Red Envelope Entertainment

NEW YORK -- This fictionalized biopic of a respected Polish labor activist is nicely balanced between the political and the personal. "Strike" tells how the dismissal of aging crane operator Anna Walentynowicz (who's renamed Agnieszka in the film) provided the spark for the Solidarity trade union. Solidarnosc would later effectively bring down the Communist government in Poland. This film, directed by Germany's Volker Schloendorff, explains the politics clearly, but still leaves room for the personal dimensions of Anna/Agnieszka's struggle.

"Strike" is an extremely well-made piece that should draw politically minded viewers -- providing that marketing plays down the dreary dockside setting in favor of the characters' against-all-odds heroism. Schloendorff's name may pique the curiosity of cineastes here, as he was a prime mover of German New Cinema.

The story covers events in the Gdansk shipyard from 1970-1980. Agnieszka (in a beautifully understated performance by Germany's Katharina Thalbach) heads the women's wing of the shipyard union. The Communist party bosses not only exploit the shipyard workers but ignore safety regulations to increase productivity.

A fire brings matters to a head, and Agnieszka -- along with later Solidarity figurehead Lech Walesa (Andrzej Chyra) -- is fired when she tries to get pensions for the widows of those who died. She becomes a symbol for the popular dissatisfaction with Poland's Communist party, and galvanizes the formation of the Solidarity trade union.

Schloendorff, who claims that the film is just "inspired" by Anna Walentynowicz's life, says that he changed her name to Agnieszka to allow him some freedom with the story. Scenes of her personal life are speculative, though they do a good job of humanizing the story. Anna Walentynowicz herself has spoken out against the film, complaining that it insults her and the Solidarity movement by fabricating events and portraying her as "an illiterate drunk."

The shipyard used for the locations is the actual Gdansk yard itself, which obviously brings a high degree of authenticity to the story. The working conditions of rusting cranes and dangerously dilapidated electrics make it easy to sympathize with the plight of the workers.