, but also very interesting and would begin a lot of the scenes with a very particular detail. For instance, there is a scene that takes place in a kitchen. In the script, it was not that important of a scene, but Wajda went to the actress and instructed her to cut bread and placed the camera in front of the bread. During the progression of the scene he added certain elements and suddenly this scene, through very small details, emerged into something much bigger and with much more importance.
BT: Do you know if Walesa has seen the film? If so, what was his reaction?
RW: He liked it, but he was a little critical of my performance. He said that he was not such a buffoon and that he was not conceited. Later on, he changed his opinion and we met in London during the Film Festival. There was a Q&A in which he said he had seen the film four times, and every time he saw it he liked it more.
BT: What do you think are the chances that the film will be nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Award at the Academy Awards?
RW: I don’t know much about that; I am just a poor actor from Poland! A nomination would be great, though.
BT: Do you have any new projects lined up?
RW: Not right now, I am waiting for my next film to be released, it is a film by Wojciech Smarzowski, and it is based on a very famous book. It is a story about a writer who his addicted to alcohol, so I am waiting for that film’s Polish release in January