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In the guts of the factory

Regissør: Rahul Jain
(India )

The rhythm, colors and speed of the Indian textile factory are beautifully and thoughtfully crafted, but the most important political streak is missing.


I Machines we get to see a textile factory in Gujarat in India from within, where men work among giant machines to produce colorful fabrics.

Director Rahul Jain's camera moves around in a maze of machines, crayons and woven fabrics, and we get to see the men color, fold, mix, wash, relax, eat and rest. Occasionally the observations – always characterized by noise, usually also movement – are interrupted by brief interviews where the men, who are largely migrant workers from other parts of the country, talk about work, wages, poverty, life and hopelessness. But it's not about dividends, one of them assures.

Often it seems that men are extensions of the machines they work with, like parts of a gear. It is fascinating to see how they adapt to the rhythm and speed of the machines.

Aesthetics. The film has obvious parallels to the works of Austrian filmmaker Michael Glawogger, in particular megacities og Workingman's Death – not only visually but also thematically. In the opening scene in Machines we see sparks dancing from an oven around a worker scraping waste from the bottom of the oven. The film also ends up with similar images, and all could have been sourced from both megacities og Workingman's Death. The camera wanders around and gets lost between machines and fabrics in long shots. There is no doubt a system in all of this, although it probably takes years to master it.

Of course, the miserable working conditions are a theme. It's not just about the physical wear and tear, but also about the work environment and lack of safety when the twelve-hour shift after the twelve-hour shift works closely on both chemicals and giant machines (we see, among other things, a young man falling asleep right next to a giant machine).

A contrast to the bleak, dark images of the factory's interiors is created through the footage of some men on a roof, wrapped in colorful fabrics that they throw upward as they wave in the wind. In a snapshot, they have everything they don't have down there in the real life of the underwear: color, elegance, light and dignity.

The machines and the people. In part two of the film, most of the poetry disappears. Here Jain moves up into the upper world, reminding us that there is also life outside the production areas: a meeting room where trade takes place; rubbish dumped on the outside; an interview with a boss who keeps an eye on factory workers only via surveillance cameras, and who delivers some shrewd ideas about why it's a bad idea to pay workers better: It just makes them relax more, he thinks, and besides, they would use the money on tobacco and alcohol.

The title can be said to be of double importance. Just as Glawogger does Workingman's Death suggests that it is not the worker who is dead, but rather his profession, it seems that Jain's title refers less to the big machines than to the workers themselves. Once people made machines – now machines make people.

Western look. Jain is of Indian descent, and the film's press material tells us that during his childhood he used to play in a similar factory owned by his grandfather. He was later educated in California, and Machines is produced using German and Finnish money. In the same press material we find a quote from the sales-
The agent: "With its current theme and artistic ambitions, the film can also serve as a beacon for the emerging Indian documentary – it could pave the way for an increased interest in Indian film in the West, especially documentaries." But when I look Machines and thinking about its production and reminiscent of the Glawogger, I don't really see anything but a western eye that is not quite capable of taking up the fight against globalization.



Willemien W. Sanders
Willemien W. Sanders
Sanders is a critic, living in Rotterdam.

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