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  • TBC
  • Documentary
  • 2005
  • 92 mins

Our Daily Bread

Our Daily Bread

Synopsis

Nikolaus Geyrhalter's commentary-free documentary offers food for thought on the industrialisation of consumption.

About

"You are what you eat." It's the premise which underlies Morgan Spurlock's fast food documentary Super Size Me (2004) and Richard Linklater's food industry feature Fast Food Nation (2006). It is also, albeit in a wholly more abstract manner, the thinking behind Nikolaus Geyrhalter's Our Daily Bread, a documentary that makes a dreamy ballet of industrial food production by combining the visual poetry of Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi (1982) with the slaughterhouse frankness of Georges Franju's Blood Of The Beasts (1949).

There are no characters, no interviews, no narrative, no commentary, no musical score, no captions, not even a sense of coherent location - just the constant metallic hum of the implements of intensive farming, the odd clucking of chickens or the squeal of a piglet being deftly castrated, and take after long take of agriculture, animal husbandry and butchery, all on an industrial scale, and all immaculately framed to amaze and alienate. This is the brave new world of globalisation and mass-market consumption, inspiring wonder and horror in equal measure with its sleek machinery and automated processes.

There are humans here too but the prevalence of wide shots and Geyrhalter's focus on repetitive actions tend to reduce these agents to mere cogs in a grander mechanism. We see asparagus pickers crammed into a bus, looking not so different from the bundles that they will shortly gather. Blood-covered butchers, crouching lettuce-pickers or cow milkers seem to be in a symbiotic relationship with the huge equipment that they operate.

Miles below the earth's surface, two digger operators are entombed in a gigantic salt-mine along with the crystals that they scrape from the walls. Conversely, some of the equipment appears to have human characteristics, such as the giant tube that swallows up salmon from a fjord like some vast esophagus, as though premasticating them for future human consumption.

Occasionally these de-humanised scenes are punctuated by images of individual workers pausing to eat their lunch or have a smoke - but in a way those brief, snatched moments just represent the end of the line. The suggestion is that we are all as much a part of this closed system as any battery hen, breeding and being bred, feeding and being fed, until we give way to the next generation.

The result is humbling and not a little terrifying - not least when Geyrhalter unflinchingly scrutinises the procedures involved in birth (the collection of bull's semen, rack upon rack of eggs in sterile incubation rooms, a calf delivered from an unfazed cow by Caesarian section) and death (carefully rationalised factory slaughter).

Our Daily Bread takes us on a journey through the sources and labour that contribute to our everyday, mass-produced diet, and climaxes with the gory business of butchering large cattle. This seldom seen world, where everything is streamlined for maximum efficiency and output, is a million miles from the romantic idyll of the small-hold farm - and as though to drive home our general reluctance to acknowledge the blood, bone and sinew that is the hidden obverse of our packaged supermarket food, the film closes with the image of the slaughterhouse being scrubbed and sanitised at shift's end, so that every bespattered surface comes up a bland, shiny white again. Viewers may not feel so purged, as this is a film which, though not always palatable, leaves us with plenty to digest about our place in the food chain.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Renata Wypchlo, Arkadiusz Rydellek, Barbara Hinz, Claus Hansen Petz, Alina Wiktorska
  • Director: Nikolaus Geyrhalter
  • Screen Writer: Wolfgang Widerhofer, Nikolaus Geyrhalter
  • Producer: Wolfgang Widerhofer, Nikolaus Geyrhalter, Michael Kitzberger, Markus Glaser
  • Photographer: Nikolaus Geyrhalter

In a nutshell

Beautiful and awful, calming and confronting, Our Daily Bread is definitely worth a butcher's for anyone interested in how food finds its way onto the globalised plate.

by Anton Bitel

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