Gliding cameras and sustained tableaux showcase yard after yard of colorful fabric cascading down a drab gray wall like an otherworldly waterfall, and vats of gooey dye eye-pleasingly mixed as if Gerhard Richter were prepping his next canvas. Rahul Jain’s hypnotic and sensuous immersion into the cavernous corridors of an active textile factory in his childhood home of Sachin (Gujarat, India) has a deceptively generic title, a double reference to the film’s nightmarishly cha-chunking industrial gear and its nameless, dehumanized operators. However, Machines is a work of social advocacy that never suffers from poverty-porn detachment; the vivid poetry Jain discovers in this squalid ecosystem’s pulsing processes (director of photography Rodrigo Trejo Villanueva deservedly won a cinematography prize at this year’s Sundance) forces viewers to stay glued to the heartbreaking plight of workers — some as young as pre-teens — who make roughly $100 for a month of punishing twelve-hour shifts. With neither voiceover nor score, Jain’s feature debut recalls the hushed arthouse vérité of Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab (Leviathan, Manakamana), except for a curated smattering of interviews that editorialize the people’s dire need to unionize. Whether observed in the shrugging resignation of those thankful for this shit job, the coldhearted management claiming half the employees don’t care about their families, or a crowd staring down the lens to demand why our unseen, unheard filmmaker is documenting instead of helping, Machines proves both uncompromising and unforgettable.
Directed by Rahul Jain
Opens August 9, Film Forum