In the mines, in the factories

Carlos Zilio, PRATO, 1971, industrial ink on porcelain, ø 24cm


Comments on films that address the issue of unemployment

The critic of New Yorkers, in a facetious and frivolous commentary consistent with the tone of the magazine – no less excellent for that – he observes that, after or all or nothing (1997) and A touch of hope (1996), who watches Billy Elliot you will think that in the north of England the workers devote themselves to the muses, and only the most reluctant oppose the artistic vocation, claiming the right to descend into the mineshaft. And he asks: when are they going to make a film about those who actually work?

It turns out that they already did, but the critic did not fulfill his obligation, nor did he see or inform himself. In the same year, an unusual French documentary came out about the only English coal mine bought by the workers, who keep it in operation, while the others closed. It's called burning coals (1999), French film directed by Jean-Michel Carré, who later wrote a book with the same title. Awarded at Cannes in 2000, it has even been seen in Brazil at the international documentary festival.

The Tower Colliery mine, in Wales, was bought in 1994 by socialist workers, using their severance payments, worth £8 each, as an investment. This mine has an epic legend, as in 1834 its workers marched with the red flag, which they still use today and claim to have invented.

It can be seen that it is a “macho” profession, in which there is a lot of mustache and little earring. Work in the mine, no matter how advanced the technology, is still mostly done by hand, like that of a dentist or a ship builder. The mishaps of democracy are felt in absenteeism, sometimes the proxy votes being more numerous than those present. The Tower Colliery miners had to contend with waste, from donations and 'thefts', amounting to £XNUMX in damage until a control was established.

They canceled bonuses for productivity, because it increases risks in terms of safety, since the worker makes more effort and gets more tired. In exchange, an increase was given, calculated on the basis of British Coal salaries, according to the general index of the country.

In the view of the miners, the mines were closed not for economic reasons, but for political reasons, in the face of the fearsome force of the class. In 1928 the greatest of the English, Winston Churchill, ordered the police to shoot one of his frequent demonstrations, killing several. Workers say that Margaret Thatcher wanted to emulate the feat, but that now “they are more civilized.

Other movies

Contrary to what one might suppose, cinema is perhaps more attentive to movements in the social fabric than we imagine. The great crisis of 1929 made Hollywood film famous, as we know, as it was a famous case for the exemplary nature with which it illuminated the power of evasion. While people committed suicide after the stock market crash and unemployment reached unprecedented levels in the United States, the queues for the box office went around the block during the 1930s. luxury and ostentation reigned. The greater the denial of the frightening and deprived times that everyone lived in, the better.

What is happening now deserves to be recorded. Suddenly, films about unemployment, whether central or secondary to the plot, constitute a thematic block of the greatest visibility. And, so as not to claim coincidence or a national fashion determined by the size of the problem, the films come from England, France, the United States and our country.

At the outset, two English productions stand out, one of them entitled or all or nothing (1997), with Robert Carlyle and Tom Wilkinson, who gracefully shows how six unemployed people, of different statuses, from unskilled to managerial level, end up showing solidarity and finding a creative outlet for their livelihood. The main finding resides precisely in this, in the constitution of a male striptease troupe, its problems and quid pro quos. What is not very funny is that the emphasis falls on free initiative, implying that only those who want to are unemployed. And the film implies that deep down they don't want to work seriously. Speaking of which, how many of these troupes would the English market be big enough to absorb?

Yet another English tape, A touch of hope (1996), with Pete Postlethwaite and Ewan McGregor, puts a heartbreaking impasse on the screen, focusing on a band of miners at a time when all the country's coal mines are in the process of being decommissioned. The alienation is unavoidable: they are on a protest strike, and it depends on their vote whether or not the mine is closed – while they are proud of their profession and their band, continuing to play with a view to the national championship. Thus, the spectator understands that there is no point in sacrificing and perfecting the performance, because the mine will be extinguished in the same way and, with it, the band.

There are details that illustrate the refinement of the bosses, such as the hiring of an unsuspecting sociologist to carry out a survey on whether or not the closure was convenient, just to deceive public opinion, since it was already decreed in advance that the mine would not survive.

Perhaps the worst thing is to find in the film the confirmation of what has already happened, as everyone knows, with regard to the mission that the Thatcher government assumed and carried out, of putting 250 miners out of the street, putting an end to the mines of coal in the country. As the film shows, which of those poor devils wouldn't be tempted to vote in favor of the liquidation – the whole process was impeccably democratic – which would give each one enough compensation to buy a small house in the suburbs? The film tells how the whole journey unfolded.

Coming from France, That old song, also translated as Parisian loves (1997), by Alain Resnais, the incomparable master of Hiroshima my love, bets on an ingenious cinematic solution: the actors dub French songs of old and modern popular hits in the original recordings, which match the plot while functioning as a scathing commentary. It is laughable to watch the German General Von Choltitz, commander of the Nazi occupation of Paris – famous for refusing to dynamit the city at the time of defeat, despite Hitler's orders –, open his mouth and sing with the voice of Josephine baker J'ai deux amours, mon pays et Paris, 1930's classic.

In a group of average people, but well fed and well dressed, with their sentimental and financial troubles, it is amazing to see how unemployment and underemployment, not thematized, cross, however, these lives. Even included in the context of a light comedy, and at heart optimistic, in which people, weaker or healthier, are not really bad. It is a mistake made by the protagonist, forced by her duties at the firm where she works to turn down a qualified candidate, without a job for two years, and everything that results from that, provides a good part of the plot.

It is impressive in the general panorama to see how even a very violent and more conventional thriller North American, those with child hostage kidnapping and ransom demand, introduces the theme. the fourth power (1997), from the competent hands of Costa-Gavras, stars two stars, Dustin Hoffman, an unscrupulous reporter fired from a newspaper, from a media committed to sensationalism, and John Travolta, as the kidnapper. When the viewer already foresees a rescue in the order of millions of dollars, he is faced with a surprise. Because the kidnapper, former guard of a natural history museum in the interior with almost no customers, wants nothing more than his humble job back. A job he lost because the museum decided to cut costs, making him, as they say, obsolete; or making it more flexible, outsourcing, etc.

Among Brazilians, foreign land (1995), by Walter Salles Jr., made unemployment the driving force of the entire action, leading to the expatriation of the protagonist and the questioning of his identity as an excluded person. AND Central do Brasil (1998), by the same director, puts on stage a Rio de Janeiro without a postcard façade, a hellish country where a population of lumpens lives in a vicious circle with no defined borders between unemployment, the informal sector and delinquency. Not even a well-behaved worker appears to serve as a counterpoint and model – not bad, because would it be honest to ignore that industrial work is wasting away?

In these last two films, the return to the screens of the face of the people is marked, perhaps not in the same way, but with resonances of star hour (1985), by Suzana Amaral, in refusing to glamorize characters. It's a good shock for viewers used to thinking they're seeing Brazil in Globo's telenovela.


out of hollywood

The public has seen the emergence of several films of a new type, the working-class musical, in recent years. aside A touch of hope e or all or nothing, three more deserve mention, one Englishman, one Australian and one Danish, expanding the implications and unprecedented angles they shed light on.

Billy Elliot (2000), directed by Stephen Daldry, is set right in the middle of a vast – and, as history has shown, tragic – strike by those miners in 1984 in a small town in County Durham. The brutal police repression against them is shown, several times unleashed by Margaret Thatcher, in a war without quarter for a decade, until winning in the entire line.

A boy, son and brother of miners, discovers his vocation for ballet. Billy is motherless, and his father, a manual worker, is horrified. His is a macho, beer-drinking, soccer fanfare culture where physical exertion is an outlet for frustration. Until one day his father sees him perform a tap dance and decides to give him a chance: a beautiful scene, in which Billy dances on the street, on the roofs, and even inside the washbasin, bouncing off the walls.

The boy applies for a scholarship to the Royal Ballet, willing to face the tough years of training required. The strike was lost and we see the father in the elevator going down to the bottom of the mine, bowed in defeat. When Billy passes the exam, the narrative breaks off to make way for the big final scene of his debut; in the audience, father and brother enraptured. The film ends with the spectacular leap into the scene of an adult Billy, disguised as a swan, a displacement that comes to allegorize the metamorphosis of the ugly duckling.

This last feat is owed to Matthew Bourne, a daring English choreographer, who set up in 1995 a Swans's Lake only with men, giving rise to a good discussion about gender and the like. The montage still circulates around the world today. With bare-chested swans and pantaloons puffed with feathers, it is a small piece of this montage that can be seen at the end of Billy Elliot.

In a similar line is located passion and fame (2000), Australian, directed by Dein Perry, featuring a young metalworker from Newcastle, Australia, a factory city where jobs pass from father to son. He is a colleague of his father and has a half lumpen, half light delinquent brother. Like Billy, he is an orphan of a mother with a vocation for dancing, opposed by everyone, including his father and brother, who, for a change, consider that ballet is not something for a real man.

The intrigue is thin, but the film's interest lies in other factors. First, the use of the installations of a steel plant to encourage dancing. Second, the Australian invention of the men's choreography of black boot boots, which has circled the planet with unrivaled success in recent years. The film's director, Dein Perry, is also the choreographer for Tap Dogs., the troupe that dazzled the world.

They practice tap dancing (tapdance), except that theirs has nothing to do with the elegance and lightness typical of the specialty, its epitome being the divine Fred Astaire, whose persona is that of a slender aristocrat. blase, in tailcoat, top hat, cane, irony and malice. None of that. The Australians are men who sweat as they prance around in jeans and clinging T-shirts, show off their muscles in all virility, hammer their feet on the ground for real, thunder the air with their boots, in a dance sexy of the greatest masculinity… and they are wonderful. Naturally, they dance to the sound of heavy rock.

The film takes advantage of the discovery and places it in a steelworks, stage and setting for the choreography, with stupendous results. The stage is made of metal, as well as the side railings, from which the ironed boots even draw sparks, as if they were blowtorches. The machines and implements provide instigations for different arabesques; the metal stairs and walkways amplify the repercussion of the rhythms. There's even a scene in a shallow, cooling pool that yields good pirouettes. In this particular, it was Singing in the Rain that Gene Kelly elevated the liquid to an active accessory and ballet partner, as well as scenery, as he splashed rhythmically in the gutter runoff, incorporating the water that drums on the umbrella and gushes from the gutter. passion and fame it ends with the announcement that everyone is fired, the factory must be deactivated within three months.

Another is the scope of Dancing in the Dark (1999), the first of a trilogy that would later be seen, directed by Lars von Trier, from the group Dogma, and starring the singer Björk. It won the awards for best film and best actress at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000.

Björk's extraordinary presence overshadows almost everything else that presents itself. Yet another story of unemployment, in this individual case, reaches unimaginable levels of both poignancy and potential for the treatment of a musical. And what goes on between the tools on the assembly line; differing from the previous ones because it takes place in a working factory, where the cronies sing and dance while they work.

A Czech factory worker emigrates to the United States with her young son in search of a job. Prey of progressive and hereditary blindness, she wants to save her minimum wage to guarantee the boy a preventive operation. A fan of musicals, she insists on rehearsing an amateur show in which she dances and sings, but loses the role because she no longer masters the scene markings. Despite being well-liked and protected by colleagues at the factory, who know about her drama, she arrives one day when her blindness can no longer be disguised, when she starts to ruin the parts and is fired.

From then on, from what had been a life of deprivation, but with a job and a project for the future – the surgery to save her son from blindness – horror was unleashed, as inexorable as fate. Because it is in the thriving headquarters of capitalism that everything has an appointment: full employment and good minimum wages along with market fundamentalism. People spend more than they can afford, they steal to consume, those who cannot afford a lawyer are guilty, and there is a preferential death penalty for the poor. The severe accusation of the idolatry of consumption shows a rich policeman stealing from a blind woman the money that – and he knew – would rescue a child with the same fate. Björk should never act in the cinema again, to leave this performance engraved in the retina, and in the heart, of the spectator.

It is still original that the theme of the breakdown of industrial work is engaging cinematography and transforming the factory into a filmable setting. The musical migrates to the other extreme of the social spectrum that was its cradle, raised at the time by the use of sound in previously silent cinema: when, in its prime, it was the privilege of an environment of luxury and ostentation. The new films, together, give food for thought.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is professor emeritus at FFLCH at USP. Author, among other books, of The muses under siege (Senac).

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