A massive textile factory in Gujarat, India, is the setting for Rahul Jain's immersive documentary "Machines," in which the dissonance of colorful fabrics and clanking, hellish physical toil makes for a powerful portrait of dehumanized labor conditions in a globalized economy.
Jain's camera, producing the kind of expressively textured photography that earned it a cinematography award at Sundance this year, prowls the underlit, runoff-strewn grounds of this developing-world environment for images that put the weight of industrial might and the cog-like nature of oppressed workers in alarming perspective. It never succumbs to making poverty a graphic ornament.
Furnaces belch, huge washers suggest abysses and dryers undulate with terrifying force, while the underpaid, 12-hour-shift laborers — many children among them — make the dyes, run the machines and manage the ever-rolling yards of fabric, looking like prisoners. The effect is a combination of old-world squalor, modern realism and something dystopian. Some of them talk on camera, telling of debts incurred to work there, family obligations and, one kid says, the gut feeling that tells him every day to turn away at the factory gate. Another interviewee says the workforce could unionize, but won't. (One imagines sheer exhaustion is a big reason, but the likely culprit is fear.)
The rotten cherry on top is the cynical boss at his desk who says that if he paid more, the workers would get "relaxed" — a state of mind for which he clearly feels contempt.
In English and Hindi with English subtitles.
Running time: 1 hour, 11 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica