Halladin returns to Stalinist Poland to expose the darker side of gender emancipation. While at the same time, she applauds 5000 women who then worked on the construction site of Nowa Huta—the monumental steelwork and its nearby socialist realist town. Archival stills, observational shots and contemporary interviews help reconstruct their experiences. Ultimately, the film highlights these women’s physical and mental strength, as well as their good humour.
At the start, the director presents the stories of individual women. We hear personal accounts of their lives in the 1950s. Some paint a disturbing picture of exhaustion, recalling days of endless working hours in below zero temperatures that still concluded with them performing all domestic chores.
Later, we observe their meeting—their first opportunity to share memories with each other after more than thirty years. The get-together brings out more shocking recollections: ‘I was nine months pregnant. It was Saturday. I still transported the bricks down the wooden tracks. In the morning on Sunday, I gave birth to my baby’.
But the mood of the film soon brightens. The women start gazing back to the 1950s with nostalgia. For many of them, the construction site meant personal liberation. Partaking in jobs previously unavailable to their gender injected them with a sense of self-value and confidence.
As we learn, such work also offered an opportunity to break away from traditional social restrictions. One woman remembers: ‘It was hard… but each of us was in charge of her fate’. The film culminates on a positive note: ‘This year I will turn fifty-five, but if I could, I would still go and work on that construction site’.
This mixture of positive and negative impressions sheds light on the survival tactics of Polish females under Communism. The women in the film have never openly questioned their gender identity. Instead of engaging in what at the time looked like a futile argument on women’s rights, they rather opted for grabbing whatever opportunities for emancipation became available, enjoying a job well-done.