One night, a group of workers realizes that the administration is stealing machines and raw materials from their own factory. As they organize to survey the equipments and block the relocation of the production, they are forced to stand in their posts with no work to be done, as a form of retaliation, while the negotiations for a general lay off go on. The pressure leads to a general breakdown of the workers along the collapse of the world around them. The Nothing Factory is at the same time an invitation to rethink the role of human work in a time where crisis became the dominant form of government, an hymn to collective impotence and a pitiable musical.
“‘The specter of its own end haunts Europe,’ we are told, adding that this isn’t a normal end but ‘an endless ending.’ It’s a good point, given that nine years on from 2008, Portugal apparently still hasn’t crawled out of the massive hole caused by the crisis and the imposed austerity measures that followed. These short interludes place the happenings in a much larger socioeconomic and political context, while real-life interviews with the workers – the cast of non-professional actors are/were factory employees in real life – are also sprinkled throughout, adding further authenticity on a more intimate scale.”
Boijd van Hoeij1
Hovering on the sidelines is a mysterious, wild-haired man who expresses an interest in the factory early on. He seems at once a social theorist, commenting in voice-over on the present cracks in the capitalist system, and an activist affiliated to a pan-European group of left-wing thinkers, whose lengthy dinner-table debate offers a somewhat intractable longueur at around the two-hour mark. In fact, he’s played by Italian film-maker Daniele Incalcaterra, whose own work includes the documentary FaSinPat [Fabrica Sin Patrón/Factory Without a Boss] – presumably covering exactly the same theme as Pinho’s film. Incalcaterra’s presence as surrogate director introduces a Brechtian dimension into a film that’s ostensibly in a familiar realist mould – its energetic, natural ensemble acting style closer to the sprawling tableau of Abdellatif Kechiche’s Couscous than to Loach or the Dardennes.
“Are workers the only ones who can confront the Capital? Can we maintain a revolutionary imaginary like in the old leftist movements of the XXIth century? Pedro Pinho poses an ideological summa towards the syndicalist world through a known dialectic; a dialectic that the filmmaker uses to measure a generational nostalgic common sense about old conquers of rights that slowly lose their breath. [...] Pedro Pinho chooses an eclectic tone as a critical weapon in this immense film that passes through the realist fiction to the documentary testimony and the musical, to become a mirror of Portugal from the prejudices, the mottos, the leftist mystique, that here looks enthusiastic but exhausted from the impossibility of making a collective.”
“Shooting in 16mm with a compositional and editing style that make the film feel like a documentary – or, in the modern parlance, feel like a hybrid film, re-staging fiction based on documentary elements – and with a set of actors who likewise successfully blur the line between reality and drama, The Nothing Factory plunges full hilt into the details and discourse of the particulars of the fading away of a single, lone factory and the congested efforts by its workers to keep their labor going and their livelihood intact. Pinho then cleverly folds in a fourth-wall breaking wild card, including in his film a voiceover and the presence of a scruffy, unnamed man who seems at once an author, a thinker, or perhaps even a director (he is played by a filmmaker, Danièle Incalcaterra) researching the end of capitalism in Europe. He discovers the strike, begins hanging around the workers, and, in a few dizzyingly audacious scenes, even directs them to perform for the very movie we're watching. Thus the inhuman plight of Europe's dying capitalism, detailed and broad, is addressed, and the very way such a plight can be explained or dramatized is questioned. The film’s three-hour runtime gives The Nothing Factory the breadth to plunge into the nitty-gritty particulars of the workers’ conversations, coalition, fights, and concerns, scripted and shot so that the drama is not classical melodrama but rather comes from the innate emotion and tension of people struggling to figure out how to make a living and, from that, live.”
Libération: Cette mise en abyme est intervenue tard dans l’écriture ?
Pedro Pinho: Non, c’était l’idée de départ. Il y a eu le film de Miguel Gomes [Les mille et une nuits, en 2015, ndlr], toutes ces histoires de documentaire-fiction et de « méta-cinéma ». On a voulu faire un genre de divertissement sur ça, sans le prendre au sérieux : une réflexion sur ce désir du cinéma de vouloir entrer dans la réalité. D’ailleurs, le réalisateur finit par se faire frapper par un des personnages… C’est venu aussi du film Torre Bela, de Thomas Harlan [l’occupation de terres d’une gigantesque réserve de chasse de la famille royale de Bragance par des paysans en 1975, ndlr], documentaire incroyable sur la Révolution au Portugal. On a produit un film sur ce chef-d’œuvre, Linha vermelha (2012), de José Felipe Costa. Il a retrouvé des bandes son enregistrées au moment du tournage, cette séquence où les paysans entrent dans la maison du propriétaire, s’emparent des objets, essayent les vêtements. Une des scènes les plus belles du monde, qui a été très vivement critiquée au Portugal. Sur la bande, au moment de l’entrée dans le palais, on entend Harlan qui dit : « Coupez ! Revenez ! On la refait ! » Et il les fait recommencer trois fois… Cette séquence si controversée, censée capter quelque chose de l’instant, était dirigée par un réalisateur. Ça résout de façon assez drôle les questions de légitimité du documentariste, d’entrer dans la vie des gens, etc. Ce personnage de cinéaste dans l’Usine de rien, c’est donc plus Thomas Harlan que moi.
Libération interview with Pedro Pinho5
“[T]he three-hour running time contains manifold surprises and pleasures, notably a few bursts of self-reflexive song-and-dance and the loveliest of nods to Straub-Huillet’s Sicilia!.”
- 1. Boijd van Hoeij, “The Nothing Factory [A Fabrica de nada]: Film Review | Cannes 2017,” The Hollywood Reporter, 31 May 2017.
- 2. Jonathan Romney, “The Nothing Factory: Cannes Review,” Screen Daily, 25 May 2017.
- 3. Mónica Delgado, “Cannes 2017: The Nothing Factory by Pedro Pinho,” Desistfilm, 26 May 2017.
- 4. Daniel Kasman, “Cannes 2017. New Portuguese Cinema,” Mubi Notebook, 31 May 2017.
- 5. Pedro Pinho and Luc Chessel, « Pedro Pinho : ‘Ce n'est pas le but qui compte, mais comment tu le fais’ », Libération, 12 décembre 2017.
- 6. Dennis Lim, “Keeping at It. The fruits and frustrations of labor were on display at Cannes,” Film Comment, July/August issue, 2017.