Berlinale 2022 review: Working Class Heroes (Miloš Pušić)

Working Class Heroes, Miloš Pušić’s first feature in nine years, highlights a clash among social classes and morals set in a construction site.”

In a dog-eat-dog world that is heavily controlled by capitalism, what does it take for one to be considered a hero? What role do they play in our society? Do heroes still exist nowadays? Debuting in the Panorama section of this year’s Berlinale Film Festival, Working Class Heroes, Miloš Pušić’s first feature in nine years, highlights a clash among social classes and morals set in a construction site.

The film opens with Lidija stepping in mud, about to go on her usual day – evicting people, fixing contracts, and doing interviews for the construction company she is working for. In between she also oversees a group of illegal workers in a huge construction site. Lidija performs all these tasks dutifully, balancing all the necessary requirements of her day-to-day activities. One can say that most of these tasks come with some moral repercussions, but then it all comes with the job, doesn’t it? The situation in the construction site isn’t any better. The illegal workers are underpaid, overworked, and most of the time are left to fend for themselves. Lidija only shows up to remind them of their deadlines, if not additional responsibilities, and any conversation that revolves around the subject of pay is immediately nipped in the bud. But when everyone is at their limit and push comes to shove, there is only one scenario left: eat the rich.

Pušić depicts the chain of power by focusing on these characters and depicting their daily situations – the conversations among workers, the situations they would subject themselves to, the hunger to be given acknowledgement of their worth. It feels expository but not exploitational, avoiding the possibility of the film being boxed into the ‘poverty porn’ category. Beyond the sinkhole they are in, the film doesn’t forget to paint the workers in lighter situations, such as visiting the carnival and drinking in their downtime.

The construction site is a character itself, with Pušić maximizing the use of corners and spaces, of floors and holes, of echoes and screams of these unsung heroes. Working Class Heroes‘ use of non-professional actors to play some of the characters also pays off, giving the film more authenticity. Serbian actress Jasna Đuričić plays a character relatively in the same wheelhouse as her turn in the Oscar-nominated film Quo Vadis, Aida, trying to juggle to be on top of everything. And just like in the latter, she ferociously depicts the different layers of conflict and humanity. Lidija isn’t really a horrible person, but she is trapped in this world. They might not be on the same level in the power chain, but she is aware that they are all somehow dispensable, her included. It is a one-two punch of performances that indirectly complement each other.

There is something that is eerily universal about Working Class Heroes. Primarily because capitalism has taken hold of most, if not all places in the world, and its setting could easily be replaced by anywhere else, yet the aftermath remains the same. It is through these small stories that the conversation hopefully starts and the echo chamber becomes so loud that the message will reach way beyond its intended audience. And maybe, just maybe, it can end with a huge bang.