October 13, 2006
Our Daily Bread, 2006
Evoking the aesthetics of Harun Farocki's antiseptic images of production crossed with Chantal Akerman's structuralist ruminations on organic landscape, Nikolaus Geyrhalter's Our Daily Bread is a bracing, surreal, sobering, and strangely transfixing exposition into the dehumanized technologies and industrially engendered process efficiencies intrinsic in the mass commerce of industrial-scale food production. Composed of a series of incisive and intelligently edited medium to long take shots and devoid of contextual information, illuminating interviews, or expository narration, the film crystallizes on the collective implication of the indelible - if perversely sublime - images of food production: a stream of newly hatched chicks are sifted from the eggshells and transferred onto crates through a high speed conveyer belt sorter in a process that resembles the propulsion of a tennis ball machine; the quick and "humane" slaughter of livestock is nevertheless made all the more discomforting by the precise and systematic process of exsanguination, skinning, and butchering; an idyllic image of a sunflower field is subverted by the appearance of a crop duster plane and supplanted by the subsequent image of the charred, withered plants harvested en masse by a tractor; a large and seemingly formidable tree shakes violently under the grasp of a clawed tractor designed to draw nuts from its branches for faster collection by an automated sweeper; a group of migrant workers hand pick vegetables for placement onto their manual roll carts at a collapsible greenhouse. What is particularly admirable about Geyrhalther's critical and observant exposition into the curious dystopia of agricultural production and commerce is the parity and unpolemical representation of his gaze, a matter-of-factness that is perhaps best encapsulated by the film's titular allusion to The Lord's Prayer, a reminder of the sacredness, gratitude, and quotidian grace of survival.