Review: MINER'S BREAD, Waiting For Individualism In Slovakia

The Slovakian film industry has, as of late, been rather prolific in its production of documentaries, with notable works including Bell of Happines (directed by Martin Šulík and Jana Bučka), The Case of Cervanová (directed by Róbert Kirchhoff) and Graduates - The Freedom Is Not Free (directed by Tomáš Krupa). An amusing irony arises from the fact that many recent narrative features of some note were made by filmmakers who primarily work in the documentary format which is the case for Juraj Lehotský (Blind Loves, Miracle) or Iveta Grófová (Made in Ash). The main focus in all of these films, whether fiction or non, have largely centered around national affairs that are not only political in nature, but social as well. In the case of Róbert Fábian's Miner's Bread, the documentary format serves as a proverbial mirror, starting with a political angle that acts as an outer framework from which Fábian plunges into the collective mindset of the Slovakian people.

The film's subjects come from Rakovnica, a small village in the south-east of Slovakia. The village was once well-known thanks to what was at the turn of the 20th century the most modern and largest mining complex in all of Europe. After the fall of communism, most areas of the mining complex were shut down due to the economic upheaval of a young and wayward country.

Fábian builds up a series of vignettes around the lives of the locals, which aim to offer a coherent overview of the region's troubled history, as well as sketch a possible future for these people. The elders of the village talk of the communist era, in all its pros and cons, up to the transition into capitalism.  Younger citizens speak about their lives in a post-communist country, trying to cope with what they feel is an acquired freedom, and in a town which boasts a high unemployment rate. Despite their complaints, the youth of Rakovnica show little sign of moving somewhere else to secure themselves a decent living. This absolute apathy spreads like a plague across the younger generations.

These confessions and commentaries from the locals provide not only a strong sense of the region's history, but also indicates the inherent vice in the boundaries of collective thinking. The giant mines, sealed shut for good, are left to rot, a strong memento of unused potential, an intensive parallel to the many stricken lives in Rakovnica. Their desperation calls for even more desperate and essential change in this collective mindset starting from each and every individual. The ultimate question: "What can you do as an individual?" hangs in the air unanswered. This waiting takes a rather bleak shape over the course of the film, and whether that is due to decades of collectivism is really up to the viewer to decide.

The political parallels in the film can be found in the prevailing idea that capitalism did not successfully make it to all corners of the country. The subjects in Miner´s Bread indicate the country´s overall unpreparedness in being able to support an economic transformation of such a scale. The relationship between one small region trapped somewhere between the past and present and the modern, healthy state-at-large signifies the differences of life then and now and what has been ignored and largely unchanged in villages such as Rakovnica.
 
Miner´s Bread is above all an intimate portrait of a community that has been unable to succeed in adapting to global changes. Fábian's documentary serves also as a sort of therapeutic tool not only to point out communal malaise, but also to pass the above mentioned self-reflective mirror onto a larger portion of the population. Shortly after the premiere of the film at the ArtFilmFest in Trenčín, Miner's Bread was available on the online streaming service Doc Alliance across Slovakia and the Czech Republic -- countries that do not have Netflix and few similar digital streaming services. By bypassing a theatrical (and thus limited) route, the film has rather elegantly made its way directly to as many people as is possible. 



For more information on Doc Alliance, which is a service available in several European countries, click here.
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