Sunday, December 27, 2020

Movies with Abe: The Wasteland and Made in Bangladesh

The Wasteland
Directed by Ahmad Bahrami

Made in Bangladesh
Directed by Rubaiyat Hossain

Workers’ rights are a universal issue that, unfortunately, aren’t afforded the same protections everywhere. Even when there are systems in place to ensure that employees are kept safe and fairly compensated for both their time and their effort, many people with power over others choose to take advantage and deprive those who deserve fair pay and treatment from getting it. Efforts to change the way things work and combat oppressive labor practices are rarely easy to achieve, and a lack of progress even despite taking all the right steps can be demoralizing, especially when the result is actually worse.

In “The Wasteland,” the owner of a brick factory in Iran gathers his workers to tell them that the factory is closing. His employees come to him asking for help, mostly in the form of money, to deal with various issues in their lives, including forbidden romances and family problems. In “Made in Bangladesh,” a young woman working at a textile factory Bangladesh is troubled by a safety incident and begins learning about a labor union, something all of her colleagues are terrified to explore given the almost-certain retaliation they will receive from their supervisors for even speaking about it.

These two films present starkly different approaches to similar concepts. “The Wasteland” is black-and-white and features minimalist scenes that contrast the vast desert with the people trying to be seen within it. The same speech by the factory owner is repeated multiple times, and even the conversations had between him and his employees feel like they are almost identical, though the particulars of the asks and the situations vary. “Made in Bangladesh” showcases the blunt cruelty of those who know that they can get away with whatever they want, unwilling to even consider minimal steps to appease those they know deserve better treatment. There may be more hope in the latter film of something productive happening, but that optimism, held by its protagonist Shimu (Rikita Nandini Shimu), is a dangerous thing because of the extraordinary uphill battle she faces.

These two films, more than anything else, are strong indicators of their countries of origin and how the labor force does not look the same in every place. There are rural locations like the one in “The Wasteland” where workers accept what they are given and endure brutally hot conditions and endlessly long hours to make a bare minimum salary. Even if unions are governmentally-approved entities and lawfully approved, there might still exist infinite hurdles and bureaucratic steps to discourage their formation, including a chauvinistic structure where women are considered inferior to men. These two films offer important and mostly unoptimistic portraits of the problems that exist and the way that people try to achieve something resembling fairness.

The setup and pacing on “Made in Bangladesh” makes it a far more invigorating watch than “The Wasteland,” which features its events again and again with minimally more information to drive home the irreversible nature of its proclamation and the true lack of options for its now-jobless employees. The latter is mostly a series of two-person conversations and silent shots of the barren landscape, while the former engages with its characters as they talk among themselves and explore new ideas. Shimu’s relationship with her husband is particularly intriguing since he has his own notions of a woman’s place that don’t reflect the independence and drive she feels. Neither film is pleasant, but both have interesting analyses to offer presented through straightforward storytelling.

The Wasteland: B-
Made in Bangladesh: B+

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