Review: Dreaming Under Capitalism
by Fabien Lemercier
- Documentarian Sophie Bruneau has come up with an original Freudian angle from which to broach the issue of unpleasant working conditions in the modern world
When the “beep” of the till scanner ends up haunting your dreams, when your colleagues turn into zombies or mummies, when your customers start spooning your brains into their mouths, or when the urge to kill your boss or a crushing feeling gives you cold sweats in the dead of night, your day job is clearly weighing extremely heavily on your subconscious. Having become acutely aware of the subject of unpleasant working conditions, which she previously tackled in Ils ne mouraient pas tous, mais tous été frappés (2005), French documentarian Sophie Bruneau has broached this issue once again in the Belgian production Dreaming Under Capitalism [+see also:
film profile], which has been unveiled as a world premiere in the international competition of the 40th Cinéma du Réel Film Festival in Paris.
The director adopts an original angle, inspired by the approach taken by the book The Third Reich of Dreams by Charlotte Beradt, as she sketches out a subtle portrait of a modern form of corporatism that proves at times to be deeply oppressive, and an urban milieu where the cold, see-through nature of the buildings conjures up a dehumanising feeling of being stripped naked. To achieve this, she asked 12 people to describe a dream (which often veered more towards a nightmare) linked to their job – but also to try to interpret it, which prompts her subjects to pinpoint the causes of their discontent and the pent-up tensions inherent in their day-to-day professional life. They talk about the feelings of a loss of freedom or solitude, the furious pace of the workload, the various psychological pressures exerted by tin-pot dictators, the crushing burden of responsibilities and so on – the string of testimonies provide just as many pieces of a dense and depressing jigsaw puzzle that crystallises the anxiety of individuals constantly stalked by the threat of meltdown, anguished souls wondering what purpose they actually serve in the end.
As she shines a tiny light on this dark and gloomy area on the borderline between dream and reality, Bruneau succeeds in capturing the sheer sincerity of her 12 participants (who come from a diverse range of professional backgrounds) by rendering their stories in their entirety, free of any manipulation in the edit. And while the movie is first and foremost a spoken work, the filmmaker knows how to wrap it in an entirely cinematic visual sheen (only two of the interviewees tell their stories facing the camera; the rest of the film is composed of shots – virtually all of which are fixed – of evocative and ghostly places within the environment occupied by today’s urban workers). In addition, the sound is deftly used to occasionally and contrastingly suggest just how far human beings have sadly drifted from nature and life itself.
A political film (produced by Alter Ego Films and Michigan Films), in which the microcosm is intended to shed light on the bigger picture, Dreaming Under Capitalism is a documentary that avoids looking for any easy options in terms of its pace or grand gestures in its mise-en-scène. Its intriguing and extremely interesting content and its austere, restrained style combine perfectly to produce an X-ray of a fairly serious modern-day illness.
(Translated from French)
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