Written almost painlessly by Andreas Pflüger, despite its assortment of tragic events, Volker Schlöndorff’s Strajk—Bohaterka z Gdańska masks history in an oddly fictional form. Brilliantly acted by dubbed German actress Katharina Thalbach, the shipyard factory worker at the center of the film, who learns to read and write to advance her job at the Gdansk shipyard, is based on Anna Walentynowicz; but the person who becomes a touchstone for the formation of the Solidarity movement and union is given a different name here, Agnieszka Kowalska, alerting us to some playing fast and loose with truth. Walentynowicz herself has denounced the film for its “falsification of [her] biography.”
The turning-point of the narrative at least coincides with history: Anna/Agnieszka takes up the cause of workers’ widows and widowers when they are denied their spouses’ pensions following a factory disaster for which their spouses have been unjustly officially blamed. She herself is then fired, and others take up her cause. Anna/Agnieszka becomes part of an underground press and movement for labor agitation that evolves into Solidarity, which made significant contributions to workers’ rights in Poland and to destroying Poland’s so-called communism. This in turn assisted in the collapse of European communism beyond Poland’s borders.
Perhaps the most distressing aspect of the film is that its emphasis on Anna/Agnieszka leaves Schlöndorff not quite knowing what to do with Lech Wałęsa, rechristened Lasek, who mostly urges on Anna/Agnieszka to greater and greater heights as an activist. All this is silly.
But there is no denying that the film is intermittently powerful and almost completely absorbing. Its blend of fiction (in color) and black-and-white documentary footage seems correlative, somehow, to its blend of fancy and fact.
Forced and artificial, the present-day coda, however, is no way to close up shop.
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Tags: east european cinema