Denis Côté / Canada / 2014 / 70 mins
French-Canadian director Denis Côté’s documentary on the relationship between humans and manual labour has lots to compete with in 2014. It attempts to render the delicate rhythms of factory machinery, the monotonous duties of the staff, and the complex feelings of autonomy and ennui that can occur simultaneously. Wang Bing features again at this year’s EIFF, arguably one of the greatest documentarians of labour working today, and Thomas Balmès’ pensive study of quiet communities in Happiness at Sheffield Doc/Fest was a mini-revelation: both of whom outweigh the thoughtfulness of Côté here.
Joy of Man’s Desiring, besides bearing an awkward title, has an equally inept set of protagonists. Largely without dialogue, with shots of repetitive mechanisms hammering away in the foreground, Côté’s opportunity to create an audiovisual landscape of labour is completely squandered. Instead of revealing to us the symphony of sounds that can arise from industry, he focuses on inane assertions of work ethic that, if not labelled as a documentary, could be confused for an indulgent fiction. Certain shots contain hidden treasures, such as the complex man-made devices that help us build and process the world we inhabit; yet largely the film floats far too readily on the surface of its themes to tell us nothing new about the experiences of private factory workers today.