REVIEW: My Darling Supermarket (2021)
Bright LED lights are turned on, drenching the sterile corridors in surgical white. Shelves are promptly stocked, the placement of each and every product carefully calculated. All workers take their places in a choreographed routine, from the warehouse to the tills. It is clear that the supermarket is a living thing, its components moving to a precise pace, distributing their good mornings and “how are yous” on the way to yet another full day of work.
My Darling Supermarket, director Tali Yankelevich’s feature debut, is an asserted reflection on the unexpected beauty that can be found in the most morose of tasks – or places. “Just ordinary people doing their jobs… Would anyone want to watch that?” asks one of the workers to the camera crew, earnestly laughing as he states that only his wife would be interested in his routine. To the man, their day-to-day is only interesting to those who take part in it – and sometimes not even that. To Yankelevich, on the other hand, this Brazilian supermarket was just waiting for someone to take a closer look.
The film is not preoccupied with formally introducing the characters. The closest we get to an introduction is through their answers to the most varied of questions, none of them your typical documentary profile. The camera approaches the employees at their workspace, while they’re performing tasks such as weighing meat or scanning groceries. The easiness of a well-known setting makes the subjects visibly comfortable despite the odd, undeniable, presence of the filmmakers and this is directly reflected in the way they respond to what they’re asked.
At the start of the day, the viewer is taken into the bakery, fresh bread an indispensable good on the table of many Brazilians, who cultivate the habit of walking to their nearest supermarket every morning to ensure they get them straight out of the oven. “Bread is sacred in the supermarket,” says Ivan, whose name we only find out halfway through. The bread, held in such high esteem, needs to be perfect, anything short of perfection deemed unfit to be served. Ivan closely inspects the batches, claiming them all to have gone a bit over, disappointment splashed on his face. Just another day.
A few meters away from the bakery is Rodrigo, whose cheerful, almost innocent presence is quickly opposed by the calculated way in which he analyses people. Without stumbling, the man goes on to describe in detail the double-slit experiment, a groundbreaking study of modern physics. Despite having the chance to flaunt his niche knowledge, the man chooses simple words to explain the mind-numbing specifics of the principle: “Every particle that exists in the universe has a conscience (…) If no one is watching, there are infinite possibilities”. His quote is made even more poignant as he turns away from the camera to serve yet another customer, breaking his train of thought as he swiftly moves out of focus.
As the documentary approaches themes such as relationships, religion and life after death, the subjects deliver beautifully composed quotes, as if they had long pondered on each and every one of the questions. The brief moments we get with the warehouse worker, in between the busy clips of the supermarket aisles, are filled with bumper-sticker moments. “We are eternally dissatisfied in the human condition”, he says, before explaining how he could spend an entire day building alternative worlds on the videogames he plays on his phone. “Faith is being sure that you already possess what you don’t have”, he states, after being questioned on whether or not he believes our time on Earth is all we get.
In under 80 minutes, Yankelevich builds a superbly constructed patchwork, its rhythm intensely captivating. My Darling Supermarket moves from tenderly captured interactions between co-workers to painfully honest descriptions of mental health struggles without ever dropping the ball. The editing brilliantly ties up the knots between the hard to digest and the comically candid with quiet, observing shots of the supermarket itself, the space at times safe harbour, at others, abattoir.
In providing often disregarded people her undivided attention, the director extracts the universal from what may seem inherently particular and from the simplest of premises, the documentary expands into a comprehensive portrait of what it feels like to try finding the good in what at times feels like a tortuous Groundhog Day. In its refined balance between the harshness of the job and the preciousness of the people, My Darling Supermarket strikes gold.