" It’s been 84 years and I can still smell the fresh paint "
— Gloria Stuart, Titanic

MRQE Top Critic

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Shot in Europe on high definition video over the course of several years, Our Daily Bread (AKA Unser T├Ąglich Brot) is a visually poetic documentary about the production of food.

I say “documentary,” but the film has no narrator, no specific story to tell, and no political axe to grind. There is only the ambient sound and the stunning photography of the story behind our groceries.

Icarus Films lets you finally bring Our Daily Bread home
Icarus Films lets you finally bring Our Daily Bread home

There are those who might mistake Our Daily Bread as an excuse to gross out the squeamish with footage from slaughterhouses and factory farms. Indeed, the film was sold at our local film series, in part, with a quote about saving the killing floor for last. But such a view of this movie is very shallow. There is so much more going on than simply a morbid curiosity about meat.

Start with the cinematography, which is carefully framed and richly detailed. There are unforgettable shots in Our Daily Bread that have nothing to do with death. Take the tractor, statically positioned in the lower center of the frame, dwarfed by the horizon. The shot runs for thirty or forty seconds as, slowly, the tractor unfolds its segmented arms, eventually filling the entire screen that had only recently seemed too big for the tiny machine. Or consider the shot deep in the salt mine where the gigantic earth moving equipment is pressed down from above with an oppressive darkness. Or watch in wonder the surreal cartoon humor in seeing fuzzy yellow chicks being moved along a precision conveyor belt.

The pacing is excellent. Within each scene, we slowly come to understand what somebody’s job is, or what the process being photographed entails. A tractor’s eye view of a long frontal attachment just seems silly and inefficient, until, minutes later, you finally understand how that attachment is used to harvest olives. Another scene starts with guys suiting up in hazmat gear. We wonder what organic process could be so dangerous. Then we see the guys spraying pesticides on our fruit and understand just how strong the poison is... and wonder whether we really ought to be eating such things.

Editor Widerhofer does an almost perfect job shaping the arc of the movie, too. The film opens with a long, static shot of a light, airy, empty building. Throughout the film, Widerhofer returns to the building from the opening shot as peppers are planted, grown, and eventually harvested. He also shows us workers stopping for lunch at regular intervals, perhaps to show us how strong their stomachs are, or perhaps to remind us of why we have these institutions in the first place.

Pairings

Our Daily Bread is an excellent documentary that goes well with Agnes Varda’s The Gleaners and I. You might also try it with an American dish called King Corn. For the truly adventurous, add Our Daily Bread to your diet of books by author Michael Pollan and Russ Parsons.

DVD Extras

The DVD offers a few bite-sized extras. These are not enough to fill you up; they’re just a taste. There are maybe half a dozen pictures from behind the scenes, and about that many stills from the film. There are two 2-page PDF files of interviews, one with the director one with the editor. There is also an on-screen filmography. It might take you 10 minutes to consume all of the extras, including the PDFs.

The important thing is that you can finally get this film on DVD in the United States. Here’s hoping Icarus Films digs into the Geyrhalter library and lets us Americans have a look at Pripyat and his other films.

Picture and Sound

Both picture and sound are as good as can be expected. I remember being more impressed when I saw Our Daily Bread in a theater. I do have a very good TV with an upconverting DVD player. But wouldn’t a Blu-ray release look nice?

The sound is pristine. The entire soundtrack consists of ambient sound; there is no dialogue except for occasional snatches as workers take a lunch break.

How to Use This DVD

The weak-stomached may not want to watch it with dinner, but don’t miss it. You might as well look at all the extras, too, since there are so few of them.