Back in April, I reviewed two documentaries (“Matter Out of Place” and “River”) for The Epoch Times. Each focused on ecology, climate change, and the supreme lack of urgency that we humans possess in doing anything to rectify these “sky is falling” issues. Both movies also featured next to no dialogue or narration and depended purely on visual imagery (some of it admittedly spectacular) to make their points.
In many ways, writer-director-producer-editor-narrator Natalia Almada’s “Users” bears a strong visual resemblance to these two other films, yet it contains almost completely different subject matter. It includes very few spoken words and depends heavily on its imagery to relay its messages.
The big differences, however, are that “Users” is excellent and doesn’t wag any tsk-tsk fingers at the audience, or pass judgment on the issues one way or another. It’s one of the most unbiased and original documentaries I’ve ever seen.
The main plot point in “Users” is Almada’s concern with the proliferation of modern technology as it applies to parenting in general and her role as a mother in particular. She says at the start: “Will they [her children] love technology more for its perfection than me with my imperfections?”
The Kubrick ConnectionThe start of the film contains some of its most impactful images when blue and red circular moving images against a black backdrop appear, bearing an unmistakable likeness to HAL from Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” This cinematic connection is furthered when one of Almada’s sons is shown, appearing to look directly into the camera.
As it turns out, the changing colors projected on his face show that the boy is looking at a computer screen. It is eerily reminiscent of another scene showing the Dave character from “2001” having a foreboding interaction with an off-screen HAL.
The WraparoundAfter a brief but highly enlightening observation of the properties and quantities of the world’s water, Almada drops (to me, at least) a mind-blowing factoid. The circumference of the Earth is a tad over 40,000 kilometers, and there are enough fiber optic cables in the oceans to wind around the planet 30-plus times. Wrap your head around that.
For the duration, Almada and cinematographer Bennett Cerf employ still, moving, and aerial drone cameras to capture a multitude of stunningly breathtaking images that, in and of themselves, might seem unrelated. I won’t give away anything to reveal that these symmetric images are horizontal and move from right to left. For example, Almada and Cerf follow a moving train and cut the scene in half with a distant still shot of cattle walking past a barn.
Again, my take is that so much of what Almada and Cerf suggest carries a deeper parallel connection. The right-to-left horizontal movement suggests forward progress; optimism will eventually conquer pessimism.
Toward the end of the third act, Almada appears on-screen for the first time, and I won’t get even close to revealing what her ultimate point is. But it is safe to say that it will certainly floor you, and force you to reevaluate what you might have seen and heard over the course of the previous 70 minutes.
Viewer's ChoiceIf it wasn’t already obvious, “Users” is certainly not for everyone. Almada does not hold our collective hand and explain her intent. She’s counting on and hoping for you to come to your own conclusions.
"Users" got my vote because it's great filmmaking and carries an uplifting message. Underscored by a moving and inspirational final scene, the film gave me a marked level of optimism and the belief that mankind has the will and, hopefully, the desire to return to a time when devices didn’t claim our attention so much that we forever lose touch with our fellow in-the-flesh human counterparts.