Coming Releases: Spain,
About the Film
The Earth Is as Inhabitable as the Moon (Birgit Flos)
Ruth Mader about Struggle
a Film by Ruth Mader
with Aleksandra Justa, Gottfried Breitfuß, Martin Brambach, Margit Wrobel, Rainer Egger, Wiktoria Novak
a produktion of Struggle Films and Amour Fou Filmproduktion
is set in contemporary Austria close to the border between East and West and hence between wealth and poverty. Ewa, a young Polish woman, hustles from one job to the next - picking strawberries, working in a poultry slaughterhouse, scrubbing the swimming pools of the rich. Her existence is stripped to the level of subsistence and driven by the hope of finding better prospects for her and her little daughter. In the second part of the film, a recently divorced Viennese real estate agent begins haunting swingers' bars, hoping to fill the emptiness that reverberates through his new life. He does not have Ewa's financial anxiety, but he struggles for basic human contact. Both Ewa and Marold are physically vulnerable - Ewa due to her precarious ability to provide for her material needs, Marold because his stultifying isolation drives him to exploit his body in order to feel. When they meet, their desperation carries them to even greater extremes.
The Earth is as Inhabitable as the Moon
by Birgit Flos
The first words heard in the film are: "I feel a yearning to die..." On the next bed an old lady is seen passively observing the scene. Struggle
by Ruth Mader is a film about surviving. As if created on a drafting board, the film represents an immediately visible truth: To be alive is to make money in order to survive.
It is immaterial to the young Pole Ewa how she earns her money - four jobs, four places of work: a strawberry field, a turkey processing plant, and twice menial cleaning tasks. A young man of the house for which she is cleaning the swimming pool delivers her a snack and carefully places it at a safe distance politely informing her that the lady of the house has entitled her to a short rest. There is no communication with anyone, not on the strawberry field, not with those who wait with her at dawn on the shoulder of the road to be picked up for work. Nor is there any explicit unpleasantness. Job exploitation on the street maintains respectable bounds; there is no molestation except for an attempted police roundup. Ewa narrowly escapes a desperate chase across field and meadow after which she collapses in sobs.
Initially the cinematic approach seems to be an intensely sensory documentary like view. It is as if we can feel the fingers working in the strawberry fields, identify with the monotonous motions of gutting turkeys. It is, however, more than that. It is almost a fictitious, a virtual documentary approach. The working conditions are choreographed and shot as if a huge melodrama. The scenes of the strawberry pickers are of staggering intensity. We see human figures against a backdrop of an expanse of earth, we see the exact movements of plucking; blue plastic and green landscape; groups of two or sometimes three - all placed in a picturesque focal point of action in close-ups contrasted with long shots of low hanging clouds. (Cinematographer: Bernhard Keller; Editor: Niki Mossböck). The eye reposes in this space, while the fatigue of the workers is almost physically experienced. At the same time the film documents this labor: its alien nature and the improvised living conditions. It also evokes associations of classical photography, that of Francois-Millet, Walker Evans, specifically, and in general of the American depression. People stand, sit, work in groups but are at once alone.
This is a graphic depiction, devoid of contrived drama. We realize that none of the motions and gestures of work can be packaged in a narrative context of development or satisfaction. Solely these utilitarian, repetitive movements are relevant; they provide remuneration at the end of the day. All activity is interchangeable.
In the second part of the film the perspective changes from the transparent situation of the young Polish woman to the face of a local real estate agent who wanders through empty buildings. The verbal exchange is perfunctory professional jargon. But there is still no communication. Conversations between father and daughter are trivial and mechanical. "Do you love your daddy?" "Sort of." Lonely meals are taken in emotionally void empty spaces. There is male small talk with a fellow businessman about sexual exploits. The younger of the two proposes a demeaning lascivious ritual. It is not apparent which is the most moving scene in the movie. But perhaps it is this one in which a man is ready to submit himself to a hanging ceremonial in order to experience genuine sensation or only to prove that he is fearless.
I yearn to die.
We are witness to the ultimate vulnerability of his body, at the threshold of pain. It is, however, seen with the detached camera view of an eyewitness, from a distance as if to view a forbidden religious rite. Even in a sex club distance is maintained by widely remote peep holes, as from a backward telescope. Eroticism, tenderness, and touching stay out of reach.
What makes this film unique is that it combines mesmerizing depth perception with immaculately choreographed images in an attempt to portray a phenomenon as prosaic and touching as naked survival in an emotional no man's land, while songs on a car radios stubbornly conjure up a world of love and joy.
Only the fairy tale of the puppet show is able to prompt a sense of intimacy, a smile on the strained faces - a trace of humankind. "Maybe you know where the princess lives?" A marvelous film about survival. In would-be simple, but, in fact, exquisitely defined images, with intricate nuances of color and a complex panorama of sound the film is about everything a film should be: work, love, death.
Ruth Mader about Struggle
"The idea for the film came when I heard about strawberry pickers who came to Austria from Eastern Europe - from Poland, Slovakia, and Rumania to work in the strawberry fields of Lower Austria for a period of six weeks, living in containers on the edge of farmyards, earning 25 cents per kilogram."
"I was interested in giving a detailed, precise and authentic description of the nature of work - faces, hands, process, spaces, and duration."
"Formally, we tried to achieve a decidedly non-sentimental, matter-of-fact approach to visualisation. Scenes were shot in actual factories, showing mainly real workers, the camera positioned so that it captured details of the nature and the rhythm of the tasks without losing respectful detachment from the persons filmed."
"I was interested in the subject struggle in general: struggle to earn a living, struggle for existence, struggle at all social levels, regardless of whether someone is wealthy or poor, struggle on both sides, regardless of whether someone comes from Eastern or Western Europe."