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Jennifer Baichwal's cameras follow Edward Burtynsky (1955- ) as he visits what he calls manufactured landscapes: slag heaps, e-waste dumps, huge factories in the Fujian and Zhejiang provinces of China, and a place in Bangladesh where ships are taken apart for recycling. In China, workers gather outside the factory, exhorted by their team leader to produce more and make fewer errors. A woman assembles a circuit breaker, and women and children are seen picking through debris or playing in it. Burtynsky concludes with a visit to Shanghai, the world's fastest growing city, where wealth and poverty, high-rises and old neighborhoods are side by side. Written by
This felt a little like a companion piece to Wall-E briefly in the beginning; images of overwhelming waste, even nice compacted cubes of it a la that film. Then later it sort of connected for me with a book I recently read called "Lost on Planet China" by J. Maarten Troost, although that book wants to be a comedic monologue more than a travelogue/social commentary.
This film is humorless. Which is fine, but the notion that it is not a polemic, or even the photos alone are not political, is quite unfair, even if I do tend to lean the same way as the filmmaker's viewpoint. I understand that some people feel China is one huge Pittsburgh/Sheffield and that "we" are defiling our Mother Earth. I'm not entirely sure I buy that though.
I'm always a little suspicious of "the old ways are best" thinking. I'm generally pretty happy with increasing life-spans, and I know that change comes with costs. Ideally you minimize the damage, but I wondered how these filmmakers would depict the birth of a child. Notice the woman's body beforehand, but now in manufacturing a child, look at the gross distension of the innards, and once the child is finally delivered, observe the impact on the once-vibrant young couple as they struggle through endless hours of sleeplessness and toil with the mound of waste produced by just one child.
For some reason, I also expected the photography to be more artistic, a la "The War Photographer" (a film that I would recommend if you liked this one, or even if you just finished this one). I liked one of the Chinese people, examining a picture of him and remarking how the scale of the shot was so large that there was no detail. Nothing intimate.
Anyways, an interesting albeit strongly biased view of China...just the number of women workers in different positions was fascinating. Including the "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" with the either attractive or repelling (or both for me?) Diana Lu, extravagant real estate agent, was kind of weird to me. Especially when contrasted with omitting the stonecutter, who was in the deleted scenes, well all choices are loaded.
I'll look for the photography book at the library, some of those shots with a green oval inside a strip mining pit show briefly in the film I wanted to understand more. I assume enhanced via filters/processing. Also the Bangladesh ship graveyard...while maybe meant to be a cautionary scaring about our wasteful ways was nonetheless compelling, like having a ringside seat to the La Brea Tar Pits back when the dinosaurs were laying down for extinction.
The legacy of China's rapid growth will be understood long after I am gone, and I'm not so sure that Eve and Wall-E will be weeping over the Great Wall crumbled down to build our great-great-great automaton grandchildren.
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