Cinema Signal:

Writing, Directing, and Producing Documentary Films and Videos

. "The Take"

This political documentary about the economic basket case that has been Argentina raises questions that challenges one's sense of law and order. While it amply and appropriately condemns a corrupt nexis between government and big business, the solutions that jobless workers find outside the canons of law are not entirely comfortable.

This sad and unfortunate country, belabored so long with one kind of criminally devious government after another, suffered economic collapse when heavily subsidized companies were allowed to simply go out of business, abscond with their great wealth in a nighttime caravan of armored trucks and care less about the social impact of their conscienceless greed.

Left in utter decimation and joblessness, workers see something in the idle plants and factories that governmental authorities never anticipated. Crew upon crew, from those in iron molding plants to clothing factories, begin to reoccupy their places of work and operate them as collectives, with no owners, no bosses. The "take."

The applause for such a grass-roots solution in providing for themselves and their starving families is somewhat deadened by considering what such a movement may mean for the rule of law in the long run.

The documentarians (Canadian director Avi Klein and writer Naomi Klein) pick out one factory's leader of the unemployed to articulate the movement's events. They follow Freddy Espinosa, a tool and die maker of auto parts at the Forja San Martin in a suburb of Buenos Aires as their recurring character "star" who provides ample justification of the cause both from the floor of his empty factory and from his home where we see the consequences of unemployment and get an earful from his anguished wife.

Espinosa is front and center as he shows his influence in organizing fellow workers and in joining the teams of worker-activists from other factories to pressure the institutions of government. What's at stake is their vision of a social rebuild that will lay the foundation for a more sustainable economic recovery. We follow them through disappointing defeats in the courts that tend to support the established institutions. Owner abandonment of properties and currency flight don't seem to count for much as the judge renders her verdict. The prevailing official tone is one of self survival against an upstart movement that could cost government officials their livelihoods. But, are there to be no consequences for the scummy elites that are still obviously pulling some strings?

Against a background of a presidential election, the question of a state-sanctioned return of factories to owners who bled the economy dry remains viable. This, in a country with 50% of its population living below the poverty line.

While it's clear that the campaigners for president in the ongoing election represent the old established ways that workers can't accept, and that Carlos Menem is running on the concept of locking out worker-occupied businesses, the threat of a popular uprising plays a decided role in the election's eventual outcome and an improved situation for the self-employed workers.

While raising this thorny and fascinating issue that calls for weighing the scales of justice for the sake of economic survival, the techniques are awkward and rudimentary (Documentary 101), the approach propagandistic (endless one sided field interviews of protesting workers and a self-condemning interview with a smug, smarmy factory owner), and the aim is repetitive elaboration for the sake of padding the piece to feature length.

But, one can put the technical weaknesses and personally opportunistic motivations of the filmmakers aside in favor of what they accmplished in the intimate understanding of the country's problematic history and promise for the future. Their documentary is a lesson in contemporary history and geography beyond the headlines and, for that, it's valuable. Most of all, it makes one wish for Argentina that it finds a way out of its habitual vulnerability to petty tyrants whose principal vision for their country seems to be selfish empowerment through corrupt favoritism.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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