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Megacities More at IMDbPro »

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30 out of 30 people found the following review useful:

Defense of this great documentary, critique of critics.

Author: Erick-12 from Taipei
6 August 2003

Megacities is disturbing documentary about individuals from the underclass in four major megalopolises around the world. They are shown to be rather trapped in dead-end struggles to survive. When asked about their dream for a personal future, each one speaks of someday owning a home and supporting a family. But it seems that the global economy will not allow them to do so. One is a color dye sifter in India, working repetitive days filled with one mechanical motion by hand. Another is a stripper in Mexico, fondled onstage by drunken anonymous men, something she has the grit to tolerate in order to support her three children. Another works nights in an iron mill in Russia, alternating between freezing and blasting hot. Another is an obnoxious street hustler in NYC. Some work up to their elbows in the bloody hell of a poultry slaughter house, or collecting household garbage in horse-drawn utility chariots, or dredging recyclable objects that have been thrown away in the city's filthy sewer canals by wading through the dangerous muck, or etc. Nevertheless, each poor individual has a quiet composure, albeit under visible stress. The dye sifter faces the camera and states that no one knows the daily suffering he endures, that he is not happy, but has no options. This film allows him to say that and thereby allows us to know it. This knowledge is what the film produces, a knowledge that more than half the world knows intimately while the other half of the world protests ignorance of this open secret, this hidden injustice. I attended this at a Taipei documentary film festival in September 2000, and afterward heard the director's sane replies to many critical questions from the international audience of competitive film-makers. Michael Glawogger, the director, noted that a few years ago, Time Magazine stated that by the year 2000, more people on earth would live in such sprawling cities than there are people who live in the countryside--for the first time in history. The balance has shifted decisively toward an urban population the world over. What this means also is a new human invention: the megacity, those vast, dense, sprawling growing urban zones of more than 10 million souls in each. This film is set in four: Moscow, Mexico City, New York, and Bombay. Yearly these megacities suck in the surrounding suburban and rural populations with their dizzying gravitational pull, like economic black holes. As everyone knows, the folks come streaming in looking for a better life, for work, to escape the very emptying of the countryside itself, ironically in some kind of circular feedback system. Most end up in a ghetto or shack, clinging to the fringe of an urban nightmare.

The documentary embodies the director's curiosity about the daily struggle to survive in those new megacities, about those individuals one might pass by on the street. The cumulative effect of his stories is that our systems have "created absurdity" as one man states in the film--Superbarrio Gomez.

Critical questions from the audience that night can be divided into two types, formal and ethical: 1. Formal. The film reconstructs scenes deliberately, and the subjects are paid. The director's method is to wander a city for a week or so, getting to know people. After a further relationship with them, he gains enough trust and cooperation even "friendship" as he says to direct them to act as themselves in a typical, "authentic" portrayal of their lives. Other film-makers in the audience were rather skeptical that this could even be called a documentary. But Michael Glawogger holds that it is authentic and that it is no more a fiction than any documentary-- that it is impossible to film private life without altering it in some way just by the presence of the camera. People who know that they being filmed begin to act as though they are on film. And the camera always selects and frames and excludes. Film is a subjective point of view as much as it is an objective record, whether as documentary or as narrative fiction. The only difference here, the director insisted, is that he deliberately foregrounds the process of construction, allowing the viewer to readily access the fact that this is a reconstruction. That a room full of film-makers had to be reminded of these basic insights only shows their theoretical naivety. It as if the whole profession needs a refresher trip back to grad school.

2. Ethical. Does paying the subject encourage them to exploit the film-maker? Or conversely, does it exploit the subject? Why were only poor people filmed? Wouldn't a more balanced portrait of megacity inhabitants be more appropriate? (a banal call which illuminated the real issue: this film disrupts our class blindness and evokes the mysteries of class division). The audience at a documentary festival is pretty much middle class, and they gaze in shock at the hidden life of the underclass on the screen. Then they express dismay that the film is not as "balanced" as TV supposedly is. But this film in fact supplies the other side which has been absent in the so-called balanced view of globalized megacities. Another woman mistakenly accused the film of focussing only on brown and black bodies in the 3rd world. She was wrong factually about both conditions: the semi-naked abject bodies of white drunks in Moscow are shown extensively; white people in NYC are shown a little. Are these instances of brown people in the 3rd world? Again this kind of criticism simply echoes a formulaic political objection to a 1st world gaze, without actually addressing the film we just watched. Some cultured middle-class people of color, viewing the film critically, might too easily confuse their discomfort with class differences for their more accustomed experience of ethnic or racial differences. The film was made precisely for these kind of ethical issues to be placed on the agenda of international discussion. I think that director Glawogger, a white male from Austria, ought to be given some credit for the formal and political (elsewhere known as "ethical") sensitivity that shines through his documentary. He claims that his subjects are treated with dignity. Yet the audience made it clear that the real subject of this film is more disruptive.

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11 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

groovy landfill bangra

Author: ( from Singapore
17 October 2000

This movie documents the lives of the poor and social outcasts in four mega-cities of the world - Mumbai-India, Moscow-Russia, Mexico City-Mexic and New York-USA.

Some of the scenes makes your skin crawl, like the scene where scavengers are wading through an open sewer and the stripper being groped in a peep show club.

Some of the scenes were deeply personal and extremely disturbing.

But the movie had a very acid-wit ending when the credits rolled. In Bollywood movies, you have scenes where there are lots of good looking actors doing a Bangra dance in beautiful landscaped backgrounds. But here the, director got a nicely choreographed Bangra, except instead of a lovely landscaped garden in the background, we have a massive landfill, extending all the way to the horizon, and instead of nicely dressed good looking actors, there are the ordinary, poor, dirty workers and students who live their lives in this terrible place... yet they dance well :)

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11 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

frightfully realistic

Author: Elliott Green (
13 August 1999

I haven't seen lots of documentaries, but this was one of the best ones I've seen in years. The film portrays the poor, homeless, and drug addicted citizens of Bombay, Mexico City, Moscow and New York City. Some scenes are so realistic that I wondered how they were shot - e.g. some of the scenes with the heroin addict in New York City.

Seeing a film like this also makes you realize how many people's stories do not get told by Hollywood films. When is the last time you saw some mass marketed film about a mother who strip dances to feed her children? Or a man who shakes different colored paint through a sieve for a living? The only other film I can think of like this was Hoop Dreams, but that at least dealt with young people with a chance to make something of their lives. Megacities deals with those who didn't make it and never will.

Yet some scenes aren't completely depressing. There's a DJ in New York City, asking his listeners to describe how they survive in the city. There are children in India who take turns watching an Indian soap opera. Finally and most disgusting, there's a scene with a whole barrel full of chickens whose necks have been broken and throats slashed but yet still move around and splatter their blood against the wall.

I'm surprised that so few people have seen (and thus voted) this film, especially considering it won awards in three continents. If you get a chance to see it, do, but be forewarned of its vividness.


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7 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Megacities: 10 years later ever more important to see

Author: Bee Friendly from United States
3 August 2009

I cannot agree with the gentleman from Mannheim finding this movie exploitive and staged. Sure there were many scenes "staged" but certainly the "Truth" of it all spoke for itself. A better title perhaps would have been "Hell on Earth and the human condition", but that's OK. Mumbai, Moscow, Mexcico City and New York City, they all lend themselves for the study of the every day, for the every day poor and wretched. I have lived in Delhi for almost 3 years, but seeing Mumbai in this movie, in this way, was almost worse than being there myself. But in the end, after having seen the madness of the three other places, India seemed almost harmless again. Every viewer brings his own history, prejudices, expectations and stories to a new movie, but I am sure this one will really make a lasting impression.

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7 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

real enough for me

Author: sampafelipe from Brazil
24 June 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

well, i hear the criticism about paying the subjects, exploitation, political agenda, etc. is not everything an illusion to one degree or another? however, billions of humans in economic poverty is not an illusion. the film presents persons usually never seen by the privileged minority (not just untouchables; "unseeables") that constitute perhaps the majority of the residents of planet earth. all filmed subjects (when the subjects are aware of being filmed, that is) are altered by the presence of the camera, and microphones. there is no way to transmit the smells, the extremes of temperature/humidity, but all these things are there, 24/7/365 for many people. i think it is a valid testimony to reality, and well worth seeing. i spent months in two of the cities, new york and Mexico city, and have lived for two years in another megacity, sao paulo, brasil. seeing is believing, and these places have a surreal aspect to them, especially the slums, favelas, etc. such humanity pressed together, many struggling to survive in massive cities where indeed there is ample money flowing, but the concentration of this wealth is amongst the few. one would be foolish to ignore the urban phenomenon and the effects on terrestrial sensibilities and life itself. there is a karmic aspect at work as well, which for me is the parallel with "koyaanisquatsi", "baraka", etc. so the director paid them! should he have filmed them for free?

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9 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

Great and sometimes disturbing documentation

Author: Manfred Peter Maier from Klagenfurt, Austria
12 March 1999

Megacities is a great documentation. After I saw the film, I felt like when I saw movies like "Koyaanisquatsi" or "Powaaquatsi". You can see and hear 12 different stories about people in big cities around the globe like Mexico, Moscow and New York. You see the poor people living in the slums, prostitutes and nude girls in peep shows, drug-dealers at there work, dealers and that kind of people. In very disturbing scenes you see dog-fights, chicken-farms, and whores, naked in their room. It lets you in a feeling like the thriller "Seven" did, with the only difference that this is real stuff. Everyone should see this movie or this kind of movies. It shows how bad mankind could be, but also what people do, when they have no money. And after the film you leave the cinema and feel shame, that you have a home, Tv-Set, Computer and enough to eat without thinking of the people, shown in this film. But if you think of it, how lucky we are, to be born in such a country like Austria, and what could had happen, if we were born in a poor country. Megacities is a great experience, nobody should miss.

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5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Magacities, Michael Glawogger, Best Documentary

Author: drasticaprojects from Denmark
6 January 2009

From my point of view Michael Glawogger is one of the biggest documentary maker of the last years. He approach people all over the world with respect and similitude of conditions. He does not make a show of reality, he is in love with reality and this love he shares with us. His documentary is an enormous project, but even the magnitude of the project, Glawogger is not pretentious at all. He does not put him self in the film as the documentaries "reality show" fashion, where the hero "documentary maker" put his live on risk or do weird stuff with his body, to see the underground of prostitution in Thailand etc. You can see that he develop a friendship and understanding for humanity without manipulation. From my point of view Megacities is not only a documentary but also a piece o art. And a completely different style of Philip Glass

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Struggling to survive in megacities as told in 12 stories

Author: laika-spoetnik from The Netherlands
13 November 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Michael Glawogger is known to move fluidly from documentary to fiction, but it is somewhat confusing to see both formats in a single movie/documentary. Of course it is true there is no sharp line between fiction and reality.

Hanu Abu-Assad introduced his documentary "Ford Transit" by saying that no documentary is objective. By the choice of your topic (he is Palestinian), the shots you take, the cutting, even your mere presence at the scene.

However in a documentary I do not expect "staging", unless it is clearly indicated and functional like in "The act of killing".

Anyway, the apparent acting throughout the movietary, as I would like to call it, negatively affected my perception of the movie. We see people chasing each other towards the camera and then the camera follows them. No coincidental shot. A gay man is " seduced" and while we see him naked and "turned on" he is humiliated and forced to pay money. A woman is interviewed in a broadcast and we see both the anchorman and the woman in the street. This is all clearly staged.

The effect it had on me was that I began to doubt most of the scenes. Were the beautiful long shots with the man sifting red, blue and yellow dye colors real, or was the man asked to exaggerate for the effect (he became red, blue and yellow himself).

Does this mean I found the movietary a real fail? No I didn't.

Megacities portrays the twelve lives of poorest citizens of four megacities: Mumbai, Moscow, New York and Mexico City. (I therefore prefer the German title: "Megacities - 12 Geschichten vom Überleben").

The best scenes are those where the camera mercilessly shows the emptiness, the monotony, the bad working conditions, the poor hygiene and the struggle for money. Dog-fights for fun. Gruesome. Rows of people doing the same work, each day. A chicken factory where chickens are handled and killed carelessly (they keep screaming and moving while their blood spatters against the wall) – a shocking and painfully beautiful picture.

Later I realized that Glawogger wanted to tell a story with images not words (no interviews). When real spontaneous shots were not possible, the scenes were replaced by "acting".

The stories were connected by asking the twelve persons for their ultimate dream. Dreaming means hope and that is what one needs under these circumstances. The last woman even wished she would stay in (or always return to) the ghetto she lived in. A beautiful end.

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2 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

Nice one

Author: Vicky Pang from Hong Kong
31 March 1999

Nice one, though at the beginning of the film it's hard to keep up with the subtitles and the images at the same times.

The scene of the chickens being left to die brought shivers down my spine. It makes me think twice about eating chickens.

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10 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

Mondo Cane is back!!!

Author: matalo from Mannheim, Germany
22 September 2000

After reading the other comments and reviews I have been expecting something like Kooyanisquatsi, Powaquatsi or Baraka, and I think that might have been the intention or ambition of the filmmaker. But, oh my, he failed big time. This is exploitation all the way. It´s completely staged and directed, and it suits itself by showing images of violence poverty and selfdegradation. He never comes even close to the real issues of Megacities in our time ( so he leaves out Tokyo for example- not enough poverty and crime there, I think). It reminded me fatally of the Italian exploitative documentaries of the 60s ( for example Mondo Cane by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi, who also staged everything they depicted in their films). So even his approach is not at all new or original. And like the Italians he seems to look down on people in a way you might call fascist, but everyone should judge for himself. So, if you watch it, do not take it too seriously. It´s not worth it, at all!!

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