After Work


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

After Work
"There is a lot going on here, but Gandini offers a breezy and thought-provoking ride" | Photo: Fasad Fredrik Wenzel Kopie

As talk of artificial intelligence taking on the work of humans continues to generate headlines, documentarians are also busily considering what the future of work might look like. While some have focused on specific areas, including universal income (Free Money) and the gig economy (The Gig Is Up), Italian-Swedish director Erik Gandini takes a broader, more philosophical approach to the nature of work - and our attitudes towards it.

To do this he travels from Italy to South Korea to Kuwait and beyond and speaks to everyone from heiresses to Amazon drivers in order to explore the shifting attitudes and expectations surrounding employment. His method highlights not just the wide range of individual opinions out there but the way in which certain countries have adopted certain specific stances.

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In South Korea, for example, the culture of working from dawn till past dusk has ingrained itself to such a degree - and to such a detrimental impact on health and wellbeing - that the government has stepped in to improve the work/life balance, going so far as to program work computers to switch off at 6pm. A contributor from the US, meanwhile, dissolves into gales of laughter at the idea of Americans taking more than two weeks holiday at a time. Although much of the content here is serious, Gandini’s approach is playful, so we hear the American’s mantra of, “I am so busy” echo over a whole sequence in the film.

And what of those who do not work at all? There are multiple reasons for this too, those with money for example - although one millionnaire here refuses to be idle, noting “doing nothing is only death”. In Kuwait there are other reasons people sit idle. With its oil-rich economy and comparatively small population of just over four million, everyone is guaranteed a job, which leads to gross over-staffing of government offices. As with all sections of this film, Gandini is less interested with the ins and outs of this as the impact on the psyche of the individuals who find themselves under-employed.

Running through the film, and underlying the philosophical, cultural and psychological considerations are conversations with professor, who suggests that western attitudes to the need to work mainly stem from the Calvinistic belief that working hard would keep us all out of mischief. There's also a very interesting discussion with a pollster from Gallup, who notes that only 15 percent of the world's workforce is actively "engaged" in terms of feeling actively positive about their work. Like much here, that stark statistic is an invitation to think about not just the reasons for why that would be but also why so many put up with it.

Other topics covered include the increasing tendency to monitor employees’ every move and the socio-economic situation in Italy which has led to a generation of youngsters who aren’t in education or employment thanks to large inheritances.

There is a lot going on here, but Gandini offers a breezy and thought-provoking ride, leaving the drawing of conclusions for the viewer, while the often metronomic score from Johan Söderberg reminds us that the clock is ticking for all of us. Times and the nature of work are changing whether we want to change with them or not.

Reviewed on: 10 May 2023
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After Work packshot
A consideration of the changing landscape of work and our attitudes towards it.

Director: Erik Gandini

Year: 2023

Runtime: 71 minutes

Country: Sweden

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If you like this, try:

Free Money
The Gig Is Up