Now that in 2004 ten new nations have joined the EU, the situation of the working people will face some significant challenges. With so-called globalisation in full swing and an already straining social network in jeopardy, the near future will change the way we look at work completely. Two films that approach this thematic with unusual zest and intriguing honesty are Leszek Dawids “A Bar at the Victoria Station” (Bar na Victorii) and “A Living Force” (Elav Jõud) by Andres Maimik and Jaak Kilmi.
The semi-documentarian “Victoria Station” accompanies two Polish workers on their search for a job in London. They find that economic chances in Poland “suck” and believe that there’s still room for a more promising career somewhere else. Theirs is a kind of naïve American Dream that still holds Rockefeller-style riches for anyone willing to work hard for their living. But as their London experience continues, it becomes clear that you rather find somebody trying to capitalize on your ambitions than somebody willing to give you a decent pay. It is one of the strong points of the film to limit its focus to a warm-hearted depiction of its modern heroes. The filmmakers don’t try to shift the blame to somebody or dramatize a situation that Western Europe has come to live with for some time now. In their struggle for work the wide-eyed protagonists are fighting for what in the past has been a foundation of society and seems t!o now be the privilege of a select few. The spirited performances by the two main characters succeed in putting a face on an otherwise anonymous crowd that doesn’t ask for sympathy or restrictions, but for the promise of a better life. “Victoria Station” is a moving and reassuring portrayal of the human condition, that charges its serious issues with a sense of humour all its own.
“A Living Force” from Estonia further elaborates on that theme: the two young directors follow a neo-liberal politician, an unemployed journalist and a drop-out in their daily routine. The self-made politician has come to believe that “selling politics is basically selling sausages” and delights in the seemingly endless possibilities of making easy money on the government ticket. For freelance journalist Peeter life has crushed the high hopes of an independent career, so that he eventually succumbs to apathy and bitterness towards the rest of the world. With Georg, having to work is a personal affront. The one-time student long ago decided that from a philosophical point of view there is no point in working. It certainly isn’t with him, who likes to spend his days sitting on the water’s edge and marvelling about the lesser-known paths of life. In a world that is quickly coming together and seemingly running out of work in the! progress, each has accepted the price that comes with their unorthodox designs, thus becoming truly original in their independence. Combining satirical means with brutal honesty, the filmmakers don’t fall for stereotypes but manage to give a critical outlook on the future (and the finite nature) of work that is often shocking and soothing at the same time. Their tragicomic documentary resonates with the experiences of a disillusioned European youth, that can no longer claim a fulfilling working-life of their own as a prerequisite for a successful existence. In questioning the disintegrating ethos of a society that likes to deal out repercussions along with the blame, “Living Force” is an intelligent and provocative statement that doesn’t come a minute too soon.
© FIPRESCI 2004