Volker Schlöndorff’s latest tries to cop a feel from Siberiade, Andrei Konchalovsky’s behemothic totem to the Soviet spirit. Just as Konchalovsky synched images of Soviet history in motion to a propulsive score by Eduard Artemyeve, Schlöndorff transitions between snippets from the life of a shipyard worker with Polish newsreel footage cut to a thoroughly modern score by electronic pioneer Jean-Michael Jarre. But Strike lacks Siberiade‘s metaphoric frisson, failing to illuminate Polish history through the experience of its main character, even though Jarre’s sonic marvels maintain a sense of aliveness throughout.
The story takes liberties with the history of the fierce Anna Walentynowicz, whose firing in 1980 from the Gdansk shipyard was largely responsible for sparking unrest in the Baltic coast that eventually paved the way for the creation of the Polish trade union federation Solidarity. Walentynowicz is reimagined as Anna Agnieszka (Katharina Thalbach), a puckish little thing who survived WWII and is rewarded with a television set for her years of obsessive dedication to her work. As Anna leaves the building with her hefty reward, one of her jealous, resentful co-workers yells out, “They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work.” But the gal is no ass-kisser, emerging as a freedom fighter in the 1970s when her shipyard denies compensation to the spouses of 21 workers who died in a horrible fire and Anna asks her superior (who is also—hello SoapNet!—the father of her grown son) to cut it with the bureaucratic bullshit.
There is a sense that Schlöndorff either didn’t believe strongly enough in his heroine’s struggle or feared making a stylish hagiography, settling for a rather passive-aggressive account of a resistance fighter’s life made up of strung-together vignettes that lack for specificity and motivating example. How strange that the film asks us to believe Anna is a “heroine of labor” but never shows us what she actually does to advance the rights of workers beyond asking for overtime and serving soup on the job so workers won’t have to squander their lunch breaks by walking to a canteen that’s more than a mile away. In carelessly piling through events in this woman’s life, Schlöndorff only succeeds at steamrolling the complexities of Poland’s tumultuous and complex social struggles since the war.