This short documentary film (duration about 13 minutes) has a Portuguese narrative commentary with subtitles in English, was produced in 1990 and was directed by Jorge Furtado.
Although on the surface it is the story of a tomato, documenting what happens to it from the moment it is picked from a plant in the fields to being eventually thrown as garbage into a landfill (and beyond), it is in reality a story about humanity and morality.
The movie tells how this tomato, on the face of it a useful and purchasable food item, is bought by a supermarket customer along with more tomatoes and other foodstuffs, but is then subsequently rejected by the woman who bought it and finds its way into the trash, and what happens to it from that point on.
As mentioned above, the story is centered round the travels of this tomato, but is actually trying to illustrate the social stratifications of our modern society (particularly Brazil), especially the way different levels of society are quite distinct as consumers. Essentially, the movie draws attention to the situation of the poorest members of society; those who might be called the “bottom-feeders” of the consumer hierarchy.
In the movie, the tomato grown by the Japanese farmer and sold by him to the supermarket (for money) is eventually rejected and discarded by the housewife who purchased it (using money) from the supermarket. She throws it into the household trash, from where it ultimately ends up in landfill on the “Isle of Flowers”. The name is an intentional misnomer as there are no flowers on this island which is a smelly, disease-ridden landfill site receiving 500 tonnes of new rubbish every day from the city nearby. There the garbage is sorted by men who are paid to pick the best for consumption by the pigs, leaving the rest to be trawled through by the poorest and malnourished people from a nearby shantytown searching for food – food they have no money to buy.
The significance here is that even the pigs eat better than these extremely poor people at the bottom of the social ladder. Money is the recurring theme in the movie – if you have it you can buy things – if you don’t you’re lower in the hierarchy of Brazilian society than the pigs on the Isle of Flowers.
The island that is the subject of the film is in Brazil (where the film was made) is in a lake near the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre. Workers are paid to sort the garbage, choosing the best for the island’s pig population, then these very poor people (mainly older women and children) from the local area are allowed in for just a few minutes each day to sort through this most probably highly-contaminated food remains to find what little edible food can be gleaned from the waste heaps for them to try to exist on.
In the movie, the pigs come before the poor people in the food selection because they have an owner who can pay workers to sort their food for them. The pigs themselves have a commercial value (they are worth money) because they can be sold for their meat. The poor people who scavenge the landfills have no such inherent value. In other words, money is still the deciding factor, even at this lowest end of the food chain.
The whole idea behind Jorge Furtado’s movie is to highlight the stark contrast between those who can choose to purchase goods such as their food from the supermarkets (the “haves”) and the poorest members of our society (the “have nots”) who have to survive by eating what has been deemed not good enough for pigs to eat. There are suggestions that the film is an attack on capitalism and that Furtado is a Marxist sympathizer, but the message is valid nonetheless.
Although the film is intentionally produced in a manner to make it seem humorous at times, there is a great deal of bitter irony there, too. The movie is a powerful illustration of how many of us are content to ignore the plight of these poorest of our fellow humans – people whose very existence and struggle for survival depends on food that is not only of the poorest quality but is likely to harbour disease by virtue of its degradation and contamination in the landfill.
There are some elements that are decidedly quirky, such as constantly referring to humans as being defined as “an entity with a highly developed brain and opposable thumbs.” And it mentions Jews, accompanied by images of the Holocaust, without explaining why, although the accompanying images of masses of bodies in concentration camps is perhaps another illustration of man’s inhumanity to man. These humans with “opposable thumbs” and “highly developed brains” we are told have “the possibility of making many improvements in their planet”, (accompanied by an image of a nuclear mushroom cloud – an example of Furtado’s black humor).
Even though it could be seen as a critique of capitalism, or as an endorsement of Marxist principles, for this reviewer it was simply the fact of being forcefully and vividly reminded of the sharp contrasts between the “haves” and the “have nots” that made it particularly memorable. Undoubtedly, Furtado’s techniques added to the impact of the film, which manages to put over such a powerful and thought-provoking message in a film lasting less than 15 minutes.
There is an unmistakable theme implied throughout that the rich and affluent live their lives sublimely unaware of the plight of the millions of the world’s poor. For example, the lady in the film who buys the tomatoes is portrayed as a perfume saleswoman – clearly an example of someone earning a living (being paid money) for selling items that are pure luxury goods, and therefore way beyond the means of the poorer members of society.
For the great majority of us who are not in that poorest category, we are even helped to ignore their situation by the siting of the landfills in such out of the way places, so that we don’t have to see or smell the rotting waste and therefore can pretend the landfill sites don’t exist (along with the poor souls scavenging in them).
Whilst Furtado intentionally produced the film to be humorous (which it is), his overriding aim was to send a stark message about the huge contrasts in Brazilian society between the elite rich and the much greater numbers of very, very poor. The message is effective (watch it if you haven’t already, and watch it again if you have).
Although its target is Brazilian society it readily translates to depict the situation in many places around to world, and does not seem particularly dated, even though it was made almost a quarter of a century ago.
“Isle of Flowers (Ihla das Flores).” (Uploaded 3 Mar 2010). YouTube. Web. Accessed 6 October 2013.