There is, of coure, enormous irony in calling a film about work - or, rather, about labour - Joy of Man's Desiring. The Bach quote is evidently twisted by Canadian Denis Côté in his latest feature, the seventh in a typically zig-zagging career, and one where the director and former film critic twists the documentary form for his own thoughtful, cerebral ends. On the surface, it appears to be a portrait of a number of labour-intensive Montréal working floors - carpentry, laundry, metallurgy - ironically employing mostly immigrants. But it turns out to be another form-defying hybrid, interrogating the contemporary nature of menial work in a radically shifting landscape where work itself is undergoing epoch-making changes, as the apparently spontaneous "conversations" between the "workers" turn out to be recurrent, scripted dialogue spoken by actors and thrown in the middle of actual documentary scenes - as if "work" would itself be just another performance.
There's a sense that Joy of Man's Desiring does for people what the previous Bestiaire did for animals, observing beings in habitats that are not natural but have been adapted and modified on their behalf; as if the director's eye would be that of an entomologist bemusedly studying the personal lives of some small, insignificant creatures, much helped by Jessica Lee Gagné's crisp, hyper-real digital lensing, heightening and underlining the artificiality of Mr. Côté's construct. Joy of Man's Desiring belongs to the "parallel-track" of smaller-budget, smaller-scale films the Canadian director does in between his more "conventional" narrative fictions such as Vic & Flo Saw a Bear (though, frankly enough, "conventional" is hardly a word you'd apply to his playful, deliberately disorienting style). Though it works as a companion piece to Bestiaire, it's a more abstract, more playful and less acessible work, as thought-provoking but not as exciting, but confirming Mr. Côté pursues an intensely personal path as a director.
QUE TA JOIE DEMEURE
Cast Guillaume Tremblay, Émilie Sigouin, Hamidou Savadogo, Ted Pluviose, Cassandre Emanuel, Olivier Aubin
Director and writer Denis Côté; cinematographer Jessica Lee Gagné (colour); editor Nicolas Roy; producers Mr. Côté, Sylvain Corbeil and Nancy Grant; production company Metafilms
Screened February 7th 2014, Cinemaxx 6, Berlin (Berlinale 2014 Forum press screening)