Matter out of Place (2022) Locarno Film Festival

August 10th, 2022
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Nikolaus Geyrhalter | Doc, Austria, 100′

Moop: Matter out of place refers to any object not associated with the immediate environment

A mechanical digger buries its steel fist deep into a grassy field in the outskirts of some Austrian city. Earthy clay soil soon gives way to sodden slate-coloured mud. But wait – there a tyres here, planks of wood and glass bottles, even a newspaper – still legible – a can of tomatoes and ‘Nestle’ labels everywhere. This is a landfill site revealing its fascinating  contemporary history of sordid ‘treasures’ hidden deep along the water table. The man in charge of the dig has spent a whole career investigating such hidden refuse buried out of sight, but now not out of mind.

Austrian filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter has spent a lifetime documenting the world, and winning awards for his unique and enquiring vision. From The Border Fence, to Homo sapiens and Earth he takes a route less travelled to unveil the unusual and oblique that often stares us right in the face. And here he exposes the squalid world of refuse in a way that is both horrifying and compelling.

In Koman, Northern Albania, ‘volunteers for a clean space’ project have put themselves forward to collect rubbish from a limpid lakeside littered with ‘moop’ from nearby towns and villages. Loading the bags into a makeshift van, the debris soon fills the entire vehicle that trundles off to its more ecological destination. A job well done. But this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Meanwhile in Nepal, streams and rivulets are festooned with plastic detritus that give a ghostly appearance to the surrounding countryside. Here, lorries packed sky-high with waste struggle through muddy uphill tracks and are often given a push by forklift trucks as they transport their lofty cargoes bound for a landfill site high on the mountainside. Women there sort through the bags, often taking random items to redistribute back in their villages. There is whole industry at work involving rubbish re-sale, but that’s for another film.

Even at the summit of a snowy Swiss mountain, rubbish soon builds up from bars and restaurants there to serve skiers’ requirements. And images of these glistening widescreen snowscapes contrast with those of a palm-fringed creamy white beach in the Maldives where staff toil endlessly to sweep away any sign of moop. This is then carted off to more landfill sites where the cardboard is set alight giving off noxious fumes that only add to the pollution.

Ecological progress has been made in some countries where domestic refuse is sorted by mammoth machines and manpower, sorting plastic from glass, paper from tin and relocating the remains for further processing in the recycling battle. Geyrhalter’s fellow countryman Michael Glawogger showed how industrial waste is dealt with or – let’s say relocated – to the developing world in his shocking expose 2014 Workingman’s Death 

Moop has invaded not only our countryside but also the sea.  In Greece, expert divers scour the shallows and depths of the ocean to forage for moop which is then bagged and floated up to the surface where white polythene sacks will remove it by boat to the mainland.



And what about that enormous sofa or double bed that mysteriously found its way onto the pavement in the middle of the night. These are sent to specialised recycling centres to be gobbled up and coughed out by the powerful rotating jaws of industrial disposal units, and gradually pulverised with water into aggregate-style dust.

Artfully framed and (delightfully) without dialogue or explanation Geyrhalter lets his startling pictures tell a grim story whose final eerie images explode into hope at the Burning Man festival in Nevada.

This film about rubbish it is certainly not rubbish, but a fascinating, disturbing and important testament to how our planet is slowly being destroyed by ourselves. MT


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