In Comparison (2009)
Directed by Harun Farocki
Friday, February 3 and Monday, February 6 at Anthology Film Archives's "Deutsche Docs"
Harun Farocki traces the construction of civilization and its discontents from the cradle of life to late-capitalist Europe, literally brick by brick. In this hour of observational footage and occasional explanatory intertitles, the prolific German film-essayist's camera takes in how bricks are shaped, dried or fired, and what they build, from a Burkina Faso health clinic to the magic-eye wall of a Swiss villa.
The process—which doubles as amateur anthropology as patient Farocki assumes his subjects to be inherently interesting—upscales from a village happening, with the men mucking up a mudpile and lining up to shovel mud into a single mold, to organized labor, at an Indian yard where hunched-over women pour mixed material into identical branded molds; to rough-fingered immigrants on assembly lines, to mechanization, and finally a robot laying bricks according to a complex computer program.
The division of labor starts out gendered—in one village, the men lay bricks while the women smear plaster over the completed walls, and the kids gather to watch; in other they dance in around the frame of the building—proceeds to a factory floor from which women are mostly absent, and ends with all people removed from the process almost entirely. The process of brickmaking is seen to begin in response to a need, and then evolves, to mass production, automation, depersonalization, and detachment from the end product.