Saturday, 15 September 2012

Review: Canned Dreams

Säilöttyjä Unelmia (c) 2012 Oktober / FS Film Oy. Also on display at Love & Anarchy September 27.

The 1st ever Finnish Film Market (attached to Helsinki International Film Festival - Love & Anarchy) is going to start in one week. As foreign buyers browse through the catalogues of Finnish films of recent years, they often may not have heard of the movies before. I thought it would be a good idea to provide a review in English of one of the best films of recent years this country has to offer. I saw it way back in spring and it has since been in plenty of foreign festivals as well. But I digress.

Globalization affects our lives a lot more than we could ever imagine. Most of the food on the shelves at your local grocery store comes from sources hard to track. In Katja Gauriloff's documentary we follow the ingredients of one tin can of mystery food all through the world. But the film isn't so much about how the food is produced, but about the people that make it. One can metaphorically includes also the lives of all the people that have contributed to making of the goods.

The film has been realized in a similar style to Michale Glawogger's Workingman's Death. Scenes of people working have dream-like quality and the people on present say what's on their mind on the soundtrack. Gauriloff's film isn't quite on par with Glawogger, but at least she has found planty of interesting personalities to showcase.
People working with pigs seem to be the most interesting people. We have a kind but a bit slow Danish pig farmer that's taken up the family business. He treats the animals nice, and joys when they have piglets. But his animals are sent elsewhere to be killed and cut into pieces. This is contrasted by a far more sinister Eastern European butcher who has to do the dirty work. His marriage has crumbled due to his wife's (and his own) infidelity. So, he lets out his gloom by threatening violence to her and her new lover, and having some quite alarming misogynist views on things. Props to Gauriloff for not presenting the working class as purely idealistic, good people being forced to serve under richer masters.

Nevertheless, these old ladies are the cutest!
The imagery also works quite well for this theme. Heikki Färm and Tuomo Hutri have photographed all the farms, mines, factories and shops with almost surreal close ups and cropped images. At times the film looks like a living painting. The somewhat slow pace also emphasizes this. Yet the film isn't one minute too long. In fact, it could've used a scene or two more. Some people you just would like to know more about. And telling about the origin of the food you eat is one of the most important messages one can get across us westerners.

There are limitations to this kind of film, and Gauriloff has admitted in interviews that the crew could not shoot all the material to cover every one of the ingredients in the can. Some, such as the poultry farm, are quite clearly polished images. The small room where thousands of chickens are housed on ground is actually luxury compared to the caged meat/and/or egg factories these birds usually have to live in. Since the ingredients in canned food are hardly from a farmer's market and possibly form wherever one can get them the cheapest, it's quite clear that the eggs come from elsewhere.

Yet the images of pigs getting sent to a convoyer belt to first get electrocuted and then slaughtered are still quite disturbing. No one can claim that the meat they're eating did not suffer before death when these sort of methods are in use all across the EU.

This is by no means just a national project. It has been shot in eight countries and is at its core a Irish/Norwegian/Portuguese/French/Finnish co-operation. But the tin can in this case is a sort of tower of Babel being built – it brings together a lot of different kind of people who one would not believe to have anything in common otherwise.


CANNED DREAMS (Säilöttyjä unelmia)
Finland, 2012
Language: Various
Director: Katja Gauriloff

Screenplay: Katja Gauriloff, Joonas Berghäll, Jarkko T. Laine
Cinamatography: Heikki Färm, Tuomo Hutri

Further reading: The Best Poker Movies

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