Wednesday, March 21, 2007
It's a few days since I saw Nikolaus Geyrhalter's documentary Our Daily Bread, which offers an oblique and often impassive look at European agribusiness, or rather at the industry which underpins it. The title evokes King Vidor's socialist drama of the same name from 1934 though there is surprisingly little polemic in Geyrhalter's stately enigmatic film; though the film pledges over the opening title to donate 5% of its royalties to organisations with a commitment to producing and supporting organic food, there is no damning endictment of the production process, even as we see tomatoes, chillis and cucumbers being harvested on an industrial scale by placid migrant workers, piglets being gelded, pigs and fish alike being systematically gutted by machines, cows calving in pristinely clinical surroundings, cows being milked and later slaughtered in much the same. But then the polemic probably is there but in a latent sense. There is even no commentary nor any dialogue to speak of, and what there is appears to be natural and is left untouched by subtitles.
There is a similarity to Abol-Fazl Jalili's films, such as Dance of Dust or Delbaran, in the unflinching, steady tableaux, almost all framed with identical geometrical precision, and which invite one to be at turns repulsed, intrigued or bored. My own favourite sequence was the descent into a German salt mine, which is like something out of a science fiction film, the saline harvest gathered by two little identical-looking men, who resemble a cross between the Super Mario Brothers and Cerberus in their underground desert. There are scenes that might put some off touching meat ever again - though I, a recovering vegetarian, will have no such qualms - but the overall effect of the film is a quietly disquieting one, something that similar, more ideologically explicit, films such as Koyaanisqatsi and Baraka fail to achieve. Our Daily Bread is a film that allows both its subject and its audience a lot of space and it is all the better for that.