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Aug 08 2017

Doc Corner: 'Machines'

Rahul Jain'sMachinesis definitely a case of quality over quantity.At only 70 minutes long,you would hope it is.This often medatative experience is a glimpse inside the little-seen world of the Indian textile industry,albeit one that never hides the grim realities.It makes stunning use of Rodrigo Trejo Villanueva's camera,which captures images of striking colour explosions juxtaposed against the soot and the decay of a factory in India's Gujarat region where workers stave off sleep across 12-hour shifts for $3 a day.

Machines' title referring to both the steel and metal machines that hum and rattle throughout the confined factory as well as the human machines who operate them,working like wind-up toys performing the same robotic,repetitive movements over and over and over again.We see the detail that goes into producing the fabrics that clothe one billion people including the almost rhythmic process of production where colours are produced by hand and patterns are printed with uniform sameness.The eye can't look away from an endlessly watchable parade of shots in which reels and ribbons of fabrics of all colours (including one stunning shot of a marigold fabric that is so divine I gasped) are spun out of elaborate contraptions that we might associate more with a printing press for a newspaper.

The star ofMachinesis the cinematography of Villanueva (a Sundance winner in the World Cinema section).The camera captures beautifully ugly subterranean tableaus of steam and rust and exhausted,spent bodies,their lithe frames dripping in sweat.Still life shots that allow the viewer's eye to roam and marvel at the mechanical processes that produce the lavish and colourful fabrics.Scattered throughout these recurring sequences,however,are a collection of remarkably fluid tracking shots.Particularly represented in the one that opens Jain's film,these moving shots take us throughout the factory and observe its human subjects and are made all the more remarkable by the tightly cramped space Villanueva and Jain had to work with.

Peppered throughout are testimonials from the workers who discuss the horrific working conditions and bemoan their lack of ability to do anything about it.One worker claims he isn't being exploited because hechoosesto return.A union representative appears to offer hope as he recites utopian values conveniently from his position outside the factory walls in a clean white shirt.In one of the film's most powerful moments,the boss upstairs claims half of his workforce don't deserve any extra income for their work because they would simply waste it on selfish means like alcohol or tobacco while criticizing employees who have worked at the factory for ten years and earn more.

The first words spoken,however,are at the 13-minute mark,so director Jain is clearly far more interested in showing us this work than telling us about it.It's a relief,allowing the audience just enough background to understand the gravity of what we are seeing.Despite its brief runtime and its preference for showing rather than overt telling,Machinesis never shy about revealing itself as more than just a mere travelogue.

In the film's narrative climax the camera is surrounded in 360 degrees by local men.One man,an impoverished farmer whose potato field was decimated by drought,asks the filmmaker what he is even doing there.He chastises him – and by extension,us – for getting his third world kicks before leaving them all behind.It's a concluding note of such profound irony that one can imagine Michael Haneke appreciating the way this debut filmmaker turns to offer a bitter rebuke to his target audience of people of privilege.It is a finishing touch that may leave a foul taste in the mouth of viewers who just wanted to see where the sari they purchased on vacation comes from,but nonetheless one that brings everything we have seen into a more refined,wider context.

Release:NYC from this Wednesday with the rest of the country to follow.

Oscar chance:The documentary branch sadly do not go for this kind of non-fiction work,so no.

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