To celebrate yesterday's announcement of the Academy Award nominations for this past year's films, let's turn to a couple of award-winning movies -- one an American independent, the other a foreign documentary -- that slipped in under the radar last year. The American indie, LAST STOP FOR PAUL, is touted on its web site as "the most award-winning independent film of 2007," boasting some 45 different international film fest prizes. The Austrian/German documentary about the food that makes its way onto European dinner tables has also received some nominations and awards, and though OUR DAILY BREAD has elements in common with Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation, its tone and approach are markedly different.
In one scene of Last Stop..., the protagonists discuss how many chickens must be needed around the world to provide for all the restaurants that serve them to diners. If they'd seen the German/Austrian documentary Our Daily Bread, they might think twice before ordering any variation of that particular dish. Directed and co-written (with Wolfgang Widerhofer) by Nikolaus Geyrhalter, the film is nearly silent, other the ambient sounds of the food-related workplaces that the filmmakers visit. We hear occasional snatches of dialog between workers (in German or Polish, I believe) without any subtitles to translate. Otherwise, we simply view how the food we eat -- vegetable and animal -- has been harvested and prepared for market. The film offers no explicit judgments, nor does it try to push its viewers in any direction. This is disconcerting for awhile, as we are now so used to being told how to feel and what to think. Slowly, though, one's own judgment will probably make itself apparent.
Because the documentary was made in Europe, I suspect that what we are viewing is infinitely cleaner, more sanitary and health-conscious than much of what we would see had the film been shot in America -- particularly over these last eight years of Republican/damn-any-standards rule. This very cleanliness has the odd effect of making the movie seem even more difficult to watch and consider. And, as with any good story, the filmmakers save their best for last: the meat department. The images seen here will sear themselves onto your permanent memory card.