The Totality of it All: Our Review of ‘Matter Out of Place’

Posted in by - June 14, 2023
The Totality of it All: Our Review of ‘Matter Out of Place’

Trash, as obvious as this reads, is everywhere. A custodian drags a cart through the labyrinthian streets in a Nepalese city. He picks up a nieghbourhood’s trash one bag at a time. He hears one of them fallingoff his cart so he stops and picks the lost bag and flings it back to his cart. He’s a modern day Sissyphus, one of the subjects in Matter Out of Place. It’s a documentary that shows to its viewers how different conteporary societies take care of their trash. The film takes us from Nepal to director Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s home country of Austria to the Swiss alps. And then, to a few miles off a beach to an undisclosed field in the middle of nowhere.

All of these places, as Matter Out of Place shows its viewers, have trash in common. And in doing so, it tells us that garbage disposal is an imperfect process. The orange bags that the Swiss use to dispose of their trash look tough, as each citizen takes their bags to a disposal site. But trash take a journey to a bigger site that tears these bags down. By that time, it may not matter. The doc captures little dialogue and no narration. These images, pardon the cliche, speak for themselves, as it relies on that aspect of filmmaking which conveys just the totality of it all.

Matter Out of Place‘s reliance on its images also means that pacing is going to be a problem. The same goes for its ambiguity. Every time a human subject appears on screen, digging through rocks whether overground or under the sea, viewers may wonder whether or not that person is doing a futile or hopeful act. Sure, it can be both, but Geyrhalter has to at least nudge slightly on one diretcion. But even if ambuguity is inherently a cop out, I personally would like to believe that the people we see are doing a good thing for each environment that it shows.

Matter Out of Place, in a way, also shows the omnipresence of the human hand. We feel this even in parts of the film that hints at humans, if at all. These person-less shots also show solutions. Different countries have come up with their own ways to dispose of their garbage. The Germans hide it in fields under topsoil. The people in the Maldives burn theirs in what looks hellfire. These images are, again, powerful, showing us of what we can do as a species, whether it is destructively futile of it it’s a helping hand sweeping up after ourselves, one patch of earth at a time.

Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s Matter Out of Place is an OVID exclusive.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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