In the sixties and seventies, the political movement of Italian Maoists shouted in the squares (and wrote on walls) the notorious slogan: “China is close!”. This way, they wanted to claim the political ideas of a leader who was a thousand miles away, Mao Zedong. If we think about it, that slogan tells us that what we call globalization had started even then, although on a purely political-cultural level. the harvest

Today, globalization is an established and recognized reality: in fact, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the alleged end of ideologies (actually, we should call it the concealment of ideologies) is the only reality. Indeed, it no longer affects just geo-political or cultural phenomena which are far from us, but – paradoxically – also the jobs of thousands (if not tens of thousands) of people, who may live around the corner. Those who have the chance to watch the movie The Harvest will be able to understand that easily.

the harvest

Illegal agribusiness

The title of the movie doesn’t relate to wheat: what’s being mown down by illegal agribusiness are the lives and hopes of thousands of Indian immigrants of Punjabi descent, who work even fourteen hours a day for 2/3 euros an hour in Pontine Marshes.

The movie has several virtues: first, it makes it clear – above all, to Italians, who are numbed by their pride of having one of the richest agricultural heritage in the world (similar remarks may be made about any typical agricultural or industrial production) – that not only are these tomatoes and olives not local products, they often have traveled over extremely long distances.

The Harvest compels viewers to face the state of things and takes them away from the illusion of the genuineness of local products, which are tied to global issues; the fact that they are grown in a family-owned land rather than in a far-off country (maybe by agri-food multinationals only caring about profit) is no guarantee of authenticity or less exploitation. That’s because Italian farmers no longer call themselves farmers, but agricultural entrepreneurs, who are – willing or not – bound by profit.

the harvest

Migration flaws and labor cost

The movie brings to light many issues, not only those related to labor exploitation through illegal employment. A topic linked to exploitation is, for instance, the disconnection between the function of a law and its effects (perhaps elsewhere): today, with the stroke of a pen, the government can build a new market (or alter an existing one) very easily. Not exactly a laissez-faire approach. And do not think that this is just Italy’s problem: all of EU economic policies work that way, and everywhere in Europe bureaucracy is what makes the market work. Just think that a supermarket cannot even sell cucumbers, unless they fall under the standards imposed by Community legislation (with consequent managerial and economic implications).

Italy regulates these issues not only by means of appropriate laws, which are directly linked to economic development, but also through legislation apparently distant from agricultural and union matters. The Bossi-Fini law, which regulates immigration and residence permits, for example, apparently deals with migration flaws, but in fact (since it doesn’t stop mass immigration, nor ever organized it mass repatriation) fulfills other tasks, such as labor cost reduction and the consequent price-cutting of products, through the blackmail of workers.

Of all workers: foreigners who are directly involved – either you accept these conditions, or you’ll never have a residence permit – or Italians, who are dismissed maybe because employers realize that exploitation – of foreigners as well as Italians – allows bigger profit margins. We are talking about agricultural products now, but we could similarly focus on the consequences of the limitation of foreign workers on industrial production or on building trade, not only in Italy or in Europe, but also in the Commonwealth countries or in the USA (just think to Trump’s “Mexican” wall).

the harvest

Community as resiliency

Thanks to the interviews to Punjabi farmers, to cultural mediators and to the activists of the InMigrazione association, this film shows a cross-section of the rural working life in Italy: this world is often (too often) passed over in silence, because of fear or self-interest. Anyway, the Indian community in Pontine Marshes will be no longer affected by such a secrecy, since it has been overcome with this film. Moreover, without the solidarity and the self-management demonstrated by the workers, such a goal would have never been reached. The Temple of the Punjabi community has played an important role too.

We are not talking about a moral superiority or a stronger integrity of a religion compared with another, we are dealing with the idea that the temple – other than a religious structure – is a meeting and confrontation place for the community, which encourages socialization and solidarity among the workers. The main point here is a certain idea of culture, in which socialization is in-vivo, instead of in-vitro, which is the risk we run when we dig in the so called social media.

The Harvest (2017) by Andrea Paco Mariani
Smkvideofactory / Ddb Distribuzioni dal basso

Another great merit of the movie concerns its style: The director Andrea Paco Mariani doesn’t just show the problem through the footage of the places or the interviews with the protagonists, but prefers to insert parts of docudrama or docufiction (where the actors are the members of the Indian community themselves), playing out a plausible story of a worker oppressed by an obnoxious corporal. Nothing new so far, besides the fact that the fiction parts are not completely narrative, but also include music and choreography.

Dances and songs (most of which are Bhangra, as they should be) bring us to Bollywood and to Lars Von Trier’s atmospheres (the famous train scene in Dancer in the dark), also because the musical parts are not assembled just in order to lighten the film, but they also reveal the inner and private life of the main character, who recalls all the memories of his culture to withstand the conditions of work-related stress.

the harvest

This choice of music is not only an opportunity for the viewer to learn about the beautiful Punjabi customs, it also reinforces the key-idea of the film: only thanks to the sense of belonging to a community and a culture people can find the energy to resist the difficulties and tackle the inequities. The major flaw of the movie is probably the lack of a subject who is morally and concretely behind the exploitation of the immigrants: this person is not simply the owner of the field or of the illegal agribusiness, but the buyer of the supermarket, and all of us, who care only about the final price and not about negative externalities (lower wages and less rights for everyone) linked to the exploitation of manpower.


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