Priča o fabrici, sometimes translated as the Factory Story, was released in the late 1949, during the peak of struggle between Yugoslav communists and Stalin’s Eastern Bloc. It was one of the first attempts of Yugoslav cinematography to find its own character following the Yugoslav break with the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the strong Soviet influences are very visible, not just in the aesthetic of the film, but in the plot as well.
The plot is centred in a textile factory in Zagreb, and the filmmakers intended to show “strive of the Yugoslav working class to build socialism, and struggle against capitalist remnants that are trying to sabotage and obstruct that construction”.1 It tells a story about a worker Marija, who decides to help new factory manager to increase productivity by working on six machines simultaneously. During the test of such method before the factory’s committee, the bomb explodes injuring Marija. It turns out that the conspiracy was organised by the previous owner of the factory (a capitalist), one Ustasha, and one not very smart doorman of the factory, who fall under the Catholic Church influence. The conspiracy group also tried to win over a pre-war engineer, who did not understand socialism but was an expert in his job. The conspirators were all arrested, but before that an engineer redeem himself by killing the capitalist, and later by testifying at the court against his wife who was also part of the plot.
There are several layers to be analysed, but it seems that besides this class struggle, gender component was crucial for the film. Female characters and their relations with men defined the remains of the corrupt pre-war society, but also the promised and better socialist world. Marija, one of the protagonists of the film is an ordinary textile worker, inspired by the movement to increase productivity she decides to try to work on more machines. She is also active on political conferences and events, despite her husband’s disapproval. Although he is also a worker, he wants Marija to spend more time at home, doing domestic chores, or just waiting for him when he returns from work. Marija is actually doing all domestic chores, with several scene insisting on her washing the laundry or cooking, but her husband still criticize her for going to the political conferences. Just before Marija leaves the house to test new methods of working on more machines, she left him a dinner and a note not to wait for her. Once again to note, Marija’s husband was also a worker, exemplary man who refused to drink alcohol, but still with “old understandings”. That same night, disappointed in his wife, he wanders the streets and gets seduced by the capitalist conspirator’s wife. At the very last moment, Marija’s husband realises his mistakes, and just before the explosion he runs to the factory. As he was late, next scene shows him sitting next to Marija in the hospital, while Marija explains him that she has to work, that it is the purpose of life, of building socialism, and that her husband has to understand that. That way, Marija’s husband is redeemed as well with Marija’s help.
The class enemies, the capitalists and their wives could not be redeemed. Used to luxurious and promiscuous life, they dreamt of leaving Yugoslavia, and since they were used to cooperate with the Germans during the war, they easily cooperated with Ustashas as well. Wife of the ex-factory owner complained she had to sell her best porcelain and jewellery, although she never worked, and spent time seducing other men, which was apparently not a problem for that old class. Wife of an architect was in the same milieu but in this case she was used to show that honesty in socialism have to be above family relations. The architect testified against her at the court, showing his candidness and readiness to be part of the socialist project. Ultimately it was important to show that the communist workers can work together with the pre-war engineers, if the latter were willing to change. All these female characters are in stark contrast with Marija who is a humble worker, loyal to the factory and her husband, and tireless in building socialism.
The film ends showing a scene of the big factory meeting, with the notable textile workers talking about their successes, and promising to work harder on more machines simultaneously. Even here gender dynamics play a role, when an old male worker says that he will work even more than a “baba” before him, promising to work on 16 machines with the help of a FEMALE unskilled assistant. It brings laughter and applauds from the meeting hall.
This film also makes us think about what happened with the Yugoslav textile industry. What was left of the shock work, competitions to increase productivity, and the worker’s self-management of the factories? Majority of the workers in the textile factories were women (and actually Marija from the film was isnpired by the real shock workers such as Ivka Dugorepac, Sonja Erbežnik, Matilda Baruh and many others), and in some firms that number went up to 99% before the end of socialism. Well, the Yugoslav textile industry built by the workers themselves, no longer exists. Some of these factories survived the war and sanctions, while workers tried to keep on production sacrificing their salaries (Factory Partizanka). Many workers spent entire lives working in these factories, and ironically used to own these factories (they were owned by the society in Yugoslav self-management, not by the state who later sold them). Nevertheless, most of the textile factories were finally destroyed in the suspicious privatisation, particularly in the major cities. The interplay between the corrupt politicians and mafia caused that many factories were sold cheaply (or better to say just given) to dodgy individuals, and they demolished them to build luxury hotels and apartments.
Details on how the factory Partizanka was destroyed were recently researched by the journalists from the project Insider. The Insider is the only remaining investigative journalism in Serbia, and they reported many times on criminal privatisation in Serbia. Some if it could be seen online in English: B92
1. “Priča o fabrici,” Radnica 1 (January 1950): 19.↩