Movie review: 'Waste Land'

'Profoundly moving' film reimagines trash as art

December 02, 2010|By Kevin Thomas, Tribune Newspapers

That a beautiful film could be set in the world's largest garbage dump sounds like an oxymoron, but acclaimed documentarian Lucy Walker has pulled off precisely that feat in her profoundly moving "Waste Land."

Walker follows renowned Brooklyn-based, Brazilian-born artist Vik Muniz on a singularly ambitious project: going to Jardim Gramacho, a vast landfill established in 1970 north of Rio de Janeiro, photographing its catadores, pickers of recyclable materials, and then collaborating with them in transforming these photos into portraits created with recyclable materials. His purpose is to inspire his pickers to see themselves in a new way and even to reimagine their lives.

The group of catadores he works with could scarcely be more charismatic: They are vital, striking-looking and of various ages. Many come from Muniz's own lower middle-class background but were forced to become pickers because of economic setbacks. Several women speak proudly of having chosen to work at Jardim Gramacho instead of prostituting themselves.

Meanwhile, Muniz's wife worries the artist's efforts might well succeed in giving the catadores their moment of fame and celebrity, but what if they're left with no alternative but returning to Jardim Gramacho? Happily, "Waste Land," which is shot through with subtle ironies regarding the rich and the poor, could scarcely be a more resounding tribute to the transforming power of art.

"Wasteland." No MPAA rating. In Portuguese with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. Opens today at the Charles Theatre, 1711 N. Charles St. Call 410-727-3456 or go to thecharles.com.

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