Millennials Adrift

Eduardo Williams’s new documentary focuses on the cruelty of the job market for young people in three different countries

BY Ela Bittencourt in Culture Digest | 08 OCT 16

Eduardo Williams, The Human Surge, 2016, film stills

The world can be a cruel place for the young entering the job market, particularly in developing and underdeveloped countries where jobs are scarce and wages don't guarantee subsistence.

Argentine filmmaker Eduardo Williams has been making insightful, poetic and visually thrilling cinema around this theme for some ten years. His first feature, The Human Surge (2016), shows the young in dire straights in three distinct countries: Argentina, Mozambique and the Philippines. The employed can be merciless towards the jobless: young girls in Mozambique mock their male friend – ‘Coitado!’ (you poor thing!) – when he complains about dreadfully long hours and the tedium of his menial job.

Williams sympathizes with his protagonists, though his film is too fluid and keen on catching the quirkiness of everyday speech and capturing languid moods to act as agitprop. Although the young in his films have one distinct advantage – technology is as natural to them as breathing – their ability helps them precious little. Their computers are outdated and their connections unstable. What occupies their time is chat room sex – for money, preferably. In this sense, as some critics have long predicted, the technology that brings us closer is also making the world more polarized, the haves cut off from the have-nots.

Yet not all the imagery in The Human Surge evokes dread. Outside factory walls, there are forests and savannas. Williams channels his passion for travel into his work and his characters are often afoot in unusual settings: ruins or giant unfinished apartment complexes; mysterious caverns and jungle. This natural world, full of wonder and beauty, adds a timeless, fable-like feel to Williams’ documentary aesthetic. This hybridity is also emphasized by Williams’ shifts between formats, from 16mm to video. His milieu is savvy, social-media driven but also imbued with nostalgia for the analogue world.

The Human Surge is playing as part of the New York Film Festival’s Projections programme.

Ela Bittencourt is a critic and cultural journalist, currently based in São Paulo, Brazil.