'Walesa: Man of Hope' Hits No. 3 at Polish Box Office

Robert Wieckiewicz in "Walesa"
Robert Wieckiewicz in "Walesa"
 

MOSCOW -- Billed as possibly the last film of Poland's most venerable director and expected to sharply divided viewers, Andrzej Wajda's biopic on the man who helped topple Communism at home and across Eastern Europe -- Lech Walesa -- has created few waves.

Lauded by Polish critics as a fair and faithful portrayal of the Gdansk shipyard worker who rallied strikers around him to form the Solidarity movement, the film  -- which is Poland's official nomination for best foreign language Oscar -- is this year's third top ranking movie in Poland, behind Wojciech Smarzowski's traffic cops comedy Traffic Department  and The Smurfs 2.

Starring Robert Wieckiewicz as the eponymous hero of Walesa: Man of Hope, and Agnieszka Grochowska as his wife Danuta, the film spans two decades. It begins in the 1970s, a time of industrial unrest that developed into increasingly anti-Communist militancy, and ends with Walesa's address to the U.S. Congress in 1989 which famously began with the opening words of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, "We the People."

FILM REVIEW: Walesa: Man of Hope

The film, which had its world premiere Sept. 5 at the Venice Film Festival -- where it received a standing ovation -- was screened in Gdansk on Sept. 20 before an official Polish premiere in Warsaw the following day.

Political rivalry between the civic leaders of industrial Gdansk and its neighboring resort town of Gdynia, which hosts the annual review of Polish films in September, meant the film did not feature in the festival line-up.

Released Oct. 4 across 290 screens, later increased to 302 after the film took just under $1 million over its first weekend, the film has now grossed $4.7 million in Poland and from October 18 over $220,000 in the UK, home to a large Polish diaspora.

Anticipated controversy around Walesa's perceived weaknesses as the country's first post-Communist president and allegations that he had worked for the secret police in the old days failed to materialize.

Critics hailed the film as a fair and accurate portrayal of an ordinary man who achieved greatness with one going so far as to describe the film as almost documentary in its approach.

Many observed that the film had been shot in a way to make it clearly understandable to foreign audiences.

Producers Akson Studio say the film is designed to appeal to international tastes as Walesa's story is part of recent world, not only Polish, history.

Robert Balinski, of the Polish Film Institute, told The Hollywood Reporter that over 900,000 people had seen the film in Poland.

"The film is still on release and the final result is expected to go above that figure," Balinski said. "Most critics are pointing out the outstanding performance of Robert Wieckiewicz and also are stressing that the film does not glorify, but instead is a fast-paced, witty and absorbing story of a man who became the leader of an historic social movement."

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