Our Daily Bread” is hard to swallow.
Like a bad dream after an all-nighter at a Las Vegas buffet, “Our Daily Bread,” a documentary film by Austrian director Nikolaus Geyrhalter, sticks vengefully to the intestines.
In the film, more accurately described as a brainstorm, Geyrhalter takes the viewer on a journey through the food industry, set somewhere in Europe.
The audience is exposed to minute after minute of aimless footage of people picking apples, tractors plowing, and pigs being gutted. The viewer is not sure what to make of the jumbled footage.
It appears as though Geyrhalter is going for the simple beauty of a subject and environments that are unfamiliar to most people. Instead of being captivating, the film ended up putting the unsuspecting viewer through almost two hours of squinting and yawning.
“Our Daily Bread” lacks narrative and dialogue. The soundtrack consists of sounds of people walking through apple orchards, tractor engines and industrial slaughterhouse machinery.
In one scene, a row of cows on a conveyor belt pass by the screen for what seems like 45 seconds. Since it is unclear in what direction the film is heading, the viewer is prepared to look away because of the uncertain fate that awaits the cows at the end of the belt. For better or worse, the scene ends abruptly without any closure.
Most of the film footage is comprised of workers walking threw hen houses, men covered from head to toe in white overalls spraying pesticide on what appears to be oranges, and workers guiding tomatoes and apples through a conveyor belt. Each time the viewer is waiting for something, if anything, to happen, only to be disappointed.
At one point the film takes a more dramatic turn and the footage leaves the viewer suffering, although not as much as the excited pigs that unknowingly walk into a certain death.
In another scene, pigs are locked into a machine, come out unconscious, and are then hung by their feet. The next scene is a blood bath, where the unconscious pigs meet their deaths. The pigs are gutted in a straight file line and their intestines pour out as indifferent workers clean them.
Moments later, little “Babe”-like piglets squeal as they are restrained by indifferent workers, who, for unexplained reasons, cut their lower abdomen revealing a dark brown liquid. The piglets don’t seem to be terminally harmed, which cannot be said of the viewer.
Shortly after, the same workers who were busy buzzing off the adult pigs’ feet with an electric razor break for lunch and leave the viewer gasping at the possibility that they might have a ham sandwich. The film is filled with long scenes of workers having lunch.
As workers sort pig guts, the viewer begins to long for the now-pleasant memory of the shiny apples and tomatoes rolling through machinery.
There are a few moments of emotional release, when the cinematography is aesthetically pleasing.
“Out Daily Bread” contrasts scenes of great green pastures and orchards with intrusive tractors and a beautiful sunflower field, where the idyllic setting is suddenly disturbed by the noise of a plane spraying pesticides.
The film is not entirely devoid of humor, albeit of a darker kind. At a fish plant, the film shows how a machine swiftly and with comical maneuvers, guts, cleans, and sucks the insides of fish all in a matter of seconds. Moments later, a meat plant worker answers his cell phone while he cleans the insides of a cow. In an earlier scene, lively yellow chicks moving through an assembly line are squirted out of a sorting machine like popcorn.
Geyrhalter unsuccessfully attempts to walk the fine line between using shock value and appearing propaganda-ish, and is cautious enough so that the viewer is convinced about the wrongfulness of the food industry.
Watching “Our Daily Bread” for nearly two hours, the viewer develops feelings of solidarity with the woman who spends all day watching over an assembly line.