STRUGGLE by Ruth Mader


"Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. You're here to pick strawberries in the coming six weeks. You should be aware that your pay will depend on the actual amount you turn in. The rate is 25 cents per kilogram. Each of you will receive a number under which the amount of strawberries you pick will be registered, and we calculate your pay on that basis. Two hundred kilos per day, which is more than realistic, will bring you 50 euros. Each workday begins at 5 o'clock in the morning and ends at 6 in the evening.


And now, my friends, it's time to fold your hands and pray to God that it doesn't rain." The bus on which the friendly agent prepares his crew for their job is not on its way to a neighboring country in the East where lower wages are the norm, it's heading toward Austria. Polish laborers who are willing to work for less than the minimum wage are hired to pick more-or-less ripe red strawberries in Lower Austria's Marchfeld region. Strawberries, those sweet harbingers of summer, were not the only inspiration for Ruth Mader's Struggle, an extremely realistic though fictitious look at the world of work. An article in a weekly magazine about low-paid laborers gave the filmmaker the idea of developing a screenplay together with co-authors Martin Leidenfrost and Barbara Albert. Its most outstanding quality is without a doubt the minimalistic narrative style. The central character of Struggle, 29-year-old Mader's debut film, is Eva. A young Pole and single mother on her way home from picking strawberries in Austria, she leaves the bus at the border. Together with her eight-year-old daughter, Eva takes a chance on finding a better life for the two of them in the West.


Eva scrubs swimming pools, polishes souvenirs, drags cartons of meat around, leaves her daughter to her own devices during the day, keeps her eyes peeled for the police and falls into bed with exhaustion each night. At her wit's end, she ends up in a relationship with a divorced real-estate agent with unusual sexual tastes. Eva hopes that this affair will help her survive this struggle. In Struggle, more important than this woman's personal story is the work itself: The camera shows the strawberry fields and the bent-over pickers in the pouring rain or sizzling heat in shots lasting several minutes. No commentary, no dialogue. A scene at a turkey farm shows the perfected routine in the processing chain which prepares the animal for the deep freeze and our shopping carts. Each worker performs a single movement, precisely and apathetically, and more times in the course of a shift than anyone cares to count. Silently and without pause, three women stand and polish small glass ornaments. The head doctor in a psychiatric clinic remains silent when a patient throws a glass of water in her face in front of her assembled colleagues. Without meeting a single human being, the real-estate agent inspects his desolate properties.


With unemotional matter-of-factness, Ruth Mader visits microcosms of the working world, showing their senselessness and alienating nature in almost excruciating realtime. "I wanted to show," claimed the director, "how wearisome work processes are and demonstrate what happens before the strawberries or the meat ends up in our supermarkets. My particular interest was the harshness of the struggle to find work and survive which everyone has to contend with every day. This struggle takes place on all levels, regardless of age or social class, whether you're from the East or West- it's the same for everyone, only the consequences vary." One of Mader's most important objectives was to present her characters in their work environments, and except for the protagonist and the real-estate agent, everyone was filmed while performing their daily routines. An agency in Warsaw provided the actress who played Eva, an excellent discovery by the name of Aleksansdra Justa. In her virtually silent role, she delivers a subtle and nuanced depiction of Eva's daily life. Ruth Mader wastes no words in telling her story. Elliptically and in broad strokes, she uses a minimum of key scenes to tell the stories of three generations, and this conciseness is employed skillfully to create tension. "I find it extremely important," explains the filmmaker, "to free myself from the ballast of conventional narrative form. In my opinion telling things which are unable to stir up emotions is unnecessary ballast, and we tried to leave that out." Struggle brings together people from eastern Europe who are financially exploited in a brazen manner and Westerners glutted with material wealth and on the edge of emotional crisis.
Karin Schiefer (2003)



The loneliness of human existence is demonstrated by the child figures, and the difficulty of communication is made clear through sparse and awkward dialog. To their mutual benefit, a man from the West and a woman from the East team up and buy into a world of illusion created for them by the Western consumer industry. At the film's conclusion Eva sits with her daughter and lover at a shopping center's puppet theater. The prince is about to set out on a journey to the moon and, he hopes, find his princess. This scene of apparent familial harmony is split up into three separate shots, leaving each character alone with his or her naïve fantasies of a better world. "What makes my films fundamentally different from others," explained the filmmaker in an analysis of her work, "is that I'm not interested in bourgeois drama, I don't want to show banal anxieties- my interest lies in the social conditions I want to make a statement about." For her last film, a short entitled Nulldefizit, Mader chose the genre of propaganda film, showing short sequences with a wide variety of society's outsiders expressing their opinions about Austria's swing to the political right. Immediately after Cannes she plans to make a documentary focusing on the working conditions experienced by female foreigners in Austria. Her interest in this subject was aroused while performing research for Struggle. Another foundation of Austrian society will be examined in her next feature film, a thriller set in a Catholic boarding school for girls. This project will deal with the themes of power and the church, faith and sacrifice. The high point of the coming festival will be her second invitation to Cannes' Sélection officielle, an extremely positive and constructive conclusion to her studies at the Film Academy. "Cannes," according to Mader, "means a great deal to me because I have the impression that substance in films is taken seriously there, and respect is shown for the works. You can meet filmmakers from China and Romania who have a much more difficult time and still produce excellent films. It's encouraging to meet other directors who want the same things and see that someone recognizes that fact."


Karin Schiefer

© 2003 Austrian Film Commission