Ben Russell’s latest experimental documentary studies the men that labour in the copper and gold mines of Serbia and Suriname.
France, Germany, 143 minutes
The opening shot of Good Luck is a collage of images set to the ominous beat of a drum and off-key trumpets–are we in Serbia or Suriname? Lush green trees, mists and a massive, bleak hill of sandy-coloured mine waste under a blue sky segues to a scene of a mournful brass band marching out of a ruined mine building, the white faces and scruffy Communist-era uniforms tell us this is Serbia.
As may be expected from Ben Russell, a prolific Los Angeles-based documentary filmmaker, the opening shots are hauntingly beautiful and very arty.
Russell is a renowned experimental filmmaker, whose central concerns “as an artist, filmmaker and curator… lie at the intersection of ethnography and psychedelia”, according to a write-up by London’s Tate Gallery where the film screened early February followed by a Q&A with the director.
From the bright primary colours of the opening sequence where a band member laments the loss of the mining village he grew up in (“It has all been swallowed by ‘the pit’ ”, he says without emotion), Russell cuts to a black and white shot of a miner, his face partially shaded by an old-fashioned hard hat, drawing on a cigarette. Again, the shot could be frozen as a still, framed and hung on the wall of a modern art gallery such is the silver-gelatine depth of its image.
«There is no dialogue, just men walking and then drilling with aged equipment into solid rock faces.»
The opening titles appear–Good Luck in parenthesis beneath the Serbian translation Srećno–signalling the Serbian half of a story that literally plumbs the depths of the fundamentals of contemporary capitalism by examining the lives and plights of men who mine copper in Serbia and gold in Suriname.
The transition from the world of light and air to the depths of the earth is done virtually in real time: miners dressed in blue overalls and hard-plastic helmets, amble through the austere corridors of the pithead before entering a steel cage for the 600 metre descent to the mine tunnels. For anyone who has ever been down a copper mine (full disclosure: I have, twice–once in southern Russia and once in central Kazakhstan), the experience is a strangely moving and deeply unsettling one, bordering on the mythical, even the psychedelic, as one emerges into vast tunnels many metres in diameter through which gigantic mining vehicles move like some ancient beasts from another age.
«If you are afraid, then you are out of this mine.»