As filmmaking, The Take is a deeply flawed work, not in the least because Canadian-TV host Avi Klein (who directed) and anti-corporate author Naomi Klein (No Logo) insist on incorporating themselves in the drama of the film and the situation it describes. The best I can say for them is that they aren’t as grating a Morgan Spurlock of Super-Size Me fame, though they come close in the smugness department.
The film is arranged on the premise that Klein is responding to the question about just where her protesting and political activism is supposed to lead. It’s a valid enough question, one that raises a question of its own: Is there some reason we should care about Klein? Moreover, does a documentary about workers taking over their own factories in Argentina really require the framing device of an outsider’s awakening to the practical application of socialism? Based on the film, I’m inclined to say “no” to both questions.
That much is on the debit side of the ledger. However, there is another side to The Take — the fascinating and heartening prospect of workers taking over abandoned factories and running them themselves. Yes, the idea has more than a little in common with that demonized term, “socialism,” and a more than passing familiarity with that even more despised term, “communism.” Even the workers’ catch phrase — “Occupy. Resist. Produce.” — smacks of old-time “Workers of the world, unite” agitprop.
And truthfully, The Take isn’t all that removed from that kind of propaganda, but that hardly makes it a bad movie — it merely explains where the film is coming from and where it’s going. The idea of workers taking over a factory sounds a bit more radical than it is, since these takeovers, or expropriations, are in keeping (though not always easily) with court decisions, and occur because the government allowed heavily subsidized companies to just close up shop, sneak their money out of the country and leave behind thousands of jobless people who were owed millions of dollars.
Under such circumstances, it would take a die-hard fan of giant corporations to think that these workers didn’t have more right to the factories than the titular owners. The film makes this case fairly persuasively.
I say “fairly” because the film’s approach to the issues is more along “human interest” lines than attached to cold, hard facts, and there’s an inescapable sense that many parts of the story are oversimplified to drive home the point. For that matter, there’s a certain fuzzy-mindedness at work that allows for the representation of the Peron government — which was essentially a military dictatorship — as a font of nothing but goodness.
But the “experiment” of the worker-controlled factories is interesting and telling enough that these flaws can be put into perspective. Aside from a few side-trips that touch on other factories, the film wisely chooses to follow the plight of one group of workers as they try to establish their own collective.
The people that comprise this group are the ones who really make the film come alive, because of their unquestionable humanity, their basic decency and — most importantly — their embodiment of the indomitable nature of the human spirit. That’s something that just can’t be faked, and it imbues this sometimes awkward film with a power it would not otherwise have. And that — along with the ominous warning that the “global economy” will bring to the rest of the world the kind of chaos Argentina is only starting to climb out of — is what makes The Take truly worthwhile viewing for anyone with a political conscience.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke
[The Take will be shown at 7 p.m. on March 17, 18 and 19, 2005 at the Asheville Community Resource Center Movie House (16 Carolina Lane in downtown Asheville).]
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