Erik Gandini works with documentary images and sounds as if he’s making a musical in his creative nonfiction film After Work, a look at varying attitudes to work around the world.
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“I’m just so busy right now,” says an American businessman of his work life. In After Work, director Erik Gandini turns that line into a stem that he puts on a loop: a comment in an interview becomes a chorus, a soundtrack for the film. Working with composer-editor Johan Söderberg (and composer Christoffer Berg), Gandini’s film experiments with creating rhythms from documentary sound. “I’m just so busy right now” is an offhand comment in a talking-head interview, but Gandini turns it into an anthem for the film.
After Work is a survey of what working means to different people in different countries. Gandini looks at some extremes to determine if work is necessary to give people a sense of purpose and meaning. In Saudi Arabia, he follows workers who get paid to show up at an office and watch Netflix for eight hours: the government has ensured everyone has a job, to the point that people whose jobs are to do nothing. They report crushing mental health issues because they have to show up rather than simply collect a Universal Basic Income paycheck. In America, by contrast, upper-class people obsessively work to form their identities, and working-class people break their backs to survive.
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Although it tries to look at both sides of the issue, the film has a bit of a neoliberal attitude. Gandini ultimately idealizes work as essential to identity. He tips his hand by using what must be the only clip of Elon Musk at the World Economic Forum being eminently reasonable. Nevertheless, the individual interviews with people discussing their diverse attitudes toward work are thoughtful.
Ultimately, the film is most noteworthy for its sound, image, and rhythm experimentations. I’ve never seen a documentary edited into something that feels almost like a musical. The editing and the score are so in sync and important to giving the film a propulsive rhythm. It feels like something you can only achieve when your editor is your composer. Gandini favours Steadicam shots that push in on a work environment. The camera makes us feel like we, too, are travelling hallways and spaces, so we get a sense of the geography of the workplace. The result is a film that’s as exhilarating and exhausting as work can be. Again, this perhaps reflects its neoliberal politics, but it’s also an impressive piece of filmmaking.
After Work screened in the Grand Angle section of Visions du Réel and at HotDocs. It had its world premiere at CPH:DOX. The film has distribution deals in Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Finland, and Sweden. It is still seeking North American and UK distribution.
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