The Charcoal People

"Good"

The Charcoal People Review


We use charcoal in our backyard barbeques instead of wood because it's easier to handle. You don't get those awful splinters, it's lighter to carry, and you can buy enough to last without having to go scouting outside for those uncomfortable logs. But those logs are what go into those black pieces of fuel, whose dust you can easily wipe off on a pair of jeans.

Nigel Noble's The Charcoal People chronicles the lives of those who make those little black chunks. It isn't a particularly original look at a poorer class of people, but it certainly hits an emotional mark nonetheless. Documentaries such as this leave a mental scar large enough to make you appreciate your own life just a little more.

Like most indentured servants, charcoal workers are taught their trade at an early age by their parents. They live away from loved ones for the majority of the year, and visit them to pay off the local debts before returning to work, sometimes 1,000 miles away. There is little chance for an education. As elders become feeble, the new generations must pick up the slack. Every adult wants a better life for his children, but the pattern of a life of labor is a vicious cycle that can't be escaped unless you're willing to starve.

Against this backdrop of hard living, a dichotomous situation arises: We are destroying our natural resources every day in the production of charcoal and yet if the environmentalists have their way, thousands of families will be ousted from the only livelihood they know.

Noble not only captures the lives of varying age groups within the charcoal circle, but allows just enough of a glimpse of the process itself that it's difficult not to have respect for them, even if they can't sign their own names. With a background of beautiful trees, and even gorgeous fires, there is a startling contrast between the look of life and the actual routine of living it.

Watching a 76-year-old man pick up a log that is wider than he is shocking. Learning that he has been doing this tough work from 9 years of age is even more distressing. The ultimate pity comes, however, when these workers discuss how important it is to be polite, for people to like you, above all other qualities. Since some anonymous charcoal official is in charge of monetary lives, the slightest slip could mean relocation and a desperate search for more exhausting work.

Though well crafted through various angles of charcoal life, Noble lingers just a little too long on the theme of a depressing, cyclical lifestyle. Every time he takes us on a side path that effects the every day life of the workers, he interrupts it with an interview about how long these men work. He makes this same point through interviews with different individuals throughout when he could have spent some time on alternate ideas. Where the effect on traveling families is broached, and a schoolteacher discusses working with students, these new paths are, unfortunately, quickly forgotten.

Another distracting feature is the soundtrack. The lives of these migrant workers are depressing enough without covering every moment not used for dialogue with solemn classical music.

Noble's film is a deeply moving portrait of an industry much ignored. It strives to pull the heartstrings of viewers more than needs to, but retains the power of its central themes despite its flaws.

Aka Os Carvoeiros.

Hot feet! Hot feet!



The Charcoal People

Facts and Figures

Run time: 65 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 26th January 2000

Distributed by: Vanguard

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

IMDB: 6.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Nigel Noble

Producer: Jose Padilha

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