Rating: 3/4. Directed by Katja Gauriloff. Running time 90 minutes.
Canned Dreams begins in Brazil, where workers rummage about looking for aluminum ore while a massive excavator smashes the rocks right next to them. They have no protective gear and are paid a pittance for their work.
We meet a worker who has had a difficult childhood and continues to have a difficult adulthood. She tells us with sadness that she has had twelve children but couldn’t afford to take care of them and so gave most of them away.
Aluminum from Brazil, hundreds of pigs efficiently raised in Denmark, tomatoes harvested by huge machines and conveyor belts in Portugal, cows slaughtered by large machines in Poland, thousands of eggs mechanically farmed from caged chickens in France, mechanized threshing and winnowing of wheat in the Ukraine, olives crushed into oil in Italy, pigs slaughtered into pork in Romania—all of it assembled in France into a tin can of pasta, sauce and meat.
But Canned Dreams is not the story of the can of ravioli. It is about the hopes and dreams of those nameless, faceless workers who work around the world to make what seems to be one simple product. These are the dreams of those who have nothing, who have to dare to wish to have children.
A worker from Poland speaks of how his wife betrayed his trust while he was away as cows are slaughtered with mechanical efficiency by huge machines. He cheated on her, too, but he seems to think that that’s okay, and he plots revenge as cows are skinned and cut in clockwork fashion.
In Romania, a Romani (Gypsy) worker listens to ignorant, racist remarks from a co-worker but says nothing. She speaks of a negligent and abusive boyfriend who cares little for their daughter, but reveals that she still dreams of becoming a bride. Meanwhile she cleans the hundreds of pigs that are being slaughtered in the factory.
The film lets us listen to the inner thoughts of these workers, as they work—but shows us how hopelessly disconnected they are from each other. They don’t know where the things they make come from or where they will go. (Nor do we know where all the things we use come from!) The work they do is so repetitive and dehumanizing that it seems like they are extensions of the massive machines and technology.
But the film doesn’t show us the inner lives of these workers, outside of their workplaces. Nor does it show us who profits from these massive factories or open air mines that have come to dominate their lives and taken so many precious hours out of their days, hopes and dreams.
What about the class of owners whose dreams come true because they crush the dreams of others? Whose riches and profits are based on the work done by these workers? They are nowhere to be seen.
Canned Dreams shows us a lot, in very beautiful ways, and for that it is worth watching. But it also leaves out too much.