So it turns out that CANNED DREAMS is not the movie to watch while clutching a Pret BLT for dear life. I am no hippie vegetarian - on the contrary I tend to think that if you can't eat it, what use is it? - but even I found the abbatoir scenes in this food industry doc pretty hard to take. That said, what makes this a brilliant documentary is that it doesn't descend into clumsy agit-prop. Rather it has the same hypnotic, lyrical style of a previous London Film Fest doc, OUR DAILY BREAD, and far more humanity, given that it focuses on the stories of the workers whose livelihoods depend on the large-scale mechanised food industry.
Finnish director Katja Gauriloff's conceit is to follow the production cycle of a can of pork ravioli from the Brazilian mines where the aluminium is harvested, to the tomato fields of Portugal, to the pork farms of Denmark and the canneries of France. In each segment, her camera calmly gazes at the production process, unflinchingly showing us claustrophobic batteries of hens, and the bloody rollers upon which pigs' arteries are severed. In each location, she focuses on a worker and allows them to tell their story in an authentic voiceover. These vary from the lonely farmer who just wants to meet a girl to the butcher who regrets his alcoholism and protests he loves his children. The stories vary from the wildly idealistic, to the melancholy, to the tragic. At each stage we are asked to contrast the humanity of the person with the inhumanity of the food production process. Even the sweet Danish vet, trying to give the pigs a better day, is working in the plant where they will eventually be loaded in a truck and sent to the abbatoir.
The result is an affecting and provocative drama. I'm not sure it increases my knowledge of the mechanized food industry or makes me any less likely to tuck into a rare steak. But it did make me keenly aware of appreciating the people that have to live with the things that we'd rather not notice.
CANNED DREAMS played Berlin and London 2012 and was released in Finland in January 2012.