An amazing debut feature about working conditions in a factory in India.



This is a quite remarkable first feature. The filmmaker is Rahul Jain born in Delhi but brought up in America and here he returns to India to make a film about life in a textile factory in the country's western state of Gujarat. Even if this were not a debut, it would be a daring undertaking since his aim is to illustrate vividly the inhuman experience of those driven by poverty to seek work in such places. If the repetition renders the job boring, the hours make it back-breaking (the day shift runs from 8.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m. and some workers follow it with a second shift from 9.00 p.m.). Covering all this without the film itself becoming a wretched experience is a challenge, but Jain aided by the magnificent Mexican photographer Rodrigo Trejo Villanueva brings it off superbly.


There is no commentary. Instead, some of the male workers including a child speak on camera. Sensibly, Jain uses no music, but the atmosphere is potent with the textiles themselves providing the only ray of colour in a grim world. It is tragically ironic when one worker's pride causes him to deny that anybody is exploiting him despite the poor pay and the terrible conditions: like others who travel to Gujurat because of the work available there, the free choice that he claims to have exercised is an illusion because in truth the inadequate support provided for him and his family compels him to be there. Unconscious pathos is also to be found when a youngster speaks of the experience he is gaining as being something that will stand him in good stead to work there as an adult.


Mainly set indoors alongside the workers, Machines (a title that reflects the actual machinery seen but also suggests the inhumanity of the virtual slave labour that treats men as machines) goes on in its second half to give us sight of those dealing with the sale of the product and there is a devastating interview with the boss man who seeks to justify the set-up. The only reservation that I have about this film concerns its last few minutes which, less clear-cut than the rest, seem unnecessary: the aerial view preceding this takes us up to see the whole industrial area for the first time and the fact that it establishes this factory as one of many is a summation of all that we have seen and powerful enough to have ended the film. But that is a minor point. Machines is a work of art in which the art never clashes with the reality of what is being exposed. It may not be quite as ambitious in scope as the 2016 release Behemoth, but it evokes that masterpiece without being overshadowed by it and both films contain some truly memorable faces. We are not unaware of the kind of conditions shown here, but Jain's film brings them home to us in a way that makes Machines a necessary and unforgettable film.




Dir Rahul Jain, Pro Rahul Jain, Thanassis Karathanos and Iikka Vehkalahti, Ph Rodrigo Trejo Villanueva and Rahul Jain, Ed Yael Bitton, Robert Fenz and Rahul Jain.


Jann Pictures/Pallas Film/IV Films-Dogwoof.
71 mins. India/Germany/Finland. 2016. Rel: 19 May 2017. Cert. 12A.