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Berlinale 2009: "Lunch Break", so much time and so little space

Sharon Lockhart pushes her camera on a dolly down a factory hallway during eleven minutes of the workers' lunch break, and creates a kind of cinematic magic we all wish we could conjure in real life: slowing down those precious eleven minutes of your break until they stretch out to eighty-three.  It may be a dream—and the employees certainly do seem to enjoy taking their time napping, making popcorn, glancing at the camera, and snacking, in the luxury of the slow motion—but the effect of Lockhart's exploration of closed space (the camera pushing endlessly into the z-axis) and elongated time is very ambiguous indeed.

The unease comes most powerfully from the remarkable fact there is almost no sense of off-screen space to this slo-mo tour of what feels like a mile stretch.  The hallway is rather unique in that it seems to be very long but offer no extensions of space or openings to its sides—to the right are lockers and benchers, to the left a dense mess of pipes and confused industrial architecture.  There's not an open space or door-to-somewhere to be seen.  Workers seem to enter the frame and exit as if magically; the receding perspective of the hallway hides cubbyholes along its sides that the employees are resting in, so that often we aren't aware anyone is in the space until the camera practically passes them.

There literally seems no escape from this "break," the camera lugubrious but voracious, the hallways a conveyer belt into the mouth of the camera.  (A wry joke could be made of conceptualizing the camera as the point of view of an employer viewing his workers taking the world's longest break.)  All in the camera's way flows in with nothing coming out; the hallway is an endless length that negates any sense of a world outside of it.  (The type of work this is a break from, for example, is a mystery until the closing credits.)  The sound of Lunch Break is in real time, but created and timed so that it travels at the same locational speed of the camera; even ambient noise seems to come not from all around the factory but rather from what is directly near our mobile camera view.  The cubbyholes and the singularity of the space gradually suggest the weary linearity of sailors in submarines and soldiers in the trenches, both hanging onto every last second of the present, both moving or waiting impatiently for action.  A paradise of time may in fact have turned into a trapped space in hell.

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