From the Disneyland dreams of a poor Mexican family in the US to the fate of Bangladeshi guest workers in Singapore, films at this week’s Berlinale have launched searing criticisms of capitalism and global inequality.
In “Los Lobos”, a young, recently widowed Mexican nurse sets off for the US, promising her children the very pinnacle of the American dream — a trip to Disneyland.
Yet as penniless protagonist Lucia takes on work in a laundry, her two sons are left alone in the family’s dingy bed-sit, dreaming up an imaginary world in order to escape the misery of daily life.
“The migrants who do the hard work are the invisible ones,” said lead actress Martha Reyes Arias.
Mexican director Samuel Kishi Lopo shows the importance of cheap, immigrant workers for the economic production of wealthy countries.
“Immigration will not be stopped by a wall,” said Lopo.
“We need more opportunities in our countries, a better social system.”
“The big question is about neoliberalism. Capitalism is like a big monster.”
– Broken dreams –
The immigration issue is also picked up by Lei Yuan Bin in his documentary “I Dream of Singapore”.
The film highlights the fate of the thousands of Bangladeshi workers who head to Singapore in search of work and better judicial security in the prosperous Southeast Asian city-state.
Yet reality does not live up to expectations, as many are employed by firms who shirk their responsibilities at the slightest problem, leaving immigrant dreams of a better life in tatters.
Exploitation of the workforce, however, is an issue which also affects people in their home country.
In his comedy “Eeb Allay Ooo!”, Indian director Prateek Vats tells the story of Anjani, a young man from a New Delhi slum who earns little money and even less respect for his job hunting the monkeys which are a neighbourhood nuisance.
“As per statistics, 92 percent of the labour force in India works in the informal sector of the economy,” said Vats.
“People are desperate due to the lack of dignified work, and are ready to do anything to keep their current jobs.”
“My film is the product of a world which is hard to make sense of, one where being a monkey is more liberating than being a human.”
Making the unseen people visible is also the aim of Nigerian twins Arie and Chuko Esiri in their first film “Eyimofe”, about a factory technician who works without protective gloves.
“He is a victim of the country of which he is a citizen,” explained the directors, adding that their protagonist also has no chance to emigrate.
“These people really have everything to lose by leaving Nigeria — their families, their culture, their loves and even their lives, if you think about certain journeys.”
– ‘Exploitation’ –
Finally, in “One of these Days”, German director Bastian Guenther paints a vitriolic portrait of American society, in which economic desperation becomes a spectator sport.
Based on real events, the film depicts an endurance contest in which participants attempt to win a pick-up truck by keeping their hand on it for the longest time.
“When I first heard about this endurance contest it felt to me like an exploitation of the poor,” said Guenther, while also warning of the risks of a drift towards populism.
“What (US President Donald) Trump is doing right now using these current frustrations for his own agenda.
“And what’s ironic about it is that people, in their desperation, will choose to follow somebody who embodies this system of inequality more than anybody else.”