Body of Work
Work has been at the heart of public debate this year with the widespread implementation of lay-off and work from home, and especially the spectre of an economic crisis that has already thrown millions into unemployment.
The distinction between essential and non-essential work, too well-known to those who work in the cultural field, spread out to the whole society, exposing the contradictions in the system. With this in mind, it is particularly suitable to reflect upon the space work has in our lives, but also upon the boundaries of what we define as work.
The relation between cinema and the world of work goes back to the first shot by the Lumière brothers at the door of their own factory, a matrix image that Harun Farocki revisits one hundred years later. Paradoxically, he goes on to analyse the ‘exit’ from work and into ‘free’ time, strike, lock-out, unemployment… Such issues resurface in a wide variety of ways in other films included in this programme – in Estorãos, a group of women sings to the rhythm of the tillage and its breaks; Lúcia e Conceição dream of leaving rural work and the Azores; factory worker Suzanne finds out about her own strength in the strikes of 1968; 48 female workers take their destiny into their hands, refusing Sogantal’s lock-out; the crisis of the American industrial dream reveals its dystopian scars in California Company Town. One is led to think that cinema, more than portraying work, tells us about its fractures. Accordingly, Hervé Leroux looks for the worker unwilling to resume her work at the Wonder factory. The young anonymous mother whom Helke Sander imagines based on police patrol reports picks a construction site for her suicidal protest for a place to live; we picture her unemployed, while she surely has plenty of work being responsible for two little children.
The status of women is the explicit subject of Une femme, une famille, the episode that ends the monumental fresco on the Cultural Revolution directed by Joris Ivens and Marceline Loridan. In Mudar de Vida, two women—the wild worker and the dying fisherman’s wife—embody the clash between the old and the new world. In fact I have to thank Paulo Rocha for discovering Imamura. In his film, Madame Onboro’s life and work story intersects that of the country from the war to the social and political struggles. Right from the start, the discussion around the contract of the main actress places the making of the film under the sign of a contract-based working relationship, in contrast to the activity of Madame Onboro, who owns a brothel. The labour rights of prostitutes are the focus of the strike filmed by Carole Roussopoulos in 1975. Old professions, though not the oldest one in the world, caught the attention of Alain Cavalier, who shares encounters with female workers near retirement in his Portraits; here and there, the film-maker analyses his own work and the choices he makes. The unassuming record of the last performance by Véronique Doisneau, who is about to leave the stages, is a rare evidence of the work carried out by a dancer and of how powerful cinema is. Film after film, this programme puts forward a route to reflect on the poetics and issues of work, in which each film sheds its light on all others.