Review: Machines

Though more photographically distinctive than the Go Pro-recorded factory ship documentary, Leviathan, Rahul Jain’s meticulous study of a huge textile factory in Gujarat, India, is similarly obsessed with the process of labor and how mechanization complements human actions rather than supplements them. Jain’s purposes are more activist, some might say political, since there are also interviews with workers and management that clearly show the class dynamics at work. Rodrigo Trejo’s beautiful cinematography almost aestheticizes the grind, and in the end it may turn people away from the film’s most powerful implication, that mechanization both demeans human effort and destroys everything that comes into contact with it. A similarly themed movie shot in Europe or North American might convey a totally different message, but by showing in clear detail the garbage and heat and dim working conditions of this textile factory Machines goes the extra mile to tell us that the industrial world still has a long way to go toward recognizing the human dignity of manual labor.

Another punishing aspect is the sound design, which seems intentionally loud in order to disorient the viewer. If the audience is oppressed by the sensory overload, what are they going to think about what the workers have to put up with? In a sense, we have to recalibrate our sensitivity to this overload, because these people have to deal with it every day, and in interviews they often make vaguely idealistic pronouncements about their role in society, which all boils down to the belief that things will get better, though the interviews with management would seem to indicate otherwise (“The workers understand only one thing: money”). Sprinkled throughout the film are interactions with workers that show some of them understand their exploited status and address it through addiction and other coping mechanisms. Then again, one worker talks about unionizing while another feels he benefits more from working on a “contract” basis, and it doesn’t require a degree in economics to understand which one is lying to himself.

Jain goes so far as to indict himself, as well. At the end of the film some of his interlocutors challenge him in his purported activism, asking what he can actually do other than capture their suffering on film and ask questions. He doesn’t answer them and perhaps he isn’t capable of answering them. All he can do is draw us into this brutal world with pretty pictures and horrible noises and make us wonder about our own complicity. It may not be enough, but it’s definitely something.

In Hindi and English. Now playing in Tokyo at Euro Space Shibuya (03-3461-0211).

Machines home page in Japanese.

photo (c)2016 Jann Pictures, Pallas Film, IV Films Ltd.

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