Waste Land - Online Review

'Walker and Muniz find more than the average observer. Not content with surface-level tales of squalor, film-maker and subject manage to unearth a surprising number of middle-class heritages'

Lucy Walker's Waste Land, nominated for an Oscar in 2011, is one of those documentaries open to accusations of being a film about good things, rather than a good film. As blossoming philanthropist Vik Muniz begins his journey to help the people of Rio's gigantic rubbish tips, you get a large sense that your heartstrings and going to be pulled sharply before the end.

When this proves to be true then, it is no surprise, but Walker's documentary proves to be much more than a film designed to get a cheap emotional reaction to the shocking plight of fellow humans.

Muniz provides a compelling focal point for the film, an anchor around which more colourful individuals can swim. Brazil's most successful modern artist, Muniz never appears to be weighed down by pretension or flailing artistic temperament, instead displaying the calm passion of someone who knows his craft but is equally at home talking issues and lives with the people he encounters. His treatment of them - always warm, interested and humour-filled - says something of the fact that, as Walker makes clear, he is truly a man who has not lost sight of his roots.

Where Muniz gives the film focus, the supporting cast introduce the real human interest. Isis, Tiao, Irma, Zumbi and more are all waste pickers at Jardim Gramacho, wading through acres of trash to sort the plastic from the paper, the metal from the mulch. In their stories, Walker and Muniz find more than the average observer. Not content with surface-level tales of squalor, film-maker and subject manage to unearth a surprising number of middle-class heritages, fallen from grace thanks to circumstances beyond their control, or minor life mistakes. It's one of the film's successes that, in under one-hundred minutes, it feels as though we get a good look at various lives.

There is recognition late on by Walker and Muniz - although it is not clear how much the latter is prompted by the former - of the dangers inherent in Muniz' enterprise to develop and sell art with the group of pickers. The ethics of the documentarian and a consideration of what happens to the pickers once Muniz has finished his project starts to be questioned, although neither finds a definitive answer, possibly because there isn't one.

The inevitable emotion is layed on thick come the final third but the stories are strong enough to justify the inclusion and the moving power of Walker's film, plus the strong reporting elements, mean you can forgive it its few moments of grandstanding.




Waste Land was steaming from LoveFilm Instant.

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