Manufactured Landscapes

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The grotesque scale of modernity’s cult of disposability is made plain in this doc, which complements rather than dotes on Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky’s visual exposés of the world’s industrial hellholes. His artistic courage is equally apparent—firsthand exposure to the human-warped locales featured here might drive most of us to open a vein.

Like Our Daily Bread, last year’s brutal/beautiful explication of global food production, Manufactured Landscapes juxtaposes a keen aesthetic sensibility with morally bewildering imagery to disorienting effect; Burtynsky comes across as nothing so much as the Spencer Tunick of mechanized, obscenely thorough eco-death. Cinematographer Peter Mettler evokes his palette and compositional flair without resorting to mimicry, while director Jennifer Baichwal employs savvy thematic segues to link the various settings. These include a city-size Chinese factory where close-ups humanize the workers in a way Burtynsky’s panoramic shots resist, and a Boschian Bangladeshi beach on which oil tankers and their residual toxic sludge are harvested.

There’s mild overkill here—Burtynsky’s work speaks for itself, so his periodic verbal musings seem largely moot. What the film mercilessly captures that his possibly too-lovely photos only imply, however, is the stunning degree to which poor countries have become the source and cesspit for the West’s addiction to consumer crap.

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