Mother Earth

Mother Earth


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A curious patchwork of styles, this film is perhaps better simply described as 'non fiction' than as 'documentary'. It opens with scenes ostensibly shot in a garden in December 2008, which look like home video yet mimic the style of an old silent movie. We then switch to simple documentary footage of the 2006 Terra Madre conference, by far the weakest part of the film. And then there's the final third, a poetic visual study of an elderly man living a traditional peasant lifestyle, in which not a single word is spoken.

Terra Madre's focus is the Slow Food movement, which unites a variety of concerns centered around environmentalism, sustainability, supporting local economies, and healthy eating. There's also a focus on taking pleasure in food which the conference scenes struggle to put across but which is clearly present in the other footage. If we think of the Earth as a mother with limited resources, shouldn't we be working together to make best use of those resources, and to tend to her needs, rather than proceeding as we currently do?

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There are some good ideas here, and bursts of insight into strategies that really do seem to be working. A Massachusetts student talks about his organic garden project for schools and a Mexican attendee stresses the need to reduce the distance between growers and consumers. But there's also a lot of the kind of hippy Earth mother approach that really isn't going to make an impact on anyone not sympathetic to begin with, and that, frankly, is wasting the time of those people trying to get practical things done. There are also hints of the kind of anti-scientism that frequently gets in the way of potentially useful alliances. A lot is said about the need to reunite nature and culture, but there doesn't seem to be much genuine effort at crossing that divide from either side.

More interesting is the trip we take to Svalbard to see where seeds are being stored for posterity, and the visits to small projects in Italy and India where similar efforts at preservation are going on. These vignettes also benefit from the director's real strength, a fine eye for the beauty of the natural world. Whether we're looking at vast northern snowscapes or the rich earth of a wild forest, there's a romance in these shots that puts across the film's message far more effectively than all that talk.

In the final section, this style comes into its own, and though the film moves at a gentle pace you'll find yourself absolutely captivated by the simple beauty of cliffs, river, farmhouse, trees, seeds, animals, fruit. It's worth sitting through the rest to reach this goal - which may be the film's point.

Reviewed on: 05 Apr 2009
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An examation of the "slow food" movement and the rise of organic farming.

Director: Ermanno Olmi

Year: 2008

Runtime: 78 minutes

Country: Italy


BIFF 2009
Italian 2009

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