top of page
  • David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (7/6/2024)

Updated: Jun 9

(Reviews of Here; Four Little Adults; The Dead Don't Hurt; Hard Miles; and Food Inc. 2)


HERE.


Belgian Bas Devos is another emerging director who has only just been picked up by British distributors. Following the shorts Taurus, Pillar (both 2006), and The Close (2008), he premiered Violet (2014) and Hellhole at Berlin, while Ghost Tropic (both 2019) impressed at Cannes. Now in his forties, Devos finally gets to show UK audiences what he can do with Here, which won both the Encounters Award and the FIPRESCI Prize at Berlin.


Stefan (Stefan Gota) works on a building site in Brussels. It's about to close for the summer and he has four weeks to kill. Having had a call to visit a school friend who is in prison back in Romania, he decides to make a big pan of soup from the vegetables he has left in the fridge of his spartan apartment.


He gives the first portion to his friend, Cédric (Cédric Luvuezo) when he helps him lay the tables at the restaurant where he works. Cédric shows Stefan a photograph of the daughter he is sure will change the world. As they sit together, Stefan reveals that he isn't sure about going home, as he's not certain he'll want to come back. Cédric listens, as he muses on the childhood memories that have been flooding back during sleepless night, before going to heat up the soup.


Across the city, ShuXiu (Liyo Gong) works as a bryologist at the university. When not teaching classes or staring into a microscope, she is writing a thesis about the mosses and lichen that grow in the woods surrounding the city. Although she's Belgian-Chinese, she lives alone, with an aunt being her only relative in Brussels.


Walking to his next delivery, Stefan sees the gate open at a community. He asks a woman (Saadia Bentaïeb) who has just picked some vegetables from her allotment how the system works and wonders if she can identify some seeds he has found in his pocket. She suggests he might like to get a plot of his own, but he's unsure that he'll be staying in Brussels. Nevertheless, they chat as he heads towards the garage where his friend (Teodor Corban) works.


Stefan is hoping that he can fix up a car so he can drive home and they sit outside with the other two mechanics to enjoy the soup. The Romanian friend describes a dream he had in which he saw several people from his past and he makes Stefan promise to go out for an evening when he returns to Brussels.


Wandering on, Stefan takes shelter in a Chinese restaurant named La Longue Marche and is surprised when ShuXiu comes in from the rain and dries her hair behind the counter before handing over a takeaway. She sometimes helps her aunt (ShuHuang Wang) and listens half-heartedly, as Stefan describes walking in the park at night near his home. After sitting on his own for a while, he goes in search of his older sister, Anca (Alina Constantin), who heats up some of his soup in the microwave. Surprised to hear that her school crush is in prison, she sympathises with Stefan, as he tells her about going for nocturnal strolls because of his insomnia. However, as she's on a nursing shift, she has to get back to work and, after he wakes up from a doze dream about rain in the trees and light through a spider's web, he leaves.


The next morning, Stefan unplugs his fridge and pours the last tub of soup down the sink. Pausing on the walkway outside his flat, as he takes the rubbish out, he watches some children playing and waves to a neighbour. He seems to be accepted here and feels at home. But something is calling him away.


Walking along a path through the greenery to collect his car, Stefan bumps into ShuXiu. She is studying some moss and he kneels beside her and inspects her specimens, as she tells him that mosses will outlast humans. He explains that he has to go, but he winds up walking along with her, although his thwacking the undergrowth with a stick irritates her. Helping her up an incline, he shares some trivia that Cédric had told him about the first train journey on the European mainland.


ShuXiu strides out, while Stefan lags back to pick some berries (the sound shifting from her stomping boots to singing birds, as he catches up with her). Clambering through branches, she chides him for getting too close when she crouches to examine a tree root. He stands up and admires the glade in the sunshine and listens to the distant sound of a babbling brook above the birdsong.


In a dark corner of the wood, ShuXiu uses a torch to write something in her notebook and he's taken by how meticulous she is. She offers him a biscuit and he pauses to look at her, while they munch. Stopping to remove a stone from her shoe, ShuXiu tells Stefan to listen to the sound of the rain starting to fall and they have to take shelter under some streetlights.


At home that night, Stefan makes up a special pot of soup. When ShuXiu arrives at her aunt's restaurant, she's surprised to learn that he has left her a tub in a bag. The aunt asks the man's name and she realises she doesn't know.


There is so much to applaud in this exquisite piece of Slow Cinema, but the laurels have to go to sound designer Boris Debackere, who sets out his stall in the opening shot, as the breeze rustle tree leaves in the foreground, while machinery pounds from the construction site that is framed by the drooping branches. Ameel Brecht's minimalist score is also exceptional, as is Grimm Vandekerckhove's 4:3 ratio 16mm photography, as it switches between shadowy living-rooms, verdant footpaths, sun-kissed train carriages, and mossy clumps. The static close-ups of the flora are delightful, but they're brought to even more vivid life by the sounds that fill the air around them. As the master of the `pillow shot', Yasujiro Ozu would be suitably impressed.


Editor Dieter Diependaele maintains the gentle pace, as the lanky, bearded Stefan Gota lollops along in his deeply unfashionable thirtysomething shorts. His soup-donating chats have an insouciant charm that makes them feel as though they could have been staged by Jean Renoir in A Day in the Country (1936). Little is said, but each encounter is suffused with the spirit of friendship. Yet, something is preventing Stefan from sleeping properly and prompting him to leave the life he has made for himself far away from home.


Liyo Gong also feels like a seed blown on the wind. She is younger, brighter, and more focussed than Stefan, although we first hear her describing in Chinese a night-time panic attack that only ended when she `surrendered to the oneness of all things'. During their ramble in the woods, ShuXiu bosses Stefan around and shoots him dagger looks when he irritates her. But she has a quiet smile on her face while taking the bus to her aunt's eatery and the realisation she hadn't asked the kindly stranger's name leaves her feeling wistful and amused.


As in Ghost Tropic, the camera spends a lot of time trailing pedestrians. However, the Brussels depicted here is less sinister, even though it remains somewhat alien, as Stefan and ShuXiu attempt to reconcile feelings of betweenness and belonging and acclimatise to their surroundings like woodland moss.


FOUR LITTLE ADULTS.


It's always frustrating when a feature by a newish overseas director arrives in this country and trade reviews refer so effusively to earlier outings that had graced the festival circuit. Clearly not every film can secure a theatrical release, while even specialist outlets like MUBI can only schedule so much. But both Little Wing (2017) and Stupid Young Heart (2018) sound so appealing that it's maddening that UK-wide audiences have had to wait until Four Little Adults to become acquainted with Finnish writer-director, Selma Vilhunen.


Rising politician Juulia Kronström (Alma Pöysti) and parish priest Matias (Eero Milonoff) seem the ideal couple, as they raise their pre-teenage son, Miro (Iivo Tuuri), in a lovely Helsinki home with tasteful fixtures and fittings. Even the sex is vigorous and varied, with poppers being used to enhance their mutual pleasure. Ageing parents Kaarina (Kaija Pakarinen) and Paavo (Esko Roine) are very proud of him, especially as he has just landed a parish like his father before him. But Matias has a guilty secret, as he has been having an affair for 18 months with single mother, Enni (Oona Airola).


When Juulia finds out, her initial reaction is to move into a hotel room. But she falls ill and is pleased to see Matias when he visits her in hospital. He has broken the news of their discovery to Enni, but she still hopes he won't break up with her. Consequently, she's relieved when Juulia surprises them both over coffee and cake at the family apartment with the suggestion that they trial a polyamorous relationship.


Remaining calm when Matias slips away for dates with Enni, Juulia throws herself into her work and decides to run to become chair of the Equality Party. She confides her new arrangement to her friend, who tries to cheer her up at a new bar, where she becomes obsessed with Miska (Pietu Wikström), a children's nurse who moonlights as a drag artist and is in a long-distance relationship with Yngve, a maths teacher from Stockholm who already has a steady partner.


Matias react snidely when Juulia tells him about Miska, but apologises and admits to being scared of losing her. His relationship with Enni suffers as a result, while Juulia loses her inhibitions with Miska, who is delighted by the fact she's a squirter. When they tell Miro about their arrangement, he shows more interest in his guinea pigs. However, Kaarina is annoyed when she learns the truth after phone calls interrupt Christmas dinner and she warns Juulia that they have very public lives and could ruin everything if they're not careful, as it's a lot trickier to be discreet than it was when she had a three-year affair.


Having had a moment when Juulia got a dress caught over her head, Matias realises how much he still loves her. But events take a turn in February, when Enni discovers she's pregnant and decides not to have a termination. Juulia is shattered by the news and needs a hug from Matias to staunch the tears. But she and Miska bring flowers after the birth and Enni makes no extra demands on Matias because she knows he can't apply for paternity leave.


Enni finds raising two children a strain, however, and comes to rely on help from Miska, as Matias is supporting Juulia in her bid to lead the party. Ultimately, at a meal cooked by Matias, the others halves express their frustrations with the arrangement, while Juulia admits to being jealous of Enni having a son. Matias sits in bemused silence, as the others gulp wine and gripe, as he feels both women are picking on him for being stingy with his presents and his time.


His mentor urges him to do right by baby, but split from Enni or he'll lose his parish. He can't just abandon her, however, and rushes out to check on her the night that Miska breaks up with Juulia after she criticises him in public for his drinking. The stress catches up with her and she's rushed to hospital for an emergency operation. She tells Matias she's forgiven him for his infidelity, but is still angry with him. On her release, however, she arranges for Enni, Miska, and Yngve to come to Christmas Eve dinner and everyone gets along famously. Moreover, she introduces everyone openly to a parliamentary colleague before listening to Matias preach about the courage it must have taken for God to be born into the world, as it's not easy being a human.


Ending on a note of touching optimism, this is an engaging, if undemanding dramedy that is nicely played by an admirable cast. Following Jean Renoir's maxim that everyone has their reasons, Vilhunen's thoughtful screenplay doesn't blame anyone for the situation that arises. But she also avoids delving in any depth into anyone's feelings and fears, as she prefers to focus on the way characters respond to the twists and turns rather than analyse the psychological impact. This is a shame, as ethical non-monogamy is still a relatively rare cinematic subject and Vilhunen seems to have the sensitivity and insight to consider it on a less superficial level.


Oona Airola and Pietu Wikstrom are a little short-changed, as Enni and Miska are only seen through the prism of their relationships with the Kronströms. But Airola has a couple of memorable moments, notably when Enni complains about the wooden earrings she got when Juulia got diamonds. Eero Milonoff's look of bafflement during this dinner-table sequence is also amusing, although Matias remains something of a closed book, as he never discusses his emotions and it only becomes clear what each woman sees in him during his closing sermon.


This leaves Alma Pöysti to do much of the heavy lifting, although she responds as magnificently as she had done in Zaida Bergroth's Tove (2020) and Aki Kaurismäki's Fallen Leaves (2023), which earned her a Golden Globe nomination. It seems odd that neither parishioners nor constituents gets wind of the polycule, let alone the scoop-hungry press. But Vilhunen is more interested in how the bonds impact on the people involved rather than how they are viewed by wider society.


Deftly contrasting the apartments of the lovers, as well as the home of Matias's parents, Sattva-Hanna Toiviainen's production design stands out. But Juice Huhtala's cinematography and Sarah Assbring and Jacob Haage's score are also commendable. Vilhunen has spoken of her admiration for Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander (1982) and the borrowings are capably incorporated. But it would be nice to see her previous pictures - including the Oscar-nominated short, Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? (2012) - to gauge whether this found a UK distributor because of its subject matter or the director's developing talent.


THE DEAD DON'T HURT.


Having made a decent start to his directing career with Falling (2020), Viggo Mortensen reveals with The Dead Don't Hurt that he was taking notes while working with Argentinian auteur Lisandro Alonso on Jauja (2013) and Eureka (2023). While the tone and visuals work well, however, the narrative is inexplicably and fussily anti-linear.


As a girl, French-Canadian Vivienne Le Coudy (Eliana Michaud) doted on her fur-trapper father, who was killed by British soldiers after he went away to war. Raised by her mother (Véronique Chaumont) on stories of Joan of Arc and knights in shining armour, Vivienne (Vicky Krieps) finds herself in 1860s San Francisco, where she refuses to be shackled by an Irish art dealer (Colin Morgan). Instead, she falls in with Holger Olsen (Mortensen), a Danish carpenter riding a horse named `Knight', who charms her at her flower stall and persuades her to start a new life with him in a shack in the wilderness outside the north Nevadan town of Elk Flats.


Banker Rudolph Schiller (Danny Huston) is mayor of the town, which he runs in cahoots with landowner Alfred Jeffries (Garret Dillahunt), who has just been awarded a controlling share in the saloon managed by Alan Kendall (W. Earl Brown). As she likes to earn her own money, Vivienne takes a job behind the bar and quickly comes to realise that Weston Jeffries (Solly McLeod) is an alcoholic loose cannon, who exploits his father's status.


When Unionist soldiers come to the saloon to recruit for the fight against the Confederacy, Olsen feels duty-bound to sign up for the $100 bounty. Vivienne is furious with him for sacrificing their idyll and refuses his marriage proposal. Having returned from the First Schleswig War to find his wife gone, Olsen is concerned, as he rides away. But Vivienne is determined to make her new life work and she continues to tend the flowers she has planted in the shadow of the unfinished barn.


At the bar one night, Weston loses his temper when Mexican pianist, Claudio Garcia (Rafel Plana) plays a Unionist song and beats him to a pulp. Jeffries tries to defuse the situation, but Vivienne is appalled and answers the door with a pistol when Weston calls on her in the middle of the night. Barging through the door, he rapes her and she gives birth to his son, who she names Vincent after her father.


When Olsen returns from the war, he is surprised to meet the boy (Atlas Green), who speaks French more readily than English and is wary around the stranger. Vivienne informs Olsen about what happened, but stops him from seeking revenge because Weston (who had dodged the war) has gone into exile after killing some Mexican workers. Instead, Olsen gets Vincent to help him finish the barn and slowly rebuilds his relationship with Vivienne. He also applies for the vacant post of sheriff and appoints Billy Crossley (Shane Graham) as his deputy.


All seems calm until Weston returns to town because he has heard that Jeffries and Schiller are about to strike it rich with a gold find on some land they have acquired. He wants his cut, but Jeffries urges him to lay low because he is a wanted man. Meanwhile, Vivienne has fallen ill and the doctor tells Olsen that she is dying from syphilis.


While Olsen is burying his wife, Schiller comes to the cabin to inform him that there has been some unpleasantness in town. Crossley and several others have been killed, but the guilty man is in custody awaiting trial. Olsen attends the courthouse, where Ed Wilkins (Alex Breaux) is up before Judge Blagden (Roy McKinnon) on a murder charge. He can barely speak to defend himself and Blagden warns his wife, Sarah (Angela Lentz) that he will not tolerate her accusations that her husband has been framed.


Having witnessed the inexpertly handled hanging, Olsen returns the keys to the shack to Schiller, along with his final rent payment. He rides off with Vincent, only to encounter Weston in the sagebrush. Leaving the boy in a safe place, Olsen rides after Weston and shots are exchanged. However, he escapes and manages to take Olsen unawares. As he orders the Dane to throw down his guns, Olsen hurls a knife into his throat and leaves him to bleed to death, as he takes Vincent to the Pacific Ocean, where they watch the sunset over the end of the world.


With an ending that recalls the father/son journey undertaken by Mortensen in John Hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic bestseller, The Road (2009), the film actually opens at Vivienne's deathbed, with scenes from her childhood and her experiences in San Francisco being slotted into a core section that centres on the Civil War years. This places the dramatic onus on Vicky Krieps, who copes with typical aplomb, as the ever-poised Luxembourgish-German actress is currently one of the most accomplished performers in world cinema. Indeed, her capricious, courageous, vulnerable, and valiant Vivienne is so compelling that Viggo Mortensen is barely missed, although this also has much to do with some hissable entitled villainy from British actor Solly McLeod, whose best moment comes when he watches with incredulity as the pianist's daughter (who takes care of Vincent while his mother's working) invites Vivienne to supper at the Mexican family's home.


The seething racism that underpins this scene is used to contrast frontier bigotry with Trumpist railings against migrants, while the corrupt governance of the town, the unfinished barn, and the predatory mistreatment of Vivienne all relate to the state of the nation in the Alt-Right, #MeToo era. While there is no direct correlation with the Black Live Matter campaign, such themes are laudable, as is the reflection on the differing effects that conflict has on men and women. But they are hardly discussed in the subtlest manner, while the dialogue also often sounds pastiched.


Yet Mortensen (who also composed the serviceable score) manages some intriguing touches, notably in having the knight in shining armour who regularly appears in Vivienne's dreams being played by her father and Olsen before she becomes her own Joan of Arc. Although the camerawork is somewhat perfunctory, Marcel Zyskind's views of the flower-specked homestead plonked down in the middle of the wilderness reinforce the pivotal notion of cosiness corrupted, but the handsome widescreen images leave viewers in no doubt that the frontier life that shaped the American Dream was nasty, brutish, and short.


HARD MILES.


After a dozen years producing shorts and TV episodes, R.J. Daniel Hanna made his feature bow with Miss Virginia (2019), a true story about a Black mother determined to give her child a decent education. Matthew Modine took a supporting role as a congressman and he returns in the lead of Hanna's sophomore outing, Hard Miles, which has been inspired by the exploits of Colorado social worker and avid cyclist, Greg Townsend.


Frustrated by having his bike stolen outside the Denver courtroom where one of his charges was institutionalised without being given a fair hearing, Greg Townsend (Modine) arrives for another day teaching metalwork at RidgeView Youth Services Center. Resisting phone entreaties by jailed brother Doug to visit their dying father in a hospice, Townsend strives to help psychologist Haddie (Cynthia McWilliams) persuade anorexic Smink (Jackson Kelly) to eat, while keeping Rice (Zach Robbins) and Atencio (Damien Diaz) from scrapping in the corridor.


With the medium-security facility facing investigation, director Skip Bowman (Leslie David Baker) decides that a little positive publicity could help the cause. So, he coaxes Townsend into turning the 762-mile solo cycle ride he had planned across three states to the Grand Canyon into a team-building exercise with four of the kids. Talking Haddie into driving the support van, Townsend selects Smink, Rice, Atencio, and the troublesome Woolbright (Jahking Guillory) to make the attempt. As he has been showing student/inmates how to build bicycles, Townsend has the frames required and he cajoles mechanic buddy Speedy (Sean Astin), who owns a cycling shop, into providing free moving parts, while also kitting out and sponsoring Banda di Catene.


While enthused by training on workout bikes, the bickering foursome are unimpressed by the bicycle chain/chain gang pun, while the authorities have their misgivings about sanctioning the `hoods in the woods' expedition. Woolbright refuses to wear the lycra uniform and steals beers from a 7/11 to drink when they camp in the wilds on the second night. As they lie under the stars, Atencio confesses to a gang stabbing and his dream of running his own crew. Woolbright also likes the idea of wealth, power, and respect and suggests they ditch the bikes (which have been fitted with GPS devices) and head for Las Vegas. But, emboldened by the beer, the usually timid Smink compares the folly of the idea to Woolbright's reference to running a colony on Mars.


Townsend keeps ignoring phone calls from the hospice, and, using the analogy of fleas trapped in a jar, Haddie tries to get him to come to terms with his father issues. But he keeps the lid on and channels his anger and anxiety into the ride because he can sense that the lads are starting to work as a team. However, progress is tested when they struggle up a steep mountain climb and Smink takes off downhill without instruction while Townsend is distracted by the kvetching Woolbright. The coach speeds off to avert a calamity and proceeds to give the quartet a pep talk about completing the tour because they have chosen to and not because they were coerced.


After camping for the night, Townsend barbecues breakfast and is rewarded when Smink eats and Woolbright dons the team jersey. However, at the next rest stop, Haddie receives news that the state has suspended RidgeView's charter and Townsend has to talk Woolbright down from a precipice because he feels let down and is scared by the prospect of going back to jail. Convincing Haddie to let the boys complete their journey, Townsend drives them hard for 107 miles in a day. She insists on a proper lunch break, but he urges them to keep going because he knows the sense of satisfaction will give them a new perspective on their potential and their prospects.


Stressed by a failed attempt to talk to his father by phone and aware that his tough love over his childhood health problems has made him the stubborn non-quitter he has become, Townsend begins having chest pains and collapses at the side of the road. Haddie calls an ambulance and persuades him to visit his father. But Woolbright is aggrieved that he won't be able to finish what he started and he accuses Townsend of not really caring about his students and doubts if he has ever kept in touch to see how any of them is getting along.


While Townsend bids a tearful farewell to his father, Woolbright hatches a plan to sabotage the sag wagon and head for the bus station in Flagstaff. The others come with him and Haddie calls Skip, who informs the cops. But Townsend insists they've just set out early and speeds by hire car to the Grand Canyon. He is relieved when the three-strong peloton hoves into view (because Smink had refused to give up on his goal) and, with Haddie in the sheriff's car giving them an escort, they all meet up for to survey the scene - which is also enjoyed by Woolbright, who has thought better about absconding.


He tells Townsend that he has learned to keep going and they both hope that RidgeView gets a reprieve. The others join them and Townsend teases them that they're going to be riding back on jackasses. As the credits roll, captions inform us that thousands of RidgeView students made this trip over the years, including a future professional cyclist. We see stills and clips from some of these tours before learning that the facility lost its charter in 2022. Townsend, however, continues to mentor youths.


This stands as a fitting, if fictionalised tribute to his efforts, although Hanna and Christian Sander's screenplay isn't averse to slipping in the odd sports movie cliché and plenty of underdog sentimentality. The outcome is never in doubt even before the group sets off, but Matthew Modine is customarily effective as the flawed role model espousing discipline and hard graft, whose own demons afford him an insight into what his students are going through. The fact he occasionally oversteps the mark in guying the Banda boys roots their relationship in reality, although the opening scenes are a bit slapdash and it's only once they hit the road that the action starts to feel authentic.


In truth, the quadrumvirate playing the kids look too old for their roles. Moreover, Damien Diaz and Zach Robbins have been sold short with sketchy ciphers, while we learn nothing about the reasons for Jackson Kelly's eating disorder. Jahking Guillory gets to shine as the mouthiest and most rebellious student, but he's also left to bear the most mawskish moments, as Townsend and Woolbright trade platitudes while gazing across awe-inspiring vistas.


While the blokes strain to avoid betraying any emotional vulnerability, Cynthia McWilliams does what she can with the token female role, as Haddie seeks to deflate the macho posturing while also being the voice of reason and the system. She comes across more as a den mother with a nice line in wisecracks than a psychologist, however, but she's much less of a caricature than the exasperated African American chief that Leslie David Baker is saddled with.


Speaking of saddles, the cycling sequences are capably photographed by Mack Fisher and edited by Evan Schrodek to the driving rhythms of Andrew Brick Johnson's score. But, even though a mile counter pops up periodically, the viewer has little real idea of the progress being made (an animated map might have come in handy) or how gruelling this rigorous trip would be for teenagers who have had next to no training beforehand. It's also a miracle that they manage to go 762 miles without a single slipped chain, snapped gear wire, or puncture. Nevertheless, this is an engaging road movie that just about earns its commendably restrained redemptive finale.


FOOD INC. 2.


Sixteen years have passed since Robert Kenner's Food Inc. (2008) lifted the lid on the spoliation, exploitation, and corruption involved in the way the corporate farming system feeds the United States with largely unhealthy and unsustainable products. In the interim, the agribusiness giants have increased their grip on the market without doing anything to help the environment, reform animal husbandry, improve the lot of workers, or wean the public off ultra-processed foods. They've even hoovered up the independent innovators seeking to offer alternative solutions. So, Keener felt it necessary to return to the fray, with co-director Melissa Robledo, in Food Inc. 2.


Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, explains how the Food Movement grew up in the wake of the first film, as people tried to find out more about what they ate in order to change the system one bite at a time. But the Covid-19 pandemic exposed the fragility of the food chain and how dangerous it is to leave it in the hands of a powerful self-serving minority.


Eric Schlosser, the author of Fast Food Nation, despairs that the healthiest foods are harvested by the worst-paid workers and Gerardo Reyes Chávez, the Mexican émigré leader of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida, reveals how poorly treated the Hispanic and Haitian workers were during the pandemic, when contact tracing was banned to sustain yields.


In Waterloo, Iowa, Black Hawk county sheriff, Tony Thompson, discloses that the Tyson Foods meat-packing plant similarly sought to disregard public health strategies in order to remain operative. Despite recording 1300 positives among 2500 employees (38 of whom would die), bosses used their leverage to persuade President Donald Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act in order to back the boast they were feeding America at a time of crisis (even though the bulk of the product was exported to China).


Over nostalgic archive footage of supermarket shelves filled with products that nowadays are part of the problem, Schlosser traces the postwar history of food consumerism to show how consolidating control leads to the exploitation of the workforce in the pursuit of profit. He uses the monopoly on baby formula to show how precarious the situation is and dairy farmer Sarah Lloyd from Columbia County, Wisconsin demonstrates how she is encouraged to produce more at lower prices from her 450 cows by companies that have a stranglehold on the processing plants and connections to farms with 10-20,000 head of cattle.


Condemning the rise of mega-dairies in dry states like California and Colorado, Pollan claims that capitalism and nature have gone to war in the name of greed. Zach Smith from Winnebago County, Iowa is trying to fight back by diversifying, because he makes too little from producing the subsidised commodity crops of corn and soy beans, while knowing the long-term harm they are doing to water and top soil quality.


A couple of senators seeking to change the narrative are New Jersey's Cory Booker and Jon Tester, who also has a farm in Chouteau County, Montana. They recognise that low food quality and unfair prices hit the poorest hardest, while the government abets the conglomerates whose policies have exacerbated a health crisis. Marion Nestle , Professor of Food Studies, Nutrition & Public Health, Emerita at New York University laments the fact that food companies have increased portion sizes and advertising budgets in order to get Americans to eat more (whether they're hungry or not).


Carlos Augusto Monteiro, Professor of Nutrition & Public Health at the University of São Paulo notes the drop over recent years in cases of malnutrition and the increase in obesity. He puts this down to ultra-processed foods and this has been proven by Kevin Hall, the Senior Investigator at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, who showed that ultra-processed foods prompt people to consume in excess.


Mark Schatzker, the author of The Dorito Effect, says our relationship with food has been distorted after centuries of people producing solely what they needed. Now, we are eating ourselves to death because we have lost touch with the nutritional wisdom that allows animals to determine their intake. Artificial flavourings are a major cause of the problem and Dana Small, Professor of Psychiatry at Yale, has studied how the brain evaluates food rewards and discovered that the body metabolises better when sweetness and calorific content were in balance. Yet, when she informed Pepsico of her findings, her funding was withdrawn and she believes this is because the company knew she was right, but wanted to retain deniability.


Polan and Schatzker reinforce this idea that non-natural foods are produced to fool the brain into believing that the body is being short-changed and requires more. In the US, 58% of energy intake comes from ultra-processed foods, whereas it's 31% in France and 17% in Italy. Fran Marion from Kansas City, Missouri has spent 20 years selling fast food on such low wages that she had to live in her car without her two children. Unable to take a day off sick or see a doctor, she ploughs on with bills hanging over her and she has become tearfully tired.


Schlosser notes that the US minimum wage has been $7.25 since 2009. But it's worth less than it was in the 1960s and employees of Walmart and McDonald's are among the most dependent upon food stamps - which means that tax payer are helping these behemoths keep their wage bills down. Gerardo Reyes Chávez reckons this is slavery by another name and explains how his coalition rallied support for Immokalee tomato pickers. However, Pollan points out how difficult it is to challenge the power of big companies who can confound workers, consumers, law- makers, and voters in the courts (with lobbied support in Washington).


Big agriculture has also shrouded facts about climate change. According to Pat Brown, the founder of Impossible Foods, eradicating the need for beef cattle would slow greenhouse gasses by 30 years. So, he formed his own company to manufacture meat by manipulating a biomolecule called heme to enhance the taste of a patty made up from genetically engineered yeast and a by-product of wood pulp. Pollan admires the eco credentials of the Impossible Burger, which is free of hormones or antibiotics. But he insists it's still an ultra-processed food and warns that `plant-based' doesn't necessarily translate as `healthy'. This is also a concern of Larissa Zimberoff, the author of Technically Food, who has had Type 1 diabetes for over 30 years.


With start-ups pushing everything from bee-free honey to beanless coffee, the big food groups are investing heavily with a view to taking over those Frankenfoods that do break through. Former doctor Uma Valeti founded Upside Foods to save more animal and human lives by growing meat directly from animal cells. Pollan sees no reason to eliminate the meat system, as local, sustainable farming has multiple benefits. But the current situation cannot remain unchecked.


Zack Smith has hit upon a way of shifting the balance with his stock cropper, a mobile pen that has a front enclosure for grazing sheep and goats and a rear area for pigs to root and wallow in the nibbled stubble. He has interest from other farmers, but is aware the sector is resistant to progress and that his scheme will only work on small-scale properties (for now).


Also going his own way is Connecticuter Bren Smith , who is co-executive director of GreenWave the owner of the Thimble Island Ocean Farm. Having been a trawlerman and fish farmer, he decided to grow kelp offshore and harvests oysters and scallops as a sideline that he sells to chef Emily Mingrone of the Fair Haven Oyster Co. Smith points out the eco benefits of water crops and hopes the big boys don't move in to consolidate the scene.


Jon Esformes, the CEO of Pacific Tomato Growers, is happy to sign up to the Immokalee Fair Food initiative to reward labour. The film points out that the Wendy's burger chain, Costco, and Olive Garden are among those who have spurned it. Such greed speaks for itself, but Burger King, Subway, Taco Bell, and McDonald's have signed up.


Aware food policy is on the rise in Latin America, with schools using local produce for meals. This has spread to Camden, New Jersey, where Arlethia Brown, the senior director of nutrition for the city school district has teamed up with Haile Johnston of the Common Market farming initiative to increase the healthy choices in cafeterias. Booker and Tester are continuing to do their bit on the Hill. But it's not as easy as Pollan suggests to rein in the corporate big-hitters by exposing their lies and shifting subsidies on to healthy foods.


In an ideal world, this mess wouldn't have happened. But we don't live in one and undoing the harm done on so many levels by companies and executives who value only the bottom line will take much more than good intentions and earnest initiatives. It will require someone in high office to have the courage to seize the nettle and legislate against the practices of the major corporations who have spent decades putting politicians in their pockets to ensure that very anti-trust D-Day never comes around.


In the meantime, it's good to have films like this proclaiming the clarion message that is worth selling as hard as possible. But, for all its sincerity and integrity, this slickly assembled sequel largely affords a platform to different people saying the same things we heard in Food Inc. And, regardless of what much of the media coverage has said, this wasn't as pioneering in this sphere as Nikolaus Geyrhalter's Our Daily Bread (2005). This doesn't make the arguments any less cogent or the cause any less worthwhile. It just means that the chances of any of the checklist items in the closing crawl coming to pass before Food Inc. 3 will be required are slim to negligible.


The struggle will go on, as it must, if we are to save ourselves and the planet whose species we have allowed to be ruinously depleted over the last 50 years. There shouldn't be a single person involved in the running of the industries referenced here who can watch this documentary with a clear conscience. Such is their complacency, however, that they won't bother to seek it out, while those it most affects and who may be inspired to change their eating habits as a result won't be able to afford a ticket to see it. That's the world we live in. And that's why it's snafu'd to blazes.

13 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Parky At the Pictures (12/7/2024)

(Reviews of Hundreds of Beavers; A House in Jerusalem; Bushman; and Heart of an Oak) HUNDREDS OF BEAVERS. If Guy Maddin and Dom Joly conspired to create a live-action Elmer Fudd cartoon, it might look

Parky At the Pictures (5/7/2024)

(Reviews of What Remains; A Greyhound of a Girl; and Younger) WHAT REMAINS. In the 1990s, a patient at an institution for the criminally insane claimed to have committed more than 30 murders over the

Parky At the Pictures (28/6/2024)

(Reviews of Next Sohee; You Burn Me; Eternal You; and Inspector Sun and the Curse of the Black Widow) NEXT SOHEE. Having completed the shorts, The Wind Blows to the Hope (2006), A Man Under the Influe

Comments


bottom of page