We take a look at Côté’s film as it’s released in the UK for the first time…
Every now and then throughout Denis Côté’s soul-crushing docudrama about life as a cog in the blue collar industry you feel a breeze blowing through the various open doors, carrying with it whiffs of tragedy. Life is draining away perpetually and almost willfully in this exhausting examination of man’s relationship with machines and the necessity of holding down a job for survival purposes.
Que ta Joie Demeure (Joy of Man’s Desiring), less a documentary or dramatization as it is a ‘film essay,’ is an experience unlike any I’ve ever had, though I’m not sure I’m ready to call it an achievement. For as compelling as the idea is to package the day-in-the-life of a blue collar worker into something we can watch for an hour or so in real time — our principal sources being Canadian and Indian laborers here — the humdrum of those passing hours makes for one desperately static, disengaging viewing experience. Like, I get where Côté is going with all of this. But, still….
First, the good news: stylistically the film is an achievement. A quasi-documentary reliant upon actors to deliver profusely scarce dialogue intended to drive home the monotony of life as a factory worker, it transgresses both form and expectation. Often there’s a pause between the sounds of machines humming away — be they stitching machines, conveyor belts or more complex systems — and the spoken dialogue, a hesitancy that lends itself to the trodden-upon, subdued psychology of those caught in the vicious cycle of the labor force. It’s like we can almost see the shadows of the people they once were, before they sacrificed themselves to the job out of absolute necessity. Now when they speak they seem like shells of their former selves, slowly worn down over time like the factory lines they work daily to maintain.
Intensely introspective, often philosophical asides help set proceedings apart from your standard, albeit compelling Discovery Channel special. It’s difficult not to let commercialized, layman-oriented TV products like How It’s Made and How Stuff Works trickle into your thoughts as you watch endless clips of various machinery doing their thing while occasionally a human body wanders into frame. There’s more going on below the visual surface, of machines doing a machine’s work; there bubbles a quiet, rusting tension between random workers who lament losing their joy for life because of their job, or becoming desperate to have any source of income because they have others — namely, children — depending on them. Despite how little people get to do or say here, Que ta Joie Demeure remains actually a deeply human story, even if it never amounts to anything particularly moving.
On April 25th New Wave Films released Joy of Man’s Desiring accompanied by the documentary Bestiaire, will you be checking them out? Let us know in the comment box below!