Synopsis: Contemporary artist Vik Muniz takes us on a journey from Jardim Gramacho, the world's largest landfill on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, to the heights of international art stardom.
Emotional gold found in rubbish as art doco.
“These are great people. They were just unlucky.” – Vik Muniz.
The catadores, or pickers, of Rio de Janeiro are lower-middle class strugglers that have found a means of income by foraging for recyclable material at the Jardim Gramacho, South America’s largest waste landfill.
Directed by Lucy Walker, João Jardim and Karen Harley, Waste Land follows artist Vik Muniz and his exploration into the inner-circle of men and women (such as the beautiful, grieving mother Isis, the Machiavelli-quoting Zumbi; and 18-year-old mother of two. Suelem) who wade knee-deep through the mountainous refuse of Brazil. Muniz’s mission is to create a work of art on how the catadores utilise the by-products of one of the planet’s most hedonistic populations.
Muniz is an angelic presence throughout the film, never fully aware of the impact of his personality and talent. All the same, he’s questioned by his wife, fellow artist Janaina Tschäpe, and his collaborator Fabio Ghivelder about the worthiness of his project, especially the trips he takes with catadores to London and gallery openings in Rio. Will Muniz’s kindness lead to false hope?
When charismatic idealist Tiaõ experiences the London auction of his photo-portrait – a garbage-tip replication of Jacques-Louis David’s ‘The Death of Marat’ – he becomes tearful, remarking, “God was good to me. So wonderful...” The breadth of gratitude these catadores feel towards Muniz and the life-experience they undertake makes for an intelligent, emotional movie.
Waste Land hits a subliminal peak in a throwaway moment near the end: Muniz returns to Rio de Janeiro with framed prints of his works and visits the homes of his subjects to deliver them in person; in the home of struggling 50-something Magna, a young boy (face unseen) looks over the work and asks Muniz, “Did you do that?” Muniz answers, “Yes, with the help of others.” The child extends his hand which Muniz takes; the boy doesn’t let go. He instinctively knows what Muniz has achieved. He sees in his work the dreamy potential of a person that trawls through trash to provide for her family. It’s a shared moment, as pure as the Jardin Gramarcho is putrid, and it encapsulates the deep insight within Waste Land. In a work of empathetic grace, it may be the most tender cinematic moment of 2011.
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