Man of Hope is the conclusion of Andrzej Wajda’s trilogy about Poland under the rule of the Communist Party.
The first two films—Man of Marble and Man of Iron—looked at two generations of workers, and their expectations, which this nostalgic third film is supposed to fulfil.
It is structured around an interview with Solidarity union leader Lech Walesa, and straight away it focuses on his personality.
First it shows him emerging as a natural leader on the dockers’ strike committee in 1970. Here Wajda manages to create a truthful portrait of his hero.
But when it comes to the momentous strike in Gdansk shipyard in August 1980 he pushes the social context of Walesa’s leadership increasingly down into shadow.
Wajda shows the Solidarity movement exclusively in terms of national liberation.
One worker argues to continue the strike because, “I just want to be free—I don’t want to live under the Soviet boot”.
It is true that Polish workers at that time were striving for freedom, but not in such abstract terms.
They had 21 very specific demands.
But Wajda reduces these to a symbol. The camera glances at them without showing their content.
The film conveniently ends in 1989, when Walesa delivered a triumphant speech to the US Congress. But a lot happened in the 24 years that followed.
Walesa became president and oversaw a great transformation of Polish economy into a new neoliberal order. Workers paid a heavy price. Many lost their jobs and were pushed into poverty.
Some of the 21 demands remain unfulfilled in supposedly free Poland. The workers’ victory over Communist oppression had a very bitter taste and today I doubt that Walesa is a symbol of any hope.