Our Daily Bread

You're so sexy when you're non-narrative
★★★
Released: 
2005
Director: 
Nikolaus Geyrhalter
Starring: 
Plants and animals
The Setup: 
Non-narrative documentary about food processing.
Discussion: 

I was keen to see this as soon as I heard about it, knowing how I love disturbing documentaries and am interested by genetic engineering of food and mass food production techniques. The deal here is that this guy went around to various European food processing plants and just recorded what he saw, then edited it together with no music or narration. So it sounded like a mixture of Koyaanisqatsi and The Future of Food, which is SO MY SHIT.

The first thing we see is a man riding this thing that takes his down rows of tomatoes, which he picks and packs into boxes for transport. The only sound is the sound of his machinery. Soon after we have an assembly line of yellow newborn chicks being dumped into bins as though they were tennis balls or something, then run down another conveyor belt and tossed aside by bored workers when they’re defective. It’s shocking and a little funny to see animals—baby animals, at that—treated with such blithe indifference.

The scenes sort themselves into the surreal, the horrifying, the intriguing, and the dull. Among the surreal are sequences which capture a piece of farm equipment or machinery operating in a way you just wouldn’t expect, like this tractor-thing that spreads its arms out, out, out until they extend what looks like 100 feet out either side, which reminded me so much of that footage of the mosquito emerging from its pupa and spreading its wings in Microcosmos. Among the horrifying [there are many more of these] are a machine that skins a whole cow by grabbing the hide near its butt, then rolling the whole thing around a huge spool that moves slowly toward its head. Or the machine that gently moves a pig carcass’ front feet out of the way before slicing its belly open, or the woman in charge of cutting the snouts of pigs who have been cut right in half and are hanging, their snouts the only thing holding the two halves together. Intercut with some of these scenes are sequences of the workers taking lunch breaks, eating sandwiches mostly, but the point is there that they are eating the very food we are watching them produce.

As it goes on, one appreciates the method of not having any narration or music that might be seen as manipulating the audience’s perceptions, but at the same time this means that it could have been shorn of 20 judiciously-trimmed minutes and only made the movie stronger. The lack of a guiding voice-over, at 90 minutes, eventually makes the movie seem overly long, flat and shapeless. If it had been trimmed to 60 power-packed minutes it would have been stronger. But then it might not even have made it into the slight amount of theaters it did.

When it was over, the friend I had dragged to it jokingly whined: “You said it was going to be like Happy Feet! You said it was going to be about dancing penguins and it wasn’t! It was about European agribusiness!”

Should you watch it: 

If you want. You could totally live without it.