Directed by Natalia Alamada
Review written by April M. Sánchez
Users, a documentary by filmmaker Natalia Almada, which premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and winner of the Directing Award for U.S. Documentary at the festival is not your typical nonfiction fare. Users is more of a visually stunning essay, musings on how the consumption of technology has interwoven with everyday life and Almada’s concerns for the planet her offspring will inherit.
Long, meditative shots of natural elements juxtaposed by machinery and plastic rubbish lulls the viewer with material that should be of concern. Moments of mechanical hums and reverberations are softly punctuated by the filmmaker’s steady ruminations. Almada offers up the kind of questions and concerns about how technology and machinery being so prevalent so as to replace many of her functions as a mother. She informs us how the more we get use to the stimulus brought to us by artificial means, the less aware we are of its presence, so much so that is simply seems to be part of who we are for better or worse.
Her compositions are exquisite and focused, carefully filling the frame with an image only to slowly reveal a bigger picture that combines natural and synthetic elements. Every day objects such as electric power lines, highway overpasses, or pieces of computer circuit boards are presented artfully with such beauty and care. The pacing is slow and deliberate. Almada often lingers on a subject, such as a child’s face who is engaged with a video game or the whirling of wastewater being cleansed for consumption. However beautifully presented, these drawn out moments take away from the effect the subject was intended to have and instead creates something akin to feeling adrift on the open sea at sunset.
Though these visuals are stunning and Almada shows us a mastery of elegant composition, there is no thematic thread that truly ties all of these beautifully filmed elements together. There is no exposé or call to action, nor is there an emotional resonance to pull the viewer in to question their own role in technology’s shaping of our human experience. Almada does not present images to agitate, shock or titillate, that is not her intention. That is not the kind of documentary Almada set out to make. Instead the filmmaker delivers cinematic poetry of what seems to be both a fascination and unease with a world saturated with technology and the role it plays in her and her children’s life. All in all, Users is an absolutely gorgeous film full of lush, deliberate moments peppered with sincere human curiosity. For even if the audience is adrift in the subject matter, the view is incomparable making Users is worth exploring.