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With film, legendary filmmaker to defend Poland’s first post-war president

Berlin — Veteran Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda said last week he was planning a biopic on former Solidarity leader and president Lech Walesa that is intended to defend him against "attacks" by political rivals.

Wajda, who unveiled a moving new drama at the 59th Berlin Film Festival, said it was time 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Polish communism to pay the former Solidarity leader his due.

"Walesa is our national hero, irrespective of the mistakes he made when he was in office," Wajda, 82, told reporters. "I can remember the Berlin Wall, I can remember the barbed wire. The fact that we are here today coming from a free country is in large part thanks to him."

Walesa founded the Soviet bloc’s first independent trade union, Solidarity, which was instrumental in hastening the end of Polish communism. He served as Poland’s first democratically elected, post-war president from 1990 to 1995.

Wajda said that despite Walesa’s errors, political opponents are unfairly dragging his reputation through the mud.

"Now rumors and lies are being told," he said in a veiled reference to Walesa’s bitter falling-out with President Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother, former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

And last year, two historians published a book accusing him of having collaborated with the communist-era secret police.

"Walesa is my friend and when he is under attack and I, as a Polish director, have the tools to communicate with a large audience that is what I’ll do," said Wajda.

Walesa, who was in Brussels last week for an EU meeting to consider the way ahead for Europe, told Polish journalists that Wajda was the only director he would trust with a film biography, saying that Wajda understood Poland.

Asked what the film should be called, the Nobel peace laureate replied: "Lech and Danuta," referring to his wife.

Previous attempts to make a biographical film had failed, he said, partly because they tried to spice up the romantic side. "I didn’t agree," he said.

Wajda, whose drama "Katyn" about a 1940 massacre of Polish officers by Soviet secret police was nominated for an Oscar last year, has been making films for five decades.

His Cold War masterpieces offered unflinching looks at communist oppression and the then-budding Solidarity movement. The films "Man of Marble" and "Man of Iron" featured Walesa himself.

Wajda thanked the Berlinale, as the festival is known, for its unswerving support when he was facing intense political pressure at home.

"The Berlin Film Festival is somewhere where I’ve always been very, very fortunate," he said, adding that many of his films that were not distributed at home during the Cold War were launched to the rest of the world from the divided German city. "I’m very pleased that the festival director, Dieter Kosslick, found place for an old director."

Wajda’s innovative new drama "Sweet Rush" tells the story of a lonely doctor’s wife in the 1950s whose lost hopes for life are reawakened when she meets a much younger man.

The film weaves in scenes written and read out by the film’s lead actress, theater legend Krystyna Janda, after the death of her husband, Wajda cinematographer Edward Klosinski, during the making of the picture.

"I’ve made 50 films and thought I had already seen everything that can happen between a director and an actor," Wajda said. "I think maybe the story awakened something in her, some kind of urge to tell what was going on inside her, so that after the death of her husband it would bring her peae."

"Sweet Rush" was one of 18 films vying for the Berlinale’s coveted Golden Bear top prize. The festival wrapped up Sunday.

Deborah Cole/AFP/Expatica