The Nothing Factory review – workers fight asset strippers in enigmatic epic | World cinema

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Pedro Pinho’s A Fábrica de Nada, or The Nothing Factory, is a sprawling, intriguing, but finally exhausting film: a near three-hour documentary-style epic in a mysteriously deadpan tone and described by one of its characters as a “neorealist musical”. Actually, the musical numbers appear only towards the end, almost as an afterthought. The film is more an experiment in social realism, or meta-realism, with something of Ken Loach or Miguel Gomes.

It is inspired by the story of the Fataleva lift factory in Portugal, which was run collectively by its own workers from 1975 to 2016, although this film imagines this collectivist adventure beginning, not ending, in the present day – as a passionate rebuke to the crisis in capitalism. But it is oddly coy in terms of finally coming to the crunch and saying how and when and if these workers really can continue to make and sell lifts. Worryingly, there is an actual film-maker in the story who appears to be intervening in the action and The Nothing Factory appears to retreat into self-reference when it could be offering concrete ideas on the issue of people keeping their jobs.

The Nothing Factory
Against corporate looters … The Nothing Factory

The story begins with workers ringing each other at the dead of night to spread the news that a mysterious truck has shown up at the factory, and is taking stuff away. Correctly, they guess that the factory’s parent company is asset-stripping, stealing away with its plant and machinery to make it unviable — a fait accompli prior to closing the place down and laying everyone off.

Although they don’t have a formal union, the workers show up, stop the corporate looting and then start their demonstration: not quite a strike, because there is no work, more an occupation. A creepy corporate HR person tries to see them individually on a divide-and-conquer basis, offering a one-off redundancy payment, and coming up with the line about this being a “moment of crisis and opportunity” – rather like George Clooney’s hatchetman in Jason Reitman’s workplace satire Up in the Air (2009). But the workers hang tough, more or less, and a documentary film-maker takes an interest in their story (although maybe the strikers would be better off with newspaper journalists or social-media activists publicising their cause).

There are long sequences in which people have extended conversations analysing the situation from a Marxist perspective, and these cerebral scenes are unexpectedly intriguing. But the great Leninist question – what is to be done? – is deferred and agonised over, with one worker even digging up some hidden machine guns from the Carnation Revolution of ’74. Eventually, the issue of a workers’ takeover presents itself and there is even a chance that an Argentinian company, with similar views, might want to buy their lifts. Is this buyer for real? The film is evasive and self-deconstructing on this highly relevant point, but the enigmatic story is acted with sincerity and force.

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Source: The Guardian
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