Ben Russell has never been too respectful of the line between fiction and documentary. His latest work films Serbian copper miners and Suriname gold diggers in a way that is spectacular, glamorous, even, but at the same time worrying and real. Yet, Russell knows that this is a movie. The film opens with images juxtaposed by a gemoetrical symbol; a representation of a viewfinder, perhaps. The implication appears to be that this is a movie: the invitation is to make of Good Luck what you will.
The film, presented at the 70th Locarno Film Festival, must have tested the patience of viewers less inclined to understand that not only is satisfaction never guaranteed by cinema; it is also not altogether necessary. While the people working on low wages and in extremely dangerous conditions, sometimes even illegally, in both parts of the two hostile worlds depicted by Russell’s Super 16mm camera, they are also real people, who often refrain from expressing their real, honest feelings in front of the camera and complain, rightly, about their lifestyle and working conditions, often through a sense of comradery with one another and with a smile on their faces.
There is no linear narrative as such in the movie: only pure observation. In both parts – in Serbia and Suriname – we are allowed access to the mines via the workers themselves: the camera trailing behind a worker, walking towards the harsh location in which he will engage in his daily labour and duties. Such shots are celebrated in works like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. The reference in this review is not altogether trivial: in Good Luck, a demanding documentary feature, Russell provides us with both access and terror
These are worlds rarely exposed or represented, and they are also dangerous worlds in which people pay with their lives. What lives? As one of the Serbian workers mutters in the film: a life spent seeking “a better life and better wages,” and seeing your co-workers, comrades, and friends dying left and right. Another daring reference: Andy Warhol. The action of the film is broken up by sequences of the workers, shot in black and white, turning the camera on
Another daring reference: Andy Warhol. The action of the film is broken up by sequences of the workers, shot in black and white, turning the camera on and off. The camera films them in close-up, as they remain sitting still, perhaps smoking a cigarette, perhaps not. These are glamour shots, recalling Warhol’s auditions, featuring such people as Edie Sedgewick and Lou Reed. Their inclusion in Good Luck feels like a gritty and leftist manifesto of sorts, elevating the rough and dirty working class to glamorous status. Excessive, perhaps. However, it enhances the feeling of otherworldliness that permeates through the movie: it is films like these (rather than films like that) that open one’s eyes to an alternative viewpoint on the world at large, light years away from so-called “first world problems,” yet very much involved in the order in which both worlds exist. – ★★★★
GOOD LUCK | 2017, France / Germany | Documentary | Directed by – Ben Russell / Produced by – Guillaume Cailleau, Janja Kralj / Written by – Ben Russell / Cinematography – Ben Russell / Editing by – Ben Russell, Maja Tennstedt | Running time: 143 mins.