Good Luck ★★★½

Ben Russell, perhaps the most important ethnographic filmmaker of our time, returns with Good Luck, a bifurcated project that observes the work and workers of two mines, one in Serbia and one in Suriname. Less overtly playful than Russell’s usual output, Good Luck uses cinema to create a sense of global class struggle. A pre-title Henri Michaux poem sets up the topic of Sisyphian labor, but what follows is less poetic than one might expect from Russell. Much of the film’s substantial run time is comprised of long takes showing the men at work, laying bare the exploitation inherent in capitalist production. These scenes, particularly in the film’s first half, are punishing and endless, sometimes casting the viewer into almost total darkness and usually featuring the unbearably loud noise of heavy machinery. Still, Russell makes his distinctive touch felt here, distinguishing this from works such as Workingman’s Death or Behemoth. He pays a great deal of attention to the workers themselves, for example, observing how their social dynamics reign one another in. More aloof passages emerge as well, with occasional switches in approach, veering from the dominant vérité observations of work into musical performances (including an accordion solo of “Heart of Gold”!), direct address interviews, and recurring bouts of black-and-white portraiture. The sum of these parts is intriguing, not just due to the film’s ethnographic content but also due to the formal juxtapositions of these two drastically different environs. If the film isn’t as aggressively inventive as many of Russell’s others, it must be acknowledged that that sacrifice has only come in the service of political commitment.