Our Daily Bread | We feed the world
Nicolaus Geyrhalter. | Erwin Wagenhofer
Austria 2005, 90 min. | Austria 2005, 96 min.
Curiously, two feature docs have been released in Austria at the same time dealing with the same theme: modern industrialized fishery and agriculture – and both films were supported by the Austrian Film Institute and the Vienna Film Fund. The two films urge us to stop up and take a closer look at the way the world is developing, asking the question: is this what we want? But here the similarities stop: the two films take two quite different approaches.
Our Daily Bread is an expressionistic vision, like Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936). It is completely without dialogue, voice-over, music, any information in the form of texts or anything, consisting only of pictures and natural sounds. It shows all the aspects of modern agriculture: conveyor belts, breeding tanks, greenhouses and slaughterhouses. In most cases the products being manufactured are alive-chickens, pigs, cows-yet treated by the workers exactly like objects that have to be sorted, turned the right way, fit into the machines, cut into pieces and packaged. Deprived of any dignity, the cows wait to be slaughtered while watching their fellow cows hanging dead from the roof. The chickens are packed into boxes, transported on conveyor belts, put in enormous halls so close together they are almost in two layers, ending in the slaughterhouse, where hanging from a conveyor belt they are cut into smaller and smaller pieces and readied for packaging. In the greenhouse, the plants grow in bags of nutritious soil, not even in touch with real dirt, so when harvested and withered, they are easy to cut and collect.
The images are carefully framed in symmetrical compositions, full, grandiose, shots giving the production facilities monumental status, underlining the enormous, impersonal conditions under which the food is produced. Quantity is the keyword for modern agriculture which is as far from nature as is imaginable. Towards the end of the film, Geyrhalter cuts between scenes of greenhouses, slaughterhouses and livestock buildings -all being washed and disinfected. The clinical, unnatural, estranged relation to natural products is complete.