There are many ways to skin a documentary but seldom follow a similar path to Zhao Liang’s meandering poetic and lyrical Behemoth. Whilst the angle a filmmaker approaches subjects like environmental destruction, industrialisation and social inequality can differ wildly, it’s a rare kind of director who is bold enough to just let the pictures do the talking. The backdrop to his vision is an industrial mine, a mighty monster served by a legion of minions.
Behemoth is at its heart a critique of China’s seemingly unquenchable appetite for industrial expansion. Zhao focuses on the plight of the workers through hazardous working conditions, poverty, death and forced urbanisation. It’s almost Biblical in scope and aesthetic. Whilst the visuals are truly striking and concentrate on the mesmerising backdrops, it’s the human/humane aspect which really captures the heart of the matter.
Human beings seem are rapidly returning to the status of commodity in an increasingly polarised world. The contrast between ghost cities and living conditions of the poor workers is striking. It seems progress takes no prisoners; whether that be in human or environmental toll. The relentless churn of engines and motors drown out any welfare considerations. The workers are in effect indentured slaves, tied to hazardous jobs in order to survive. Behemoth is a beautiful, thought-provoking and troubling film about the perils of ‘progress’.
Behemoth is released on DVD by New Wave Films on Monday.