I like to be shown rather than told and this Chinese documentary about the vast coal mines of Inner Mongolia did just that. Made up of dialogue-free footage, we are taken on an absorbing and sobering visual journey. The behemoth of the title refers to the monster of the Bible who devours mountains and, through a loose translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, we journey through the Purgatory, Hell and Paradise of China’s insatiable appetite for industrial production.
Grey is the colour of purgatory. The huge open cut mine with trucks crawling like ants, plumes of dirt and dust fill the air, faces are blackened by the coal as it is shoveled by hand, trucks line the road crawling slowly to the steel smelters. Against this we see the Mongolian sheep herders and fields of green grass against the ever-growing slag heaps.
Red is the colour of hell. Men sweat, faces reddened, hands calloused, skimming slag from molten steel, their breathing laboured, coal dust in their lungs. A woman holds up a portrait of a loved one, dead like so many others from pneumoconiosis.
And blue is the colour of paradise but it is an empty place. The steel being produced is used to build ‘ghost cities’, vast acres of tower blocks, red and yellow against the blue sky, all standing empty.
The faces we see are impassive, resigned, focused on survival. The vastness of it all is almost inconceivable, the fact that this will still be happening right now, as I write this, as you read this, these people still working and dying. It is impossible not to see the parallels with other developed nations, consumption for the sake of it, the Building Revolution, the new and empty apartment blocks in the Melbourne CBD, Erisychton cursed with an insatiable hunger.
Bechdel test – fail (but there was no dialogue at all)