Review: Work, or to Whom Does the World Belong
- Elisa Cepedal scrutinises the world of Asturian miners in this sterile documentary, going so far as to imbue history and this highly earthy reality with a slightly dystopian aura
The history of Asturias, the northern Spanish region that is separated from the inner plateau by the Cantabrian Mountains, is impossible to comprehend without examining how its inhabitants have made use of its rugged and mountainous terrain over the years. Its coalfields, located in the two valleys linking the mountain range with the plateau of Oviedo (those of the Nalón and Caudal rivers), have been the economic, social and cultural epicentres of the region ever since the mid-19th century. Nowadays, at a time when the extraction of this material is starting to be frowned upon on account of the high level of pollution it generates, the tiny world that lives ensconced in these valleys is taking stock of its past: how can it press on with an industry that no longer has any support? How can it continue fighting for workers’ rights after having been at the forefront of the achievements made in this field in 20th-century Spain?
Young filmmaker Elisa Cepedal, who is originally from the area in question (more specifically, the town of Barredos, the place that this work focuses on), scrutinises the current situation from a fairly distant standpoint, which she is forced to adopt owing to the fact that she is based in London and undertakes an analysis of all the history that came before it. In this documentary, her feature debut, presented in competition at the 57th Gijón International Film Festival, which bears the rather outlandish title Work, or to Whom Does the World Belong, the director adopts a rather sterile gaze as she puts all of this under the microscope.
Thanks to the baffling decision to use English-language narration (through the deep and intense voice of photographer Tom Wandrag), the film is enveloped in a certain dystopian aura from the start, portraying the housing blocks where the miners and their families live as an element that restricts their class awareness and their possible demands regarding their rights. These demands resulted in them attaining the shortest working day in Europe in 1919 and, later on, led to the general strikes and so-called revolution of Asturias in 1934, which was violently quelled by the government at the time. The Franco invasion and the subsequent repression perpetrated by the dictatorship, the resistance that was formed to fight against it in its latter years and the fresh general strikes during the 1990s democracy are also evoked in Cepedal’s chronology of events.
In actual fact, in order to accompany this timeline with an elaborate political discourse, instead of explaining it herself, Cepedal uses an insert (which is perhaps excessively long) of a 1932 film that bears a similar title to hers, Kuhle Wampe oder: Wem gehört die Welt, written by Bertolt Brecht and directed by Slatan Dudow, the only movie adhering to a communist ideology made during the Weimar Republic. Work… juxtaposes this with a recording of a 2018 miners’ union meeting, at which they question their own discourse and contemplate the options that remain available to them at this current moment of desperation for a moribund industry (“We understand that they’re getting rid of jobs that pollute, but first they should create ones that don’t pollute.”). While certainly not a cinematic work that oozes its own personality, Work… is a curio with a strong political character that offers a forward-looking and accurate analysis of the elements that make up this world.
(Translated from Spanish)
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