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The Nothing Factory
Directed by Pedro Pinho
IN THE Nothing Factory, a group of Portuguese workers stage their own mini-revolt in a fight to stop their lift factory from closing and save their jobs in what's a surreal portrait of work in modern times.
Exploring the impact of the economic crisis on working class people and the failure of capitalism, the workers break into song in this documentary-style drama which blurs the lines between reality and fiction.
The film opens with workers being called in the middle of the night to their factory in Lisbon to discover that their bosses are stealing the machinery and raw materials before they shut it down.
To stop any further asset stripping, the workforce stage a sit-in, but their unity is soon tested when their employer offers them each a substantial lump-sum pay-off which sparks major tension and friction amongst the staff.
The suggestion by the firm's HR manager that they should see their redundancy as an opportunity adds insult to injury and the way she clandestinely approaches one of the men's wives in her workplace to get her to persuade her husband to accept the redundancy pay, underhand and despicable though it may be, is clever nonetheless.
When an Argentinian documentary film-maker arrives to make a film about their plight and suggests that they should run the factory themselves and be trailblazers, they quickly make the point that all they want to do is carry on working and be able to feed and clothe their families.
With a predominantly non-professional cast who deliver intense and heartfelt performances, Pinho's film is reminiscent of Ken Loach's before it veers off into a “neorealist musical,” as one of the characters describes it.
There's also an overly long in-depth dinner discussion about the adverse effects of capitalism in the middle of the film which had two audience members making a rapid exit when I saw it.
The three-hour running time of Pedro Pinho's feature film debut is certainly a challenge, but, if you manage to stay until the bitter end, this bizarre but ingeniously parable about workers' rights in Portugal has its rewards.
I can't help feeling that less would have been more, though.
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