Review of Men of the City by British filmmaker Marc Isaacs

A financial director at London Stock Exchange (LSE), a debt-collection employee, and a worker holding a restaurant advertising signboard; three men from different cultural, social and familial backgrounds, who have nothing in common apart from money, or, to be more accurate, their struggle to get it!

By following the lives of these three men, British director Marc Isaacs highlights the inhuman consequences of the global economic system on people who are now living according to the law of jungle where survival is for the fittest.

It’s a message wittily expressed by Isaacs by filming a working day in the London Stock Exchange.

With lots of close ups, Isaacs depicts the faces of the trading men, the movements of their hands that resemble war signals. Indeed, war soon beaks out as the trading session starts and Isaacs mixes the traders’ screams as they pounce at their phones with that of wild animals. This wild and violent scene reaches its peak with closing shots that depict scars on the faces of the exhausted traders.

Isaac’s camera keeps moving between the lives of the three men and different shots of rain. He depicts raindrops jostling forcefully off glass, threads of water hitting the ground like sparkles flying, and crashing waves on the Thames River. The rain scenes accompanied by escalating music reflect the feeling of malaise in a city drowning in the economic crisis.

Life during the economic crisis is perhaps best portrayed through the Bangladeshi worker who sits holding a restaurant sign throughout the day. Once the clock hits 3pm he rushes to the nearest restaurant to quickly eat and then hurries back to his seat to continue his work. It’s a short life that people live during their work break.

Different from the three men is the sweeper, a calm man quietly sweeping London’s streets and contemplating the tired faces of passers-by.

“How could a sweeper enjoy his job? He’s supposed to be very miserable! Well that’s the way the system expects you, that’s the way most of the people you’ll find in the city will do. They feel that I should be that way, but why should I?” asks the street sweeper.

It’s this question that perhaps best reflects the core idea of the film. Isaacs ends with a romantic scene that completely contradicts the grim context of the film. The tax collection employee quits his job and takes his long forgotten motorcycle out of his garage to practice his old hobby and the financial director spends the day photographing his rarely seen children. As the children’s laughter grew louder, the dark clouds broke and a beautiful rainbow appeared announcing the end of the rainfall.

This article was published in “Point of View” DOX BOX 2010 documentary film festival’s bulletin.

You can download the rest of POV issues here.

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