The first part begins with the start of the war - when Poland is attacked by Nazi Germany (September 1, 1939). We see Karol with his father in a crowd of people running away from the war to the East - true episode from his life and a very dramatic. Escaping people greet first under-equipped Polish soldiers cavalry but later are "welcomed" by Nazi German bomb airplanes that kill many of them. Eventually the crowd see Polish soldiers withdrawing since the Soviets unexpectedly attack Poland from the East (September 17). Nowhere to go - the crowd among them Wojtylas -father and son come back to Krakow, but this is a different Krakow - decorated with Nazi flags - a capital of General Government and a newly appointed Governor-General, Hans Frank.
The drama of the beginning of the war is followed by the accumulation of dramatic and violent scenes throughout the first part of the movie, showing many friends of Karol Wojtyla to disappear either because they are Jews or Poles fighting in resistance against the occupying Nazi. Some scenes and people are symbolic, although they are based on historic events. But the richness of the scenes with some real and some fictitious characters allowed in a short time to show a lot of Polish history the international audience without going into too much complexity.
One of the examples - the movie emphasizes the persecution of Polish clergy and intelligentsia by Nazi - this fact is little known outside Poland. It shows the scene when the professors of the old Jagiellonian University in Krakow are gathered at the meeting (altogether 183 professors), then arrested and sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. This happened indeed in November 1939, all Polish universities were closed indefinitively, many professors never returned back alive but it is rather improbable that Karol Wojtyla was a direct witness of this scene or that the Frank was there openly announcing their future fate. So, there is some licentia poetica in play here.
The film also deliberately replaces several real people with few imaginary characters - like the girl Hania, which is composed of at least two different characters. I believe that overemphasis on her friendship with the pope is the biggest weakness of the movie, as like the Italian movie director, Giacomo Battiato, could not just give up a lack of female companion in the pope's life and tried to make up one. The real Hania - an actress which played once a romantic part with young Wojtyla, took a small part in a movie as overprotective lady who Hania rents a room from.
The biggest asset of the film is Piotr Adamczyk which plays Karol Wojtyla. This young blond man with blue eyes and a wonderful smile draws the instant sympathy. Adamczyk had a difficult task since it is very difficult to play somebody who is considered inherently good, yet not boring, sophisticated and also charismatic and spiritual. Playing a pope is a big responsibility. Adamczyk admits that he was very tense in the beginning - realizing that he is going to play the pope - such a holy figure. Later on - he had some problems in his personal life and this distracted him during the play - somewhat helping him out to relax and be better and more natural in his role.
Karol Wojtyla - as seen through the movie is not only a good natured, humble man who is a great companion, but he is also well educated, a deep-thinker, trying to understand the evil world around him in the time of war. Karol already lost his mother and his older brother before the war. In the course of the movie we will see him to lose his father. He came back from work one day and saw his father dead. Karol he did not have a chance to assist his ailing father in the last hours of his life. The pain of being absent during last hours of life of his family member will haunt him through his life.
During war Karol sees his providence more clearly. He still acts and participates in the the underground "Rhapsodic Theater" performances. He writes the poems but he also enrolls to the Krakow 's underground seminary, run by Archbishop Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha. The gradual transformation of this gentle and spiritual man from acting and art to the priesthood seem so natural.
Also some characters in the second part of the movie which deals with the communist terror of Stalin time are symbolic - like the overzealous communist aparatchik Kordek played well by Hristo Shopov - a Pilate from Mel Gibson's Passion, as well as Adam - who is a spy converted later to anti-communist or Novak, a blue-collar worker, we first see him as Wojtyla's co-worker in quarry, Nowak later participates in Poznan strike in 1956 and in Nova Huta's lifting of the cross for fundaments of the church in 60-es.
The fate of the church is not much better under communism than it is in times of the Nazi occupation. The film shows that the church refuses to become a puppet in the hands of communists - therefore Polish primate Stefan Wyszynski is sent into solitary confinement for a couple of years.
Wojtyla's attitude in unshaken - whereas it is a war or a time of communist dictatorship. He is preaching love, dignity to human life and hope. He encourages people "do not have fear" and he ensures them that evil is only temporary because it devours itself. Wojtyla does not condemn people who use violence to fight for a good cause but he cannot be one of them, he is promoting love rather than guns to fight against evil.
This film is not a documentary - it is hard to make a documentary so powerful - but it conveys the message about Polish culture, history - war and communism and how they shaped and strengthened the future pope. It gives the audience some understanding how was it like to mature during the war and how difficult and challenging was any form of diplomacy between the Catholic independent Polish Church and the reluctant communistic government.
I truly recommend it!
Stories of Karol: The Unknown Life of John Paul II (Hardcover), by Gian Franco Svidercoschi, Peter Heinegg (Translator)