Opening 8 Mar 2007
Solidarość and Lech Wałęsa exploded on the world in 1980 when the workers at the Lenin Shipyards forged a strike that spread throughout Danzig and infected half of Poland. The workers forced the shipyard, and the Politburo in Warsaw to make extraordinary concessions for a Communist country: the right to strike, the right to form an independent labor union, the right to freedom of speech. Eventually, the authorities cracked down, but Solidarość and Walesa, who won the Nobel Peace Prize a few years later, had made history and a hesitant movement throughout Eastern Europe took heart, leading ten years later to the fall of Communism. The founder of Solidarość, however, was not Wałęsa, but a tiny, feisty woman called Agnieszka, (Katharina Thalbach) in Volker Schlöndorf’s fictional film ( her real name was Anna Walentynowicz.)
The strike in Danzig didn’t happen overnight. It had its roots in years of mistreatment, exploitation, and lies and the unrest came to a boil in 1970 when a disaster, caused by dangerous, neglectful conditions, killed 21 workers. The subsequent cover up, and the denial of compensation and pensions for the widows was too much for Agnieszka She led a protest for which she was imprisoned, severely beaten and eventually fired from her job, but the widows got their pensions and the workers insisted she join a secret movement at the yard along with a young electrician named Lech (Andrezej Chyra). The group forced the yard’s directors to give Agnieszka her job back and did not stop there. Agnieszka was their leader, the spirit and the strength who galvanized the workers, speaking out against injustice wherever she saw it.
Katharina Thalbach gives an extraordinary performance. The photography is incredible. Schlöndorf returned to Danzig (the location of his Oscar-crowned film The Tin Drum, also starring Thalbach) and the scenes shot on the docks with the present shipyard workers as extras, the towering half-built ships and ten story-high cranes are absolutely breathtaking. But I was left shrugging my shoulders. Somehow, the film does not capture satisfactorily how extraordinary this incredible woman and her brave colleagues were in a Communist world totally controlled by repressive and vindictive authorities. (Adele Riepe)