Invisible Hands (NR)

Documentary 75 min. November 23, 2018
By Sam Weisberg
In a wet Indonesian tobacco field, a slew of children pick at leaves with no protection from nicotine poisoning. Asked if she ever gets sick, a little girl replies sheepishly: "Only coughing." At a rehab facility for rescued Indian youth laborers, bowlegged after years of stitching, the kids remain too shell-shocked to comprehend their new freedom. Children chip away at cobalt (used in the manufacturing of electronics) or hack at oil palms (for chocolate and beauty products).

Even the most hard-hearted viewers will find it difficult to watch the many third-world child labor atrocities in Shraysi Tandon's doleful, scathing documentary Invisible Hands. Tandon uses hidden cameras to capture several perilous, gripping rescue missions; it's commendable to see, onscreen, effective if preliminary action toward change.

But overall, Invisible Hands lacks focus. Rather than targeting its rage at the most egregious megacorporations, calling for specific boycotts, it swipes broadly at consumerism as a whole. It balks at businesses, such as Nestle, willfully turning a blind eye to the practices of contractors in rural areas, away from these companies' official manufacturing plants and their watchdog inspectors. But it offers little guidance in how viewers can help fight this system, which seems all-encompassing. Sadly, even the thriftiest commune dweller likely purchases some items that were developed inhumanely.

Invisible Hands' most haunting moments are small, as when a teenage farm manager admits nervously that several younger employees were abducted from neighboring countries, or when a Ghanaian undercover journalist appears with prosthetics and beads covering his face.
Shraysi Tandon First Run Features

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