Release Date: February 24th, 2006 (Cinema Village) by 7th Art Releasing.
Directed by Michael Glawogger.
In German, Ibo, Indonesian, Mandarin, and Russian with subtitles.
BASIC PREMISE: A documentary about five different jobs around the world with harsh working conditions.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: Workingman’s Death is divided into five segments of jobs from five different countries. Heroes, the first segment, shows the working conditions of Ukrainian coal-miners. For eight hours a day in cold, dirty conditions with very little time to relax yet they continue to work just to earn a living. The visuals include the stark colors of grays and black—not surprisingly, the coal-miner’s faces are covered with black soot. When the camera lingers on the coal-miners working and eating without voice-over narration, you feel like you’re a voyeur. The camera serves as an eye and ear which transports you into the five harsh workplaces throughout the world. The other four segments feel the same way: Ghosts , with Indonesian sulphur-miners, Lions, with Nigerian slaughterhouse workers, Brothers, with Pashtun workers dismantling ships in Pakistan, and Future , with Chinese steel workers. Each task has its own unique level of difficulty, but the most powerful, disturbing segment is that of the slaughter-house workers. Director Michael Glawogger is unafraid to show the brutal, disgusting slaughtering of all sorts of animals—i.e. goats and cows. Those who have a weak stomach for blood and guts will find this segment difficult to watch, but what makes it so amazing is that it’s all real—these workers go through this every day. It’s also interesting to watch the different kind of slaughterhouse workers from the actual slaughterers to those who wash the cooked animals. Ultimately, what makes Workingman’s Death more compelling than the average documentary is that most of the information is found in the observations. With very few interviews, it’s easy to be immersed in all the sights and sounds, including the effective original music by John Zorn. You never get to know any of the workers on a personal level, but at least you get to know what it’s like to work in these dangerous, strenuous working conditions.
SPIRITUAL VALUE: Without voice-over narration and enough interviews, Workingman’s Death doesn’t offer much in terms of insight or analysis. However, the visuals suggest that these workers don’t have an easy life, yet they’re content with their jobs. A Pashtun worker says that if this is what God wants him to do in life then he will just have to make the best of it. A young sulfur-miner admits that he would love find a better job when he gets, but this is simply what he’s stuck with. Likewise, a slaughter-house worker in charge of washing cooked animals confesses that he’s proud of his job. Each of these workers may seem small and insignificant, but, in reality, their work is just as important as anyone else’s. In a thought-provoking, brief epilogue, a German factory serves as a museum-like place where people can get a glimpse of the heavy machinery once used for smelting before technology improved and replaced humans. Again, director Michael Glawogger doesn’t comment about this in an explicit way, but you get the general feeling that he might not be too happy about technology replacing human workers. Ultimately, this is the kind of film that embraces reality rather than escapes from it. As long as you go into this film knowing that, you will come out of it enlightened rather than depressed.
INSULT TO YOUR INTELLIGENCE: None.
NUMBER OF TIMES I CHECKED MY WATCH: 1
IN A NUTSHELL: A haunting, disturbing, and surprisingly enlightening film! Its powerful images will stay with you forever!
RECOMMENDED WAY TO WATCH: Movie Theater (1st Run)
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