Nor is it just the immaculate-if-humdrum imagery. The sound design, which isolates mechanical hums and percussive rhythms, is hypnotic and captivating too.
And then there’s the people. Joy of Man’s Desiring, originally Que ta joie demeure, begins with a woman looking over her shoulder, speaking of the ‘negotiable relationship’ between man and machine, as if to a lover. Many of the rest of the workforce, if they open their mouths, appear as allegorical figures – attesting to the ritual nature of human labour as much as to its political and economic disenfranchisements. Otherwise, they just get on with supervising their machines, often with zen-like mindfulness. Or is it mindless zombiedom?
As someone whose work ethic is constantly, exhaustingly battling it out with my desire to sit in a deckchair with a good book and a tall, cold drink, I can’t work out why Joy of Man’s Desiring is so magical. Is it because it presents a world of apparent synergy between man and machine? The workers may be disgruntled but what they do seems necessary – this isn’t a satire like Chaplin’s Modern Times. It’s a world of work that will make every office dweller who spends their working lives at a terminal, getting DVT and trying to look busy, feel slightly rueful.
Anyways, this is an absolute must-see if you like deadpan-wince work documentaries like Manufactured Landscapes, Workingman’s Death and that one with really scary pepper farming practices as well as little chirping chicks on a conveyor belt being fed into a grinder.
Joy of Man’s Desiring is accompanied by Bestiaire, which uses similar techniques to explore the world of a Quebec zoo. It is a bit a sad to watch all these cooped-up creatures and, of course, those pesky critters keep on wanting to move within and out of the frame. It is still very watchable but I reckon it lacks the essayistic element of Joy of Man’s Desiring.
Review by Colin Dibben
Joy of Man’s Desiring/Bestiaire are out now on DVD.