- Our Daily Bread
The documentary film Our Daily Bread, by Nikolaus Geyrhalter, is one of the rare examples of contemporary documentary filmmaking in which some of the most relevant discussions within film and cinema theory appear to crystallize. In the already impressive oeuvre of this young filmmaker, Our Daily Bread reveals another outstanding example of the long-standing collaboration of Nikolaus Geyrhalter (script, directing, cinematography) and Wolfgang Widerhofer (script, editing), applying a reflexive, subtle and intelligent approach, here to the subject of the industrialized production of food.
The contemporary documentary film market, with its festivals, committees and broadcasting networks, predominantly regards film form as subservient to content. Our Daily Bread makes a critical intervention against this tragic development and has already achieved international recognition through numerous awards, international screenings and cinema distribution agreements. Nonetheless, this film deserves acclaim beyond the classical categorization of what commonly is thought to make a good documentary film.
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In contrast to the very common documentary film genres of reportage and ideology- or education-driven styles, Geyrhalter positions himself as a silent participating observer and shows, predominantly through wide-angle long shots and continuous tracking shots, what happens behind the veils inside the mechanisms of the industrialized food production throughout Europe. The film follows the living organisms, from their sources (seed, cells, artificial insemination, etc.) in- and outdoors, through the processes of growth, feeding, pesticide treatment, etc., to the final machinery of the harvest and slaughter and the various stages of cleansing, portioning, packaging, etc. What we see is activity in the close presence of the camera, avoiding sensationalism and the use of extreme close-ups as affection-images in a Deleuzian sense; instead the frequent use of wide-angle views appear to create an optimal stage of projection and reflection for viewers.
Through Widerhofer's evocative editing style, various forms of intelligence interact and act upon each other: the machineries and robots, the organisms, the plants, the animals—alive and dead—and the human employees in their daily routines, all on an equal plane of observation. These scenes of food processing regularly juxtaposed with employees (usually one, sometimes several) taking their lunch breaks in fixed frontal medium-close shots, silently consuming their "daily bread." For brief moments they—and we—are cut off from the distinct noises and mechanisms of the machinery (perhaps it is just as well that Smell-O-Vision never really took off), and as viewers we can take a break from the stream of images and narrative structure of the sequences.
The dramaturgical structure of the film avoids providing any further factual information; there are no numbers, identified places or interviews, for example, nor are any uttered opinions or text in the form of subtitles or inter-titles offered. As a consequence, viewers are not only stimulated but also confronted with a whole range of open questions that provoke them to make up their own minds about what they [End Page 407] see. Such questions concern, for example, the quality of processed food, the automation of labor, the ethics of mass livestock breeding, artificial insemination, slaughter and the application of insecticides.
In addition, the choice of avoiding any interviews is obviously a very considered one, which supports the clear-cut style of Geyrhalter's aesthetic approach; his cinematography and Widerhofer's associative editing "show and tell" in sequences of images held together by a sophisticated dramaturgical structure of contrasts, analogies, interconnections and contradictions—a complexity of observations that viewers are invited to experience.
In Our Daily Bread, the technology at work and on display as well as the applied techniques in film style and form create a polyphonic dialogue of a complex "apparatus" where the mechanisms of cinematography intersect and interact by design with those of the food production industry. Consequently, in the spectator's perception the film operates within a framework of tension between the visual aesthetics and perceptual pleasures of color patterns, the formalistically...