Mundial. The Highest Stakes by Michał Bielawski

Bielawski's film manages to talk about Solidarity, political prisoners and one of the greatest triumphs in the history of Polish football without overbearing emotions and martyrdom. "Mundial..." impresses with its meticulous reconstruction of facts and its courage in taking up formal investigations.


When, in December 1981, General Jaruzelski introduced martial law in Poland, tanks rolled out into the streets. Movements such as Solidarity and other, smaller organisations were banned and their leaders, including Lech Wałęsa, detained overnight. Western states were boycotting the Polish government, and the Polish football team, which was preparing for the 1982 World Cup, almost fell victim to political sanctions. The national teams of other countries refused to play friendly matches against them so under the guidance of coach Antoni Piechniczek, the Polish players Boniek, Młynarczyk, Smolarek, Buncol, Lato, Majewski and Żmuda had to prepare for the championship in a different way. When in 1982, they finally made it to Madrid and Barcelona.


The whole country ate, slept and breathed the tournament: we marvelled at Zbigniew Boniek’s and Włodzimierz Smolarek’s goals, admired the range of skills of Lato, Kupcewicz and Buncol, and applauded magnificent flying saves by goalkeeper Józef Młynarczyk.


The broadcast was watched by ordinary people, Solidarity activists imprisoned in a detention camp in Białołęka near Warsaw and monitored by Soviet censors who tried to cut out any form of pro-Solidarity content in the live (or supposedly live) TV broadcasts.


Michał Bielawski's documentary debut received a special mention at Poland’s biggest documentary festival, Planete + Doc. His storyline presents the events of the 1980s from two independent perspectives. It intertwines the stories of members of the opposition movement who confronted the communist regime as part of the Solidarity movement with accounts by the players who had to answer the demands of the regime and their own need for autonomy. Although, in the first sequences of the film, they may seem like completely different narrations, they quickly reveal themselves to be stories of people who share the same emotions, values and memories.


Humour about the People's Republic

When Bielawski was embarking on the project, the well-known Polish documentary filmmaker Maciej Drygas warned him that he would spend the next couple of months buried in archives. Going through the Polish national TV archives, press archives, the FIFA archives and materials gathered by the historical centre Karta did in fact take several months. But the hard work paid off. Bielawski not only found TV coverage of the 1982 World Cup and recordings about Martial Law in Poland from the 80s, but in the end he constructed a portrait of 80s Poland. He showed the picturesque time of the "Solidarity carnival", the drama that was brought on by the imposition of Martial Law, and he gave viewers an idea of the greyness and the discreet charm of the era.


The creators of Mundial... have an ironic and humorous take on matters of national importance. There's footage of a TV show promoting physical exercises for people to imitate in front of their TV sets and music clips of communist hit songs. There's an interview with the Polish football legend Zbigniew Boniek, who talks about a meeting with communist party dignitaries which the football players attended right after returning from the World Cup and to which they arrived a bit inebriated after being at a big banquet. Bielawski's film brings life to the archival footage.


Heroic documentary

Mundial. The Highest Stakes is a meticulously put together reconstruction of facts that are woven together through a lively narration. Far from being a typical documentary, the film draws on pop culture icons and a variety of styles. Animation techniques awaken dusty old photographs, and comic strips (the work of Janusz Ordon) give a new perspective on the fate of political prisoners. Instead of being a congratulatory scroll for the victims of the system, it's a story about heroes: those who fought on green football pitches and those who faced the communists head on.


The film's emotional strength also lies in the hands of the score's composer - Antoni Komasa, considered one of the most promising young score composers in Poland. Komasa finds the right balance between underlining significant moments without making things too melodramatic. He first revealed his talent in Agnieszka Holland's HBO miniseries Burning Bush.


Although, at times, Bielawski seems to have made a personal choice in concentrating more on football fields than prisons with incarcerated activists, all in all, the film's humour and excitement makes up for this penchant. Such a mature and courageous film can hardly be called a debut.

In 2013, Mundial. The Highest Stakes received a special mention at the Planete+ Doc festival. One of the co-producers of the film is the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.


For more information see the documentary’s official website: www.mundial82.pl

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