Home is where the profitable investment can be - as rich purchasers know.



The title of this film gives little idea of its concerns and consequently feels rather anonymous. However, when seen Fredrik Gertten’s new documentary proves to be a no holds barred exposé of global exploitation in the housing sphere. Gertten approaches this subject by putting at the centre of his film the lawyer Leilani Farha who is the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the right to housing. She regards infringements of that as a human rights abuse, one which today widely affects tenants when the properties in which they live are acquired as a form of investment. This can happen as part of the process which finds areas caught up in gentrification, but Push asserts that it goes far beyond that. Alongside Farha’s own comments, we find here major contributions from Saskia Sassen, a professor of sociology at Columbia University, and from Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Laureate in Economy.


Push starts out in Toronto but London is featured (the Grenfell Tower tragedy gets substantial footage) and indeed it extends to places as far apart as Sweden, Chile, Korea and Italy (the latter bringing in Roberto Saviano, the author of Gomorrah). This all contributes to the film’s assertion that there is a world-wide pattern when to comes to purchases undertaken with the intention of raising rents sky high often accompanied by an intention to use pressures, direct or indirect, to drive out any occupiers. Furthermore, there are plenty of big companies and wealthy individuals ready to speculate by acquiring properties and then leaving them empty. By taking a broad view Push brings out its core concern: the extent to which ordinary people are losing affordable homes as a result of these forms of unbridled capitalism.


For most viewers, the fact that Push presents its case so forcefully will be enough to make them applaud it. But, if it is considered as a piece of cinema, it is more open to certain doubts. The decision to place Leilani Farha at the film’s centre does mean that she turns up in almost every location visited, but her message is so emphasised that it comes at the expense of anything more personal about her. This is probably a deliberate choice, but it does result in a film that tends to go over much the same ground many times even if it does show how her endeavours bear fruit in winning support from the mayors of various cities (this came about after she had set up a movement named The Shift in order to consolidate action on these matters). Recently we had a film from Zed Nelson, 2019’s The Street. That film was centred on Hoxton and had somewhat different aims to this one but, even so, change brought about by gentrification was a part of its concerns. Consequently I was reminded of it, and that made me conscious of the superior quality of the filmmaking there and of the extra warmth conveyed when it showed individuals under pressure. In choosing to be wider-ranging Push misses some of that and I felt the lack of it. Nevertheless, the general message comes across loud and clear and that is what really counts.




Featuring  Leilani Farha, Saskia Sassen, Joseph Stiglitz, Stig Westerdahl, Florian Schmidt, Frederik Jordell, Roberto Saviano, Michael Müller, Leila Bozony, Michael Louis Johnson, Ada Colau.


Dir Fredrik Gertten, Pro Margarete Jangård, Screenplay Fredrik Gertten, Ph Janice d’Avila and Iris Ng, Ed Erik Wall Bäfving and Anders Bewarp, Music Florencia Di Concillo.


WG Film/SVT/Film i Skåne/ZDF/Arte/Nordisk Film/Bertha Foundation-JonnyTull.
92 mins. Sweden/Germany/Finland/Norway/Canada/UK/USA. 2019. Rel: 28 February 2020. Cert. 12A.