Machines, directed by Rahul Jain, tackles the issue of slave labor at a textile factory in India. Workers, mostly poor farmers, spend 12 hours (or possibly more, if they want to work extra shifts) and get paid very little. Attempts to create unions have been futile because they bosses do everything to prevent it from happening. One worker explains how he has to travel by train---standing up the whole time---to get from home to work. Jain, for the most part, prefers a laissez-faire, fly-on-the-wall approach to documentary filmmaking by merely showing you the sights and sounds of the men at work. Every now and then, a worker does talk to the camera, though, but you don't learn much about their background; just how they feel about their work and the way they're treated. The "machines" of the title might as well refer to the works as well, sadly. This is not the kind of doc that provides much hope or that offers any practical solutions. It raises your awareness of a human rights issue and then makes you sad and angry. To be fair, it would have been more interesting had Jain broadened the scope of his doc to show slave labor in other countries and, perhaps, to interview lawmakers or the UN or someone who can at least try to help the slave workers. At a running time of only 1 hour and 15 minutes, Machines is a heartbreaking, enraging and eye-opening experience. It opens via Kino Lorber at Film Forum.
Boris (Cédric Kahn) and his wife, Marie (Bérénice Bejo), have been married for 15 years and live with their two children, Jade (Jade Soentjens) and Margaux (Margaux Soentjens). Despite agreeing to separate, neither of them wants to leave the house. Boris would be homeless if he were to leave. He's struggling to support his family while Marie is the breadwinner. The process of separation, as it turns out, isn't as simple and easy as they expected it to be.
Bérénice Bejo and Cédric Kahn give stellar performances in a drama that's filled with friction between a married couple who've lost their spark. On the surface, it looks like the main reason for their separation is Boris' failure to adequately support the family financially, but there's a lot more to it than that beneath the surface. Writer/director Joachim Lafosse as well as co-writers Mazarine Pingeot and Fanny Burdin waist no time as they begin with the meat of the story: Boris and Marie deciding to separate. How their assets and custody of their children will be split between them are among the topics that they debate. To prevent any negative effects of their divorce on their children, should they stick together in spite of the fact that they're no longer in love with one another? Perhaps Marie should listen to her mother's advice that when passion dissipates in a marriage, friendship keeps it afloat. Or perhaps they're simply not meant for each other.
It's refreshing to see a film that release so heavily on dialogue with very little in terms of exposition. There's almost a documentary feel to the film because it seems so real. Both Boris and Mare are interesting and complex enough as characters to come to life. Neither of them is a villain. One minute you'll find yourself rooting for Marie while the next you'll root for Boris because you'll feel sorry for him. Some of the scenes to feel a bit stuffy and stagy, and all the bickering does become tiresome and repetitive after a while, but the film always remained elevated by the raw performances.
Life is messy and complicated; the same can be said for relationships. The filmmakers should be commended for shedding light on this messiness without sugar-coating it. If this were a Hollywood film, it probably would've been convoluted and contrived with an uplifting ending that ties everything together neatly. Also, it would've had either the husband or wife or both having an affair. After Love takes the road less traveled by instead as it zeroes in on a couple who are clearly unhappy together, but neither of them has cheated on one another. At an ideal running time of 100 minutes, it's a moving, unflinching drama. The classic Divorce, Italian-Style, a darkly comedic spin on the serious topic of divorce, would make for a great double feature.