The AFI European Union Film Showcase 2013 got off to an exhilarating start this past week with two blockbuster movies.
Opening night brought a Polish film, Wałęsa. Man of Hope, a 2013 Oscar selection. It is a gripping – often frightening -- film documenting the struggles of the Polish people during a period of Soviet domination and a crashing economy.
This movie is an eye-opener for Americans who cannot appreciate enough the Polish struggle against communism and the ensuing fight for a free market and labor unions.
“This movie you are about to watch,” said Maciej Pisarski, Deputy Chief of Mission from the Polish Embassy, “showcases what the Oscar winner director, Andrzej Wajda, does best and this is to portray the Polish spirit in the struggle for freedom.”
“This is a story,” Pisarski continued, “of removing the first card, the first element from the communist house of cards in Europe which was followed then by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the communist regimes in other countries.”
Making reference to both Nelson Mandela and Lech Wałęsa, E.U. Ambassador João Vale de Almeida, called them men with powerful personalities who were controversial and unafraid to take a stand, lead people, go against the tide and inspire others.
The biographical film is based on the life of Wałęsa (played by Robert Więckiewicz), a shipyard worker in the 1970’s who became an impromptu union leader and eventually a Polish solidarity icon. Więckiewicz attended the screenings and fielded questions from the audience.
The screenplay by Janusz Glowacki is structured around Wałęsa’s 1981 interview with Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci (Maria Rosaria Omaggio) about his fight for Poland’s freedom. Poland declared martial law months later. Wałęsa was eventually awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 as Poland and Europe slowly freed itself from Soviet control.
This is an incredible film on the Polish struggle for freedom. At times one feels drawn into the film, breathing the same smoke-filled air as the struggle progresses for survival and ultimately, change.
Lech Wałęsa came to Washington, D.C. personally last Wednesday to meet with Members of Congress during a special screening of the film at the Capitol visitor’s center.
Friday night, a special presentation and spine-tingling thriller, Grand Piano, gripped the audience on the second day of the film showcase. Classical music at the start of the film lures the audience into a festive mood while listening to a wonderful orchestra. The film becomes reminiscent of a Hitchcock production as the musical performance continues.
The film features a disgraced pianist, Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood), who was lured from retirement. The musician attempts to conquer his nerves and rejuvenate his career with a tribute performance to his mentor.
But when Selznick takes his seat at the piano in front of a packed audience in Chicago, he finds a terrifying message scribbled in red ink on his music sheets: “Play a wrong note and you die.” A merciless sniper hidden in the theater balcony demands Selznick to play the piano perfectly – or else. But the big question: What’s his motive?
Spanish filmmaker Eugenio Mira attended the screening of his film and explained just how complex the movie was to create. Mira, 36, is a brilliant director who already has three excellent films under his belt!
When introducing the film, Mira told the audience “what you are about to see is the quintessential dialog between Europe and the United States of the 20th Century and I hope you are going to like it.” The film plays in Chicago but Mira said it was shot in a Barcelona building that was designed to look like the famous Chicago concert hall.
The action-packed thriller was “no easy thing” to produce, Mira said. “This movie demands three more times the amount of work as the average movie,” he pointed out, noting that he wanted to tell the story through camera placement and the technical shots to capture the action. It’s shot in 35 m.m. film and perfectly edited.
Closing Night, Sat. Dec. 21, will feature British film Alan Partridge. Steve Coogan’s signature comic creation, the cringe-inducing, self-aggrandizing media personality Alan Partridge, has seen his career trajectory rise and fall, from regional radio presenter to national TV talk-show host and back again. Now, at career ebb, Partridge vaults onto the silver screen! When a recently sacked radio DJ (Colm Meaney) takes the staff of Radio Norwich hostage at gunpoint, rival radio presenter Partridge is thrown into the dangerous position of acting as go-between in the tense standoff between the police, the gunman and the aggressive media horde covering the crisis. At the center of a media circus… there’s nowhere he’d rather be.
This year’s European Union Film Festival at the Silver Theatre is the 26th and largest AFI EU film festival. It includes 53 films from 27 European countries including nine best foreign language Oscar submissions. For details please see the AFI website.