First Run Features // 2004 // 87 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // April 4th, 2006
Fire the boss.
"Welcome to the globalized ghost town."
The Take is a documentary born out of a desire to provide an alternative to the rapidly creeping spread of globalization across the planet, an attempt to meet critics not with anti-globalization protests that border on wild, manic hooliganism, but to actually find, document, and cite an example of a viable economic and social alternative to the globalization policies of the International Monetary Fund.
Journalist Avi Lewis and the award-winning writher of "No Logo" Naomi Klien may have found just such an example in Argentina.
Up until the 1930s, Argentina was one of the ten richest nations in the world. When military ruler Juan Perón took over the country in the 1940s, he focused the country's wealth on building its infrastructure, developing public works and strengthening the number of unionized workers and factories, creating the most prosperous middle-class economy in Latin America. He also married a woman named Evita and that scored him some popularity points.
The tragedy of Argentina today is not that it is poor; rather, that it was a rich country made poor. After Perón fell out of power, Argentina saw a rapid spiral of decline throughout the decades with politicians taking away the emphasis on public works and "Made in Argentina" factories, and placed it on the guidelines of the International Monetary Fund: downsizing, corporate handouts, and liquidating public assets, all much to the delight of Western nations. Argentina was hailed for decades as a shining beacon of hope for newly developing nations to jump on the globalization bandwagon as multinational corporations tripped over themselves to privatize everything in sight. Everything was going well, up to the point when 50 percent of the nation slipped below the poverty line.
When the value of the Argentinean currency began to plummet, so did the participation of the multinational corporations, financial institutions, and foreign investors. The wealth of the country simply evaporated overnight as corporations took their toys back and went home. Forty billion dollars were removed from the Argentinean economy virtually overnight, leaving the country with the clothes on its back and nothing else. After a few years of anarchy and chaos, in the largest sovereign-debt default in world history, the Argentine Republic declared bankruptcy.
The Take chronicles the story of a unique phenomena emerging from a nation desperate to rebuild its infrastructure. Unemployed workers forced onto the street after their factories declared bankruptcy are taking it upon themselves to reopen the factories, occupy them by force, and start up the machines again, running the factory in a cooperative effort between all the employees. The economy cannot provide jobs for thousands of workers left unemployed, so the workers take it upon themselves to create their jobs again in the only way available to them: fábrica recuperada (literal translation, a "recovered factory").
The motto of the recovered factory workers: occupy, resist and produce.
The Take is not a bias-free film and we should establish that right off the bat. Coming from the brain of Naomi Klien, author of the anti-globalization Canadian bestseller No Logo, one could hardly expect it to be. Though the film has an unmistakable (and unapologetic) socialist and liberal slant, it should be noted that the reality of the Argentinean crisis is cold, hard reality, one that supersedes political views on globalization or social reform. This is a country that got violated in the most unflattering and pejorative sense of the word by the global community at large, be it intentionally or unintentionally.
The most critical point that The Take tries to make above all is to emphasize again and again that the recovered factory movement is being born out of desperation and necessity, not out of politics, socialism, or ideology. This is not being imposed on high by a socialist state, like in Russia or Cuba, nor is it being orchestrated by anti-globalization groups with an axe to grind. Instead, the movement is bubbling up from the ground out of a bizarre mixture of desperation, motivation, and opportunity. It's an uprising of rejection against the entire model of capitalism, which utterly failed its participants in a way never before seen on the global scale. In short, it is a search for an alternative.
In the cooperative model of factory ownership, all the employees make equal salaries and administer the business democratically, sharing the duties of running all aspects of the factory...minus of course, upper management. By illustrating to a bankruptcy court judge that the factory can be occupied and made profitable, by the letter of the law, the assets can be transferred into the ownership of the workers themselves via expropriation. Getting to this point, however, can be a tricky affair, since it basically amounts to a grassroots movement of trespassing and illegal occupation on premises that do not legally belong to the workers (at least not yet). Halfway between a legal protest and downright squatting, fábrica recuperada walks a tricky line between legality, ethics, and outright desperation; a Robin Hood-esque righteousness that somehow makes a compelling argument towards the seizing of millions of dollars worth of factory equipment by people who did not pay for it. Because once the workers have seized control, started the machines up, and started making money, the owners -- completely absent during the years of poverty and unemployment in the community -- come back with a vengeance to take back what is theirs.
Narrated in an open and engaging style, The Take is a pleasure to watch; fascinating not only in economic and social subject matter, but in the heartbreaking footage of factory workers breaking into tears of joy at having secured for themselves gainful (if not entirely legal) employment. After all, it is hard work being a reclaimed factory worker, what with the constant eviction notices and setting up 24-hour guard patrols (armed with slingshots) to protect themselves against the police. Encouraging rather than muckraking, idealistic rather than nihilistic, the film flows quite nicely and never gets itself bogged down too deep in politics. Well, no more than can be helped, at least. After all, it is a valid and worthwhile point to reiterate again and again that the movement came from legitimate need, not political ideology, but it is clear in The Take that the anti-globalization movement has swept down upon Argentina in search of ammunition to bolster its cause. One can taste the irony in the air, since making a film about a non-political sequence of events has the effect of turning said sequence of events into a political cause. How could it not?
This is where The Take tends to lose its momentum: getting sidetracked by politics. When the film focuses on the factory workers themselves, the documentary has emotional resonance and genuine relevance, but the filmmakers seem unable to keep their cameras on target, focusing in on the Argentinean presidential election and giant demonstrations on the streets. Admittedly, some of the footage captured of police firing tear gas into the crowds is jaw-dropping, but it would have been nice to keep the film on an unbiased rhetoric platform.
The video presentation is decent, but not without its flaws. Shot on what appears to be digital video, the colors are highlighted to the point of oversaturation. Black levels are mediocre, grain is noticeable, and the image has a tendency to shimmer and make jagged edges. Still, for the material, it is a perfectly acceptable presentation. The audio is more impressive, offering both a stereo and a 5.1 surround presentation (both subtitled in Spanish). The two tracks perform virtually identical, save for a noticeable volume boost in the surround track, with clear dialogue, average bass response, and no noticeable imperfections. The score is a quirky string-driven piece vaguely reminiscent of the later material of Tom Waits and the film also features excellent music from local Argentinean bands that fit the film perfectly.
We get two small featurettes as supplement to this DVD: a 30-minute making-of documentary and a short film from director Avi Lewis about a young Argentinean man killed at a political protest in Buenos Aires. They complement the film quite nicely. I am especially glad that the Gustavo Benedetto story was included not only on the DVD, but as a separate entity from the documentary itself. It is a tragic story worth hearing, but including the material in the film itself would simply have taken the documentary so off-message as to be unrecoverable.
Does a factory belong to its workers or to its financial investors? When a corporation claims that a factory cannot be run profitable and declare bankruptcy, but the workers are able to illustrate the factory's profitability by doing it themselves, does this give them the authority to expropriate it? Is it worse to allow workers to steal assets in a socialist coup if it means saving hundreds of jobs and benefiting the community and economy as a whole?
Hell, I don't know. The Take has an opinion and makes it fairly clear throughout the film, but even the most liberal egg-thrower would be hard-pressed to make a compelling argument for this economic model to spring up as a viable alternative to capitalism. In Argentina, things are more complex. The entire country was shafted so thoroughly, it was like the inverse reaction to the fall of communism in Russia, the utter failing of a capitalist model. I say if these workers manage to scrape together a living after going through something like that, good for them.
Still, how could this work anywhere else? The recovered factory model basically amounts to theft, an archaic "finders keepers" mentality that assumes ownership based on occupation. It may be righteous and feel good to romanticize, but is this seriously meant as a viable alternative to globalization? Can it seriously be that simple?
One of the most compelling and fascinating documentaries in recent memory, The Take is unabashedly liberal, romantic, and sympathetic to the cause of the reclaimed factory workers, but does succeed in opening a dialogue about the dangers and pitfalls of globalization across the world. You might not take it seriously as an alternative to globalization, but it certainly illustrates the potential for disaster in the existing model.
A well-made and thought-provoking documentary. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Fire The Director: The Making of The Take" Featurette
* "Gustavo Benedetto: Presente!"
* Official Site