Reviewed By Thom
Posted 02/05/01 09:55:12

"Enobling tales of a degraded humanity."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Twelve stories of survival set in Moscow, Manhattan, Mexico City and Bombay. While some of the scenes were "staged" they used real people and recorded real events. The gritty realism of some of the moments seemed improbable that they could happen in front of a camera and they were either faked or the Germans knew how to be silent but welcome observers of life as it happened. The sum total of the footage is a tale of human survival that is neither pathetic nor gratuitous but is simply a record.

In Moscow we meet a group of street kids hustling in subways, a drunk tank, street musicians and factory workers set against the rich and diverse modern literary heritage of the Russian people. The insight, sentiment and existential optimism of the voiced-over passages lays bare the soul of the contrast between the harsh, unrelenting drudgery of factory work and the intangible rewards derived from meeting the challenges of private life.

Manhattan is the city I am most familiar with of the four but I am not familiar with the world of street hustlers, prostitution and robbery. In REQUIEM FOR A DREAM we get to see an almost "clean" and idealized version of heroin addiction. In MEGACITIES we are treated to the real thing and its just as creepy. A pirate radio show invites callers to tell their tales of survival while in the background a loop plays continuously "it's a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma" and dramatic footage of lightening playing against a cloudy Manhattan skyline.

Bombay, the city of the thieves, the city of poverty, the city of bliss. Contradiction and paradox were never so welcome as in Bombay where even garbage culled from the bottom of a fetid sewer can be traded for a days meal. The romantic India, the spiritual India of fakirs and gurus and colorful, sari-clad women dripping in gold and pearls is hardly to be found among the overwhelming poverty of Bombay. A man who processes clothes dye by sifting it through a sieve all day is the one riotous spot of color amidst a broad sweep of brown and gray. In the montage of images, his image provides welcome visual relief. But I see that he must breathe the dyestuff all day and that for him, there is no end in sight of his daily work. I want the color to inspire uplifting thoughts. I want the color to mean something to him and to be pleasing to me. But the beautiful and vibrant color is more somber than any Western tragedy.

And in Mexico City, we meet proud people who do what I might think of as menial, exploitative or demeaning who have a place in their society. A prostitute with three children argues with her son over breakfast and reprimands him for eating candy and reading adult comic books like any mother would.
The film crew asks again and again, "What is your dream for your life". This mother replies that she wants to be able to provide a future for her children.

The nihilist in me wants to say that it is better to never have been born and what consolation is there in life for those with no hope for the future. But the wheel keeps spinning around and the cycle of life and death churns out the whole bloody mess of humanity into an ever increasing world of detachment and scarcity. Its amazing that people will still find joy and celebration and meaning in a world that can at times be dark and desperate and hopeless.

My own values and assumptions weighed heavily and I had to resist judging and just accept what I saw on the screen as being just what it is the way nature just is what it is.

"Absurdity is the inheritance of the human race", says a man dressed as Mexican wrestler/superhero dictating to a typist banging away at an old manual Smith-Corona on a sidewalk down a side street in Mexico City.

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