By Robert K. Stephen
(WINDSOR, ON) – The Finnish movie “Canned Dreams” leaves me uncertain what the point of the movie is and that’s not to be taken as a negative. As a minimum beware when you buy your next can of French made ravioli or for that matter any processed food product. Does it invoke memories of a side street in an unknown Italian city where youth shout with big smiles on their faces kick a soccer ball around and devour a delicious can of ravioli? Back to simpler times and places. This film presents a less than nostalgic view of a can of ravioli and visits the manufacturing location of each ingredient in the canned ravioli. In each country we hear a worker or two explain their personal life and the agony and pain they are suffering in their personal life, explain that they like their job, hate it but feel gratitude for having it, express their pain at having to perform their tasks or express no feelings about it. Their personal stories are rarely deep enough to develop any real connection but offer a backdrop for the ceaseless mechanization in the global food business. It is possible to take the view the characters are but an excuse to let the camera film the manufacturing process and yet it is equally possible to say they are an accurate portrayal of humanity irrespective of their involvement in the ravioli production. Some are happy, some are sad and some really are neither. The point would seem to be despite the mechanization of food production there are still people behind it and making it work. People making a living from it despite how marginal it may be. Aside from the people stream of the movie there is a camera at work silently focusing on the relentless global integration of food production including very disturbing efficiencies of pork and beef production in Romania and the Ukraine that leave the viewer somewhat in shock with pools and streams of animal blood running in rivers and coating stainless steel conveyor belts. One Polish worker is oblivious to the carnage while a Romanian worker asks forgiveness from God for the over 15,000 pigs she has put to death. Superb and haunting cinematography.
We start in Brazil where open pit mining for minerals used in metal production for the ravioli can are mined. Cranes break rocks and while dumping them in a truck impoverished locals rush in to grab rocks having to find some with metal in them and scatter when the crane moves in for another scoop. Out move the finished metal ingots, made in a very primitive and dangerous looking foundry, on a truck to an unknown destination. In fact all visits to a location involved in the manufacturing process end with a truck hauling the product away.
We then move to Denmark to see piglets carted away in a truck, Portugal to see mountains of tomatoes crushed and placed into huge drums, Poland where we see a bloody and stomach churning beef slaughterhouse and the scene with the supposedly dead cow kicking its legs while it is hung up and moving down the assembly line is not easy to stomach. We also visit France to see an industrial egg production facility, Ukraine for wheat production, Italy for olive oil and then more disturbing slaughterhouse scenes as we see pigs electrocuted in Romania and more blood splattered everywhere.
The movie comes to a merciful end in the same vein as it started with empty cans rolling along in an assembly line except this time we see all the products prepared and presto we have ravioli. A brilliant ending with a shot of a pile of ravioli cans in a Finnish supermarket. As consumers we focus not on the each ingredient but rather the sum of total parts. Next time you buy a processed food product you will either reflect on it in the context of the film or you, like many of the characters in the film that tell the story, won’t give it a second thought. As for me I never bought into nostalgic canned ravioli marketing but I am not necessarily buying into the sentimentality of the movie. The movie fails to suggest a better way for the world to feed itself. Again the power of Euro film. Makes you think, talk and debate.
(Canned Dreams, 81 minutes, 2011, Finland, Director Katja Gauriloff, PG, NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE AT TORONTO HOT DOCS FESTIVAL 30 April, 2 May and 4 May)