In many ways Bauxite is the abbreviation of everything that’s wrong with globalisation; it’s essential for high-tech items like cell phones, but it’s mined in some of the poorest (and sometimes the most war-torn) parts of Africa. It’s not difficult to see the political critique underway in the piece, especially given that it’s for the most part shot in Africa but concludes with images of ships carrying bauxite being unloaded in Québec, where L’Espérance is from. Indeed, this is all reminiscent of a film about trade inequities made by Québécois filmmaker Jacques Godbout in 1982, A North-South Monologue, which also dealt with Bauxite, but focussed instead on Haiti and the southern hemisphere generally.
But where Godbout’s film was tempered with his own subjectivity and dry, sometimes acidic humour, L’Espérance’s work is tempered with a gentle lyricism. The film lingers for long periods on people labouring, has some very nice shots of boxes being unloaded in the foggy dark, seems particularly taken with shots of trains; we also spend time with a dance troupe called Soleil d’Afrique. All of this kind of imagery has deep political resonance, of course, but there’s a patience here, a gentleness that keeps the film from ever becoming didactic. Part of this poetic sensibility, no doubt, is due to the presence of cinematographer Jacques Leduc, whose work as a filmmaker and director of photography is well known in Québec.
But in addition to being closely linked to important strains of Québec cinema, La Main invisible is also reminiscent of important parts of African cinema. Indeed, with its attempt to find lyricism in the details of physical labour, the film is quite reminiscent of Mozambican film-maker Flora M’mbugu-Schelling’s 1992 work These Hands. Defined by a complex but gentle dance between the local and the global, La Main invisible is an admirable work of globalised cinema.