Without plot or narration, this mesmerizing documentary records the dehumanizing monotony of a day in the life of women chipping rocks by hand in a Tanzanian quarry while discovering the communal warmth and joy that defies this spirit-breaking labor.
Who would have suspected that a 45 minute documentary about women crushing rocks, without narration or plot, would offer one of the most unforgettable and rewarding experiences of recent African cinema? Flora M'mbugu-Schelling's quiet tribute to women at the very bottom of the international economic order ultimately deepens into a mediation on human labor itself. These Hands will stimulate viewers to rethink documentary and to question their own role as consumers in a global economy.
In These Hands, the camera acts as a compassionate witness to a day in the life of Mozambican women refugees working in a quarry outside Dar es Salaam - the relentless toil, the tender childcare, the nostalgic songs and joyous dancing at day's end. We slowly come to recognize that these women are, in fact, parts of a giant machine, not just the quarry but the international economic system as a whole. The rocks, the women, the scarred landscape, are being constantly ground into the common currency of industrial civilization. As the film unspools, we, the viewers, look on powerless and complicit, realizing we too are enmeshed in this global mechanism of social, economic and ideological reproduction.
Director Flora M'mbugu-Schelling has explained why she refused to interpret or romanticize these women's story, to reduce them to a simple political pose or anthropological point. "Certain things you can say with words and certain things you cannot find words for...The time has passed when we can use the classic documentary style. I don't want to offend my audience by telling them what they should see or feel." It is precisely this refusal of premature closure that makes viewers so much more aware of their relationship to the film and its protagonists.
"In looking at lives that in most ways seem hopeless, These Hands discovers a communal warmth and flashes of joy." - New York Times "A rare film which depicts ordinary life with extraordinary clarity." - Village Voice "An exceptional documentary in both its ethical and aesthetic qualities...A hallucinatory voyage." - Liberation (Paris) "These Hands doesn't give us an easy way to get inside it; in fact it makes us aware of our distance from these people...Incredible assuredness, a very strong sense of voice and vision." - Richard Pena, Film Society of Lincoln Center
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