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Movie review: Our Daily Bread August 20, 2009

Posted by Angelique in Movie reviews.
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Don’t bother turning on the subtitles for the German-language food production documentary Our Daily Bread. Hardly anyone speaks, though the constant whirring, humming, drumming, droning, clanking, and whining of the outsized machines running the show make it anything but a silent film. The film is a tribute, for better or worse, to the mechanization and implied depersonalization of the work of growing and processing food. Just the vast scale of the “inputs” – land mass, machine size, number of animals processed – is both awe-inspiring and discomfiting.

Director and cinematographer Nikolaus Geyrhalter opens the doors to the meatlocker, the greenhouse, the fish farm, the slaughterhouse, and the spookily striking salt mine, and leaves it to us to judge what’s inside. It’s up to us to discern the irony that the eggs on the conveyor belts of the henhouses are handled far more gently than the baby chicks we see at the beginning of the film, who tumble through belted waterfalls and spew out of separator chutes like so many M&Ms. There is no gratuitous cruelty – you won’t see PETA-like footage of workers kicking downed cows here. There are just machines, and efficiency, and antiseptic cleanliness. Be warned if your stomach turns easily, however, because those machines do a lot of stripping, slicing, and gutting, and plenty of animal innards are in full view.

Geyrhalter was asked in an interview if he had a hard time getting into the animal raising or processing facilities. He answered that actually many of the farms and processors he contacted were eager to share what they were doing, and you can see why – if you judge the success of a farm in terms of maintaining a controlled environment, keeping food safe, and producing massive quantities of it, these farms seemingly excel. The question is whether that’s all there is to it.

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