Good movies

I don’t normally review film on this site, and don’t plan to start. But I rent regularly from (for those of you reading in America, it’s a British version of Netflix), and have had a run of several really good films that I wanted to share with you:

Our Daily Bread

The Lives of Others

Black Gold

Vodka Lemon

Our Daily Bread is hard to describe without making it sound like what it’s not. I could call it a documentary about industrial food production, but it’s absolutely nothing like Fast Food Nation and those types of film. There’s no voiceover, no real argument, hardly any talking at all. For most of the movie, you are watching truly bizarre scenes of food production, in complete silence other than the buzz and thump of the machines. It’s like an extended art-museum video. The interest comes from the really odd subject matter – the combine harvester moving eerily across a broad field, the sometimes alien-looking scenes of unbelievable machines doing weird stuff to sweet peppers. There’s also some blood and gore, and some cute little fluffy yellow chicks being hurled into a machine and spat out into a vast battery-farm type shed. But it’s not so much an animal-rights movie. It focuses more on us, on the strange world we have created, and on the effect of this world on the people who work in it. Hard to describe, but it was an absorbing film to watch.

The Lives of Others is a really moving film about East Germany and the surveillance society, and it was particularly effective because the Stasi secret police are not presented as evil people but ordinary people operating within an evil system and adopting the usual human strategies of adaptation, compromise and occasional surreptitious acts of rebellion. I liked how it viewed the investigation of an intellectual from both sides simultaneously, the watcher and the watched, and my sympathies were split between them.

Black Gold is much more of a normal documentary film than Our Daily Bread, and it definitely does take sides, but the subject – the global coffee industry – is really compelling. It’s a familiar story of farmers in poor countries getting shafted and corporations making massive profits while pumping out PR about their largely imaginary ‘ethical’ policies. It succeeded in getting me outraged all over again, though.

Finally, Vodka Lemon is an Armenian film about a town slowly dying in post-Soviet Armenia. Snow falls constantly, and old people sit around drinking vodka and reminiscing while waiting desperately for their sons to send home money from richer countries like France. Again, it’s hard to explain why I liked it – not much happens, and it’s pretty relentlessly depressing. But it’s beautifully shot, with lots of wide open snowy landscapes increasing the sense of isolation and loss, and some good dry, pain-tinged comedy as an old man lugs a wardrobe halfway down a lonely road to sell it and a family argues over money for a new bride. I suppose part of it is that I like seeing new things, a new place that I’ve never seen before and a completely different way of life. It’s a very sad film but shot through with humour and lots of competing stories of human interest. Definitely a good film to watch.

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