Waste Land

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Waste Land

 

Given that it's about garbage, Lucy Walker's documentary is impressive for having only the faintest whiff of lefty handwringing. (Compare this with her other piece of new work, the justifiably alarmist Countdown to Zero, about the threat of nuclear annihilation.) Filmed mostly in Rio de Janeiro's Jardim Gramacho---the world's largest landfill---Waste Land works on multiple levels: as a collection of strangely hypnotic footage of teetering, multicolored trash piles; as a profile of Brazilian-born art star Vik Muniz, who finds the site inspiring; and as a window into the subculture of trash pickers who earn money scouring the heaps for recyclables.

It probably would have helped if Walker (who credits two other codirectors) had chosen just one of those avenues for deeper study; her doc has a vertiginous way of feeling arty and ephemeral at one moment, humane and maybe too earthbound the next. Moreover (and this is not her fault), there's a superb cine-essay on almost exactly the same subject: Agns Varda's award-winning The Gleaners and I (2000), which manages to imbue its subjects with such dignity that Walker's results can't help but seem thin. Nonetheless, this has merit as an example of art production linked to social awareness; your interest will not be wasted.

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By: Joshua Rothkopf

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Release details

Rated: PG
Duration: 98 mins

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