Želimir Žilnik’s unemployed bodies

by Greg de Cuir Jr

Part 1: Photo essay of The Unemployed (Nezaposleni ljudi, 1968), dir. Želimir Žilnik

The fractured body of the text in the opening credits foreshadows the broken-down bodies of the workers. The words become an abstract mass… …like the extreme close-ups of body parts that structure the film.
The first interview subject we meet offers visible evidence of his injured body and the dehumanizing nature of manual labor. The second interview subject questions the meaning of socialism while his hands are framed and emphasis given to the matchbox he holds and the watch he wears. The time of day is also evoked in this shot, lending the film a sense of urgency.
Workers on the march, rushing through a transportation hub. Feet become a structuring motif in this film, usually bruised and dirty. In this odd image the worker’s feet seem imprisoned, framed against the bars of the bed and tied down at the ankles.
These feet are liberated, but only on the backs of other workers. Those backs are generally strong, muscular, able to bear many burdens. Still, the burden takes its toll.
Sleep is a priceless commodity. Food is not. Chewing is difficult.
Swallowing is even hard work. Unemployment and obesity are mutually exclusive. Searching the classifieds brings little relief.
The unemployed are ultimately stripped bare, though cleansed for their continued struggle. Closing credits.