Review: ‘Symphony of the Ursus Factory’

Hot Docs 2019


Symphony of the Ursus Factory
(Poland, 61 min.)
Dir. Jaśmina Wójcik
Programme: Artscapes (North American Premiere)

If there’s a prize for strangest film at Hot Docs, please bestow the golden laurels upon Symphony of the Ursus Factory. This wonderfully bizarre film by Jaśmina Wójcik might be the most audaciously original film of the festival. Falling somewhere between a Phillip Borsos industrial opus and a Pina Bausch dance, Symphony of the Ursus Factory is an ode to the working class that is full of human spirit and the most humane elements of industry.

The doc assembles workers, mechanics, engineers, and administrators from the now-defunct Ursus Factory, which produced agricultural machinery before the collapse of Communism. Wójcik leads the ensemble of working class artists in a documentary performance piece that sees them return to the scene of their former jobs and resurrect the routines of their daily labour, but without the machines. There are grand movements as the workers pantomime the processes of their former jobs while creating the sounds of the daily grind. The film is a symphony of manmade whirs, clicks, and clanks. Devoid of any functional machinery, save for a wonderful ballet of tractors, Symphony of the Ursus Factory gets the last laugh on industrialization as people endure when there is nobody left to run the machines.

The cinematography by Kacper Czubak mesmerizes as the camera glides around the workers to find poetry in the lyrical movements of their labour. An eclectically sonorous score by Dominik Strycharski plays off the human instruments in the orchestra and adds industrial elements to the musical arsenal, which provides a wall-to-wall sensory experience that’s truly a trip. A full tip of the hat must go to the workers themselves for their dedication and bravery in taking it upon themselves to insert their presence within the history of their work in the most unconventional of ways. Documentaries like Symphony of the Ursus Factory are a rare variety, but like the grandest of musicals, they’re a delight that excites the mind, heart, and senses.

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival!