Machines

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Rahul Jain

Starring

N/A

Anticipation.

A documentary on the subject of industrial machinery could go either way.

Enjoyment.

Short and sharp, but the point it states is evident in the images.

In Retrospect.

Keen to see what Rahul Jain does next.

This haunting documentary takes us inside the industrial hellscape of a Gujarat textile factory.

The first thing that strikes you about Rahul Jain’s lightly experimental workplace documentary, Machines, is that it’s difficult to discern just when the images on screen have been captured. The subject of the film is a dim Gujarat textile factory, and so appalling are the conditions that you’d expect that you’re watching some horrendous dispatch from the 1950s, where workers’ rights and safety procedures were more fluid than they are now.

Or, maybe this is some future missive detailing the crippling effects of globalisation and a swelling working class populations? There’s a post-apocalyptic feel to these scenes, like this is what happens when it everything goes wrong. But the sad reality is, this is all happening in the present, and the poverty on display is a symptom of current economic systems.

The title refers to the clanking textile contraptions used by workers to produces rolls and rolls of patterned sheets. Sweating profusely, suffering through punishing shifts and often forced to engage directly with moving industrial parts, these men are living a daily horror movie and with scant reward when the time bell rings at the end of the day. Everything is on its last legs. Giant washing machines rock while sitting in giant concrete crevasses. Dyes are stored in filthy plastic barrels and are mixed up with household cutlery. Waste is poured over the wall at the back of the factor, where children scavenge for discarded metal.

Initially Jain’s film is more of a detached chronicle of unskilled working practices, his roving camera observing discreetly as these malnourished figures commune with their daunting and potentially dangerous machines. There’s something hypnotic about watching the production line whiz past the eyes and the repetitious, instinctive movements made by the unsmiling workers.

Yet at about the 20 minute mark, the film transforms into a work of blunt political advocacy, and begins to take in tales of the workers’ horrendous hand-to-mouth existence. And there are no ways around this drudgery, as the factory owners offer meagre wages knowing that the alternative starvation. Though the stories emphasise the unrelenting horror of giving yourself over to these places, the images speak loud enough on their own and the interviews end up limiting the film’s scope.

Published 19 May 2017

Anticipation.

A documentary on the subject of industrial machinery could go either way.

Enjoyment.

Short and sharp, but the point it states is evident in the images.

In Retrospect.

Keen to see what Rahul Jain does next.

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