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Freedom Within Self, Freedom Within Nation, Freedom Within Humanity
"They can beat me, torture me, and even kill me. Then they will have my dead body, but not my obedience." The shocking sentence has occurred so accurate in the lives of many people, particularly in a life of a simple priest Jerzy Popieluszko (1947-1984)...
Okopy, Poland on a sunny day filled with breezes that move tree branches, beautiful forests and such a peaceful atmosphere. Among these views of nature, we notice a young boy, Jurek, on the mushroom tour with his dad, a boy with a deeply religious upbringing where YES means YES and NO means NO and the lecture is THE KNIGHT OF THE IMMACULATA, a monthly magazine initiated by Maximilian Maria Kolbe. But who could then predict that soon, the peaceful life of this "boy" will be known in the whole country? Who could then predict that the "boy" will once shake the very foundations of communist ideology, who will become an object of fear even to the most "faithful wealthy comrades"? Indeed, no one could anticipate that this BOY will become one of the most genuine witnesses of Truth in the 1980s who will make the slaves of the red plague tremble...
Having seen this movie on the big screen, I felt I was watching something really significant. It was felt, from the very beginning, that this movie is no simple entertainment that you see and soon forget, but a biopic that addresses the very essence of human psychology and the very core of latest history alike. All can be defined in one simple word: FREEDOM!
POPIELUSZKO depicts the struggle for Freedom on two bases: the outer struggle within the nation and the inner struggle within oneself. While the former one represents all the background of Polish history including Solidarnosc movement and Wojciech Jaruzelski's policy, the latter one is universal. It is the struggle with all dangers against spirit, something people of good will know very well. Here, I should mention the powerful scene when Priest Jerzy leaves the trial hall and says a meaningful sentence: "It is hatred I fight against." "With what weapon?" someone could ask sardonically...with the "weapon" of goodness to people he meets around, he meets on his way of life. That's his scale of living: to fight, as he once says, not merely against the victims of evil but against evil itself. In this, he wins the battle with all wickedness that is meant to destroy his upright heart. This innate experience leads us to the depiction of Popieluszko as a social phenomenon of the time as well as an extraordinarily spiritual figure...
He is truly the one who is ready to give his own shoes to someone in need, the one who has a word of advice to a desperate wife, the one who has a deed of consolation to a mourning mother, who offers understanding for regretting prisoner; finally, the one who pardons his own murderers... That is what we see in the process of his personal growth, the growth to BE more, to SACRIFICE more, to LOVE more, so to say, to FOLLOW his Master to the very horror of Cross. In this aspect, what touches most is the plot of Grzegorz Przemyk (Antoni Krolikowski) who, thanks to priest Jerzy's love, finds meaning in his short life.
The aspect I particularly loved about the movie was the accurate combination of two JPs of the time...Jerzy Popieluszko and John Paul II. Although John Paul II preaches the good news from the heights, as the bishop accurately points out, it does not mean simple people are not beckoned to do the same. That's what Priest Jerzy realized and brought to reality.
The intense psychology in the movie does not mean the film lacks humor. It's full of witty moments for the saint without a smile is a gray saint... Clever script and funny moments will amuse you to tears. I remember laughing at the scene Popieluszko practices his voice in the Marian song. Later, to my astonishment, his voice is the loudest and the best one of all. So you can learn anything if you want, even the, seemingly, "impossible"...
The performances are crafted well. Although Adam Woronowicz is not a famous Polish actor, he does a wonderful job in the lead portraying his character's combination of simplicity with deep spirituality. The supporting cast include memorable performances by Kazimierz Kaczor, Krzysztof Kolberger, and Maja Komorowska. Furthermore, there is a need to mention the presence of His Eminence cardinal Jozef Glemp. I also liked the roles of Wladyslaw Kowalski as the Professor and Agata Piotrowska as madame procurator. They represent two opposing sides of human intellect and two opposite uses of it.
Therefore, many Poles hope this film will be seen by lots of people of good will throughout the world. Why? Not due to alleged "promotion" of so called "Polish Catholicism" as some critics falsely accuse the movie of. The reason why POPIELUSZKO is worth seeking out is the message. Although so many years have passed since Priest Jerzy's tragic death, his spirit lives among us and his ideals of Freedom within humanity. The fact that 17 million people have visited his tomb so far says for itself...
Yes, a spirit of a simple priest who dared say "NO" to evil, to bondage, to lie and manipulation because his "YES" was only for the Truth. And in spite of seemingly failed goals he had and allegedly lost dreams, his journey of life is the one of victory. While his journey ended with peace, the journeys of lie and tyranny, indeed, have reasons to tremble.
Partly thanks to this film, Priest Jerzy's example keeps saying to us even louder now: set on your own journey in this very spirit, overcome evil with good in order to see, in the end, the smiling Face of Crucified Love.
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