THE JOY OF MAN’S DESIRING and CUTAWAY are playing in Toronto at the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Jackman Hall at 6:00pm on Sunday, December 7th.

THE JOY OF MAN’S DESIRING (Denis Côté, 2014)

Denis Côté continues in his quasi-ethnographic mode of documentary filmmaking with The Joy Of Man’s Desiring. Like Bestiaire (2012), which observed the effects of confinement on animals at a zoo, Côté again turns his camera to enclosed spaces—this time to ruminate on the nature of factory labor. Together with rehearsed actors and real workers, the director captures the repetitive, numbing relationship between human and machine through hypnotic visuals and scripted vignettes.

“If you have self-respect, if you’re a gentleman, I’ll show you my secrets,” says one of Côté’s female performers in the seductive monologue that opens the film. “Everything has a price; not always in money. But now we’re talking about finances…yours, mine. Your passions and mine are negotiable, okay sweetie?” She is speaking to a subject off-screen, but may as well be talking to any number of the characters populating the film, all lulled in by industry work. At first, The Joy Of Man’s Desiring seems to be something of a “factory symphony,” replete with machines chugging, spurting, sparking, grinding, pounding—their movements suggesting a strange corporeality. The camera’s symmetrical framing and rhythmic editing of the contents and bodies of the factory mirror the precise infallibility of automated labor. Côté’s aesthetic capabilities (as in all of his work) make mundane sequences teem with visual interest. Especially striking is an extended sequence in a drab female-dominated laundry room, where the workers all sport matching blue scrubs and large yellow bags are strung from the ceiling. Humans fold the clothes, while machines stack the towels—each a necessary component in a larger operation.

Though as the film moves along, from mechanized work to wholly manual labor in clothing factories, the conversations and the workers start to take hold, while non-fiction elements slowly ebb out of the picture. Some are funny, such as a break discussion between two men on a rumored love affair between Moroccan King Hassan and Prince Charles of England. But the larger impression once the film settles in is more melancholic; one worker complains of depression in his position, while another feels like she is slowly losing her womanhood, unable to properly support her child. “It’s not that I don’t care about the company. I do care,” suggesting a sense of pride in identity over shame.

The Joy Of Man’s Desiring takes its name from Bach’s final movement of “Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life,” and in the context of Côté’s film, this may be read as ironic. Yet his film is more an ode to how humans define themselves through what they do, rather than any didactic commentary on the dehumanizing essence of factory life.

CUTAWAY (Kazik Radwanski, 2014)

Those familiar with Radwanski’s previous film, Tower (2012), should be well accustomed to the director’s liberal usage of shallow focus close-ups—in that film, as a device to create an uncomfortable level of intimacy with his subject. The motif is continued in his new short film, Cutaway, honing in on his subject’s hands, cut severely from a drilling job in the first minute. The title, it seems, has a dual meaning, referencing his palm injury as well as the film’s frequent jump cuts to different moments in the character’s life. Bits of a narrative come quickly into focus—the man texts a girl about an ultrasound, buys a stuffed frog at the store, gambles, then takes a shot at a bar, then slips someone’s panties off. As the character builds his project, so too does the story, piling on fragments of a life until its emotional conclusion.

The film seems to be a personal statement, and this is further suggested by Radwanski’s end-credits dedication to his father. If it is, it is a highly affective one, confirming its director as a major talent with a distinct aesthetic. Everyone talked of the Dardenne Brothers when Tower was released last year, but in Cutaway, he seems to be channeling Bresson—not only through his imagery focusing on hands, but also through the employment of minimal gestures to carry heavy weight.