REVIEW: Waste Land

19 07 2011

I need to put this out there for reviewing “Waste Land,” and I really can’t distance myself from this review because my reaction to it is so deeply rooted in personal experience.  Two years ago, I went on a mission trip to Nicaragua and went to the city dump in Managua, which is a self-contained city in itself.  There I met people who lived in such incredible poverty and in conditions that I still don’t understand to livable.  It was a life-changing event in a way that only seeing such a harrowingly extreme stretch of the human condition can be.

Having said that, while watching “Waste Land,” this exposé of a Brazilian dump and the people who inhabit it felt like a retread for me.  Not only that, but it lost its power as I had seen something like that in the flesh.  When I went to the dump, I smelled the cantankerous odors, felt my gag reflexes being stimulated against my wall, swatted the flies from my face, and touched things and people and was in turn touched in a different way.  But when I watched it, even though I felt the movie was making a concerted effort to get me involved in these people’s lives, I felt a distance.

That doesn’t make what Vik Muniz does any less remarkable.  An innovative visual artist, he returned to his home country to make socially-conscious works from the materials found in the dump with the help of the people who live in it.  What he does for them not just with the money from the art but also for their spirits and souls is truly moving.

However, for me, it just all paled in comparison to the real experience.  Perhaps you, the normal person who hasn’t had the ability to visit a dump, will find the long shots of the squalid conditions to be a life-changing or affecting.  Perhaps you will get emotional learning about the lives of the people living there.  If the movie does that for you, then that’s fantastic because anything that can translate the experience to people who can’t see it in person should be applauded.

Since it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary, I’m inclined to think that it probably succeeds in that regard.  But for me, who has seen such a thing in person, the documentary was an overly long mix of artistic experimentation with a UNICEF fundraising video.  B- / 

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