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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 9.3%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 18.6%
Total Crap: 2.33%

1 review, 37 user ratings

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Surplus: Terrorized Into Being Customers
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by Stephen Groenewegen

"More music video than documentary"
2 stars

In a year of lively and inspiring political documentaries, the Swedish Surplus is a major disappointment. Perhaps it’s unfair to even label Surplus a documentary. Erik Gandini seems to have been aiming for a cinematic tone poem in the style of Koyaanisqatsi. Yet, even on that count, Surplus fails.

According to the press notes, Gandini and photographers Carl Nilsson and Lukas Eisenhauer embarked on “an intense visual odyssey filmed for over three years in eight different countries”. For all their efforts, this 50-minute film boasts few memorable images or startling juxtapositions.

The ideological rationale for Surplus is compelling. Rampant consumerism is “out of control” in a world characterised by inequitable distribution. Passive shoppers are “terrorised” into spending for spending’s sake, driven by advertising – the relentless propaganda of a consumerist society. The ideas of author John Zerzan propel the film. He goes so far as to advocate property damage as an alternative to mindless consumerism. According to Zerzan, destroying property is not violent. “Sitting there doing dope and watching MTV. Then you go and get a job. Just schlep along. To me that is violence.”

What’s most frustrating about Surplus is that it doesn’t pursue any of the ideas it explores, but merely presents them in out-of-context sound bites. I can see that a life consisting of shopping and routine work and passive slumping in front of the box is not satisfying, but how is it violent? Gandini and editor Johan Söderberg cut together phrases against repetitive images and mix them to a dance beat. George W. Bush and Tony Blair rap the words of an unseen environmentalist like ventriloquist’s dummies.

Gandini’s so drunk on his own irony that he sells short the ideas in his film. Zerzan’s arguments are the closest that Surplus comes to a thesis, but Gandini undercuts them visually. When Zerzan calls for a return to primitivism, Gandini shows us a phony looking stone-age ape-man actor and draws a cheap laugh instead.

If watching MTV is unsatisfying and the epitome of a soulless consumerist society, why did Gandini make a film with all the entertainment and information value of a 50-minute Kraftwerk music video?

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originally posted: 06/27/04 20:17:39
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sydney Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.
This film is listed in our political documentary series. For more in the Political Documentary series, click here.

User Comments

12/26/06 anarchy down with the spectacle-commodity society! 5 stars
8/16/06 Lambo open your eyes to the greed of consumerism 5 stars
7/29/06 sanguin excellent! A Masterpiece 5 stars
5/21/06 KingSYR alias Sylvain Movie of our time! Fantastic & real! a work of art, like Michael Moore's movies &manyOthers 5 stars
5/02/06 naymi has no point afetr all.....waste of time 2 stars
3/30/06 andres A "must see" for all americans, not the stupid ones off course 5 stars
12/19/05 Jesse the visuals looked good, the content sucked 2 stars
12/14/05 Paolo Absolutely fantastic, The EFC reviewer should change career 5 stars
11/18/05 mathew if your expecting a doco that will change your life forget it. it is what it is. 5 stars
11/18/05 rogerio da silva sounds and looks great an orchestrated documentary about what drive us to our own hills 5 stars
11/06/05 DC A great introduction to the resistance to consumerism 5 stars
10/17/05 Thor In the right setting and in the right mood this film is awesome! 5 stars
6/25/05 Naomi Schlebaum This was one of the most inspirational films. Orderd it rightaway 5 stars
6/23/05 MaxaMaxa A fascinating, mesmerising and thought provoking musicvid/doco 5 stars
6/21/05 josep john Really fantastic! Don't miss. 5 stars
6/17/05 Gastão Guedes I would like to get a copy 5 stars
6/07/05 Lawrence Zoors One of the best. A must-see. 5 stars
5/24/05 Julie Wetterslev Cries for your consideration 5 stars
12/15/04 Nick Hard An anti empirial simple living propagandistic audio-visual orgasm. 4 stars
12/13/04 Jon Fantastic stuff! The most inspiring docu i've seen! 5 stars
11/22/04 me Unemployable arts major's sad cry for attention. lame commie propaganda 1 stars
11/05/04 Erki Film like a music video. All in place and it comes with good message. I enjoyed it a lot. 5 stars
10/16/04 Randall Wood Brillaint- pushes the documentary form and encourages us to think differently. 5 stars
10/06/04 denio lopes very good 5 stars
10/05/04 Deep Singh God bless all. 5 stars
10/04/04 go-g Better to watch it than don´t 4 stars
10/03/04 Joost penetrating 5 stars
10/01/04 Johannes Hogebrink This poetic-psychodelic impressive-image collage is a must-see for any thinking person. 5 stars
9/20/04 Marcelo Monte Make us to stop and think about our lives 5 stars
9/05/04 ruben this documentary is pretty good, death to over-consumption!!!!!!!! 5 stars
9/04/04 allan very clever and interesting 4 stars
8/31/04 max you have to see this movie 5 stars
7/16/04 higgins109 very nice audio/video mix 4 stars
6/27/04 Sergio Spinola polemic 5 stars
6/19/04 john wellster mindbomb 5 stars
6/17/04 KroFF Great movie 5 stars
5/25/04 Sufi Go figure it out - one great paradox of consumer cultcha 5 stars
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Directed by
  Erik Gandini
  Johan Soderberg

Written by
  Erik Gandini


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