There is clearly much formal intelligence at work in Revolução Industrial, a documentary from Portuguese filmmakers Frederico Lobo and Tiago Hespanha, looking at the memories and realities of textile manufacturing in the Northern Portuguese river Ave. The directors clearly have an idea and a point of view on the issues they're dealing with, speaking of the long-term effects of the "industrialisation" of the area in an approach simultaneously detached and impressionistic - and if it seems like it's somewhat contradictory, you would be correct.
That, in fact, is the major flaw at work in this occasionally infuriating, occasionally charming piece: the sense that Messrs. Lobo and Hespanha want to have their cake and eat it too, attempting to meld the dispassionate observation of things as they are of Austrian director Nikolaus Geyrhalter with the subjective, poetic approach of someone like João Vladimiro (whose impenetrable Lacrau is a close relative of Revolução Industrial). Its approach to the dehumanizing effects of industrialization (with testimony from former factory workers) and the way that Nature has reclaimed some of the failed factories and installations in the area wants to be both a celebration of the spirit of human and natural resilience and an indictment of failed employment policies, clearly taking the side of the exploited working class.
The problem is that this political subtext seems to sit oddly with the beauty of some of the footage and with the placid, almost stately quality with which the camera lingers upon the dilapidated factories it shoots. Its sense of lost possibilities echoes Manuel Mozos' lovely, sensorial moodpiece Ruínas, mourning for a place where the promised future never truly arrived, but then the film's temptation to editorialize dims some of that fascination and superimposes a somewhat restricting meaning on the images.
Revolução Industrial works best as an abstract moodpiece that shows rather then tells the effects industrialisation had on this ravishing are - and every time it starts telling rather than showing it runs the risk of becoming yet just another documentary telling a story that has already been told innumerable times. Despite its many wonderful moments, the film never truly coalesces into a convincing whole.
Directors and cinematographers (colour) Frederico Lobo and Tiago Hespanha; composers Ghuna X and Phase; editors Federico Delpero Bejar, Mr. Lobo and Mr. Hespanha; producers Leonor Noivo, João Matos and Joana Gusmão; production company Terratreme Filmes
Screened April 17th 2014, Lisbon, IndieLisboa 2014 official competition screener