Wiseman's unsparing vérité camera takes us to a New York Welfare Center, where America's victims (all races, ages, and emotional conditions) parade their misery to receive enough money to survive. The film has a sharp eye for the exhausted, melancholy, and angry faces of social workers and clients, both groups ensnared in a vicious, heartless system - where who is responsible becomes the prime question, fatalism the reigning philosophy, and the general atmosphere one of claustrophobic bedlam. Wiseman avoids facile stereotypes: his case-workers are not callous heavies, nor are the clients members of a heroic, politically conscious mass. Some of the Center's staff attempt to ease the bureaucracy's dehumanising red tape, but given the hopelessness of the institution, their gestures are almost quixotic. The film never editorialises, sentimentalises, or attempts to be dramatic, but its cumulative effect is to make one enraged enough to cry out for the dismantling of the whole welfare (or is it the capitalist?) system.
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