Review: The workers’ minds are wide open in the Brazilian documentary ‘My Darling Supermarket’
Nestled deep in director Tali Yankelevich’s documentary “My Darling Supermarket,” there’s a stirring scene of an employee grinding day-old bread into fine crumbs, just after a long segment with multiple workers debating their beliefs on the afterlife. The delicate dust resembles ashes and marks the end of another shift at a branch of the Brazilian grocery store chain Veran. In this existentialist delight, whimsical and profound, the mundane gains new enlightenment.
First, Yankelevich invokes the “Book of Genesis” and its story of creation via a vacant space with empty shelves that slowly takes the shape of a marketplace illuminated by fluorescents lights and then populates it with an array of personnel across departments. Floating through the aisles, the camera explores the establishment as if it were a wondrous, manmade kingdom enveloped in a playfully stimulating score.
Hybrid in her approach, at times observational and others directly inquisitive, the director probes the intellectual lives of those who in our pandemic reality are at long last considered essential. Going beyond their off-the-clock interests or romantic prospects, the film finds spirituality among the cash registers, the bustling warehouse and the security booth where a woman witnesses all the action from above like the eye of God.
Tonally, “My Darling Supermarket” fits somewhere between the contemplative German fiction movie “In the Aisles” and the broadcast series “Superstore.” Of the half-dozen individuals introduced, the bakery staff features the most idiosyncratic characters. Burly Rodrigo is engulfed in studying metaphysical theories, while Ivanildo adores anime and looks up to Goku from “Dragon Ball.”
Not that they need humanizing, but the personality layers revealed here successfully strengthen their identity. No longer are they dismissed as background fixtures for the comfort of the transient customers. We see them with a wider lens.
As Yankelevich records the group’s behavior in relation to the microcosm they inhabit for at least eight hours a day, the eternal dissatisfaction of the human condition, loneliness and economic disadvantage enter the frame. Yet, the quirkiness of its most humorous moments balances the hardship to honor the myriad of experiences of those it follows. “My Darling Supermarket” isn’t a tragic snapshot of working class life but a humbly philosophical one.
‘My Darling Supermarket’
In Portuguese with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Virtual Cinema through March 4
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