Michael Glawogger (who died in 2014) wondered if, in the digital age, heavy manual labor is disappearing, or maybe just becoming invisible. In this film the megadirector offers portraits of grueling work and fearless workers, allowing us to reimagine what work is and what survival means in the twenty-first century, when it’s every man for himself, and God has replaced the state. In illegal coalmines in Ukraine’s Donets Basin, diggers use camaraderie and ingenuity to bring a few pieces of coal to the surface—enough to heat their homes or trade for food. A statue of a Soviet coal-mining hero stands in the town square like a has-been comic. In another portrait, sulfur workers in Kawah Ijen, Indonesia, brave the “kitchen,” a stinking, spitting site on the shores of a hot blue crater, to carry baskets heavy with jagged sulfur pieces down the mountainside while hikers snap photographs in a surreal meeting of consciousnesses. A purer form of hell is found in a Nigerian slaughter yard where the bleating animals (graphically portrayed) seem more human than the men and women killing, portioning, roasting, selling—and praying. In Pakistan, proud, devout Pashtuns find work shipbreaking—taking apart giant vessels at the end of their use. In the hull of one of these dead giants being sliced apart, as in the sixteen-inch-high crawlspace in the Ukrainian mine, Glawogger’s camera is as unflinching as its subjects. Image making is work made visible. Music by John Zorn is composed to the rhythms and spirit of each locale.
Please note: this film contains graphic scenes of animal slaughter.