Directed by Fredrik Gertten.
Starring Leilani Farha, Saskia Sassen, Joseph Stiglitz, Ada Colau and Roberto Saviano.
A look at the global crisis in affordable housing, seen through the eyes of UN special rapporteur Leilani Farha.
It’s always a slightly difficult job to review politically-charged documentaries. There’s a sense that, if you agree with them, you’re always going to come out positive, whereas it’s very difficult for a doc that bashes against your worldview to feel like a success. Occasionally, though, a documentary makes a point so clearly, concisely and obviously correctly that it seems nobody could possibly disagree with it. Push, with its bracing depiction of the worldwide emergency in affordable housing, is a movie so potent that its every frame bristles with outrage so fiery that it should be shared by every viewer, regardless of political loyalty.
Put simply, the argument put forward by filmmaker Fredrik Gertten is that the housing market is broken, with the buildings used as assets to be traded for wealth accumulation rather than as homes for people. He follows UN special rapporteur for affordable housing Leilani Farha as she traverses the globe, from London to Toronto to Chile to South Korea, exploring the ways in which the same issues manifest all over the planet.
As well as putting forward the understandable moral arguments, Push deals in the statistical reality of the problem. An early scene sees Farha observe that house prices in Toronto have risen by 425% in 30 years, with family income only climbing 133% in the same time period. Meanwhile, a map of the London properties owned by foreign companies becomes even more depressing when the movie reveals that 80% of those properties are empty. A large portion of the film’s middle section unfolds in the shadow of the Grenfell Tower tragedy – a stark depiction of a community attempting to rebuild itself, despite the system working against it.
Farha is a compelling protagonist and seems to feel every blow dealt by the information she uncovers. Much like the hero of a procedural drama, she doggedly pursues the truth at great personal cost. Crucially, though, Push delivers a third act pregnant with hope in the wake of Farha launching awareness initiative The Shift. It’s impossible not to be moved by a quiet, climactic scene in which Farha’s new assistant, Julie, visibly tears up at the work being carried out by Farha and Barcelona mayor Ada Colau – two women talking about “changing the world”.
Gertten’s movie is an elegantly structured odyssey that covers thousands of miles, while never losing sight of the ordinary human beings behind the money and the statistics. Each new location is accompanied by a selection of shocking stories of people who are in the process of being forced from their homes, knowing that the owners likely won’t ever see the inside of the property. Fittingly, Farha’s attempts to interview the faceless private equity firm Blackstone – aggressive property buyers all over the world – come to nothing. Their invisibility is what makes them money, and accountability of any kind would burst their bubble. Their elephant-in-the-room absence makes them the compelling villain the film needs.
If anything, Push‘s only real weakness is that, in covering so much material, it doesn’t quite have enough time to fully examine each of the personal stories in detail. One of the best moments involves a former Grenfell resident revealing the horror of having to leave his dog behind and walk over bodies as he escaped from the inferno, but the movie swiftly moves past this on to something else. The interviewees are compelling and eloquent, and the story could’ve handled spending more time with them.
But none of this dilutes the power of Push as an examination of an issue which is already an emergency, but seems on the verge of tipping into all-out humanitarian catastrophe. Gertten’s movie is an educational tool – the economic insight is every bit as valuable here as the personal stories – as well as a viciously emotive take on the corrupting influence of capitalism. There may well be more cinematically adventurous documentaries made this year, but it’s tough to think that many will be as important as this one.
Push is in UK cinemas from 28th February.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.