‘Do We Live to Work, or Work to Live?’ New Brazilian Documentary Asks

Tuesday, 19 February, 2019 - 06:15
Berlin, London - Asharq Al-Awsat

High in the hills of Brazil’s remote northeast, the town of Toritama echoes with the sound of sewing machines: in the self-proclaimed capital of jeans, people work all hours of the day to produce denim trousers. That piqued director Marcelo Gomes’s interest when he visited.

From his childhood Gomes remembered a sleepy town where you could hear a pin drop, not the bustling hive of cottage industries that the 40,000-strong township is today, Reuters reported.

In his documentary screened during Berlin Film Festival, the Brazilian director analyzes the way in which the townsfolk work, asking whether they work for money or for the pleasure of it.

During an interview with Reuters, Gomes said: "When I got there, I said 'Oh my God! This looks like England during the Industrial Revolution."

But the town’s inhabitants are relentlessly cheerful in the film as they thread zippers or line hundreds of pockets a day.

Successive Brazilian governments have weakened laws protecting workers from exploitation, in effect forcing many to work longer hours for less money. But Toritama’s tailors are seemingly untroubled since they work for themselves.

"They had their own factories: they were the owners and the workers," Gomes said.

In the film, seamstresses cheerfully recite the exact sum in cents they will earn for each component they make. But Gomes, who narrates the film, is unable to fully conceal his skepticism, asking if these industrious workers even have the time to ask if they are happy.

"You spend like 15, 16 hours working. What about your life? What about your kids? All the time I was asking them, but they were so happy because they were the owners. Is greed good?" asks Gomes.

At the end of the film, comes the carnival. Families sell all their possessions of fridges and sewing machines to earn the price of a holiday on the beach. For eight days, the town is empty, just as Gomes remembered it being as a child.

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