'Unskinned' movie still

Because of how beautiful the finished product often looks, many people might not be aware of what a strenuous process leather tanning is.  

Unskinned, directed by Inês Gil, begins as a chronological depiction of the process of leather tanning. Still shots of each step reveal how gruesome the process is for the workers. Many of the steps use gallons of water, harsh chemicals and dangerous machinery. All of the workers describe to Gil run-ins that could have ended in loss of fingers or limbs.

Following the mysterious disappearance of Patricia, a former factory worker, other workers begin to worry about the future of the job many of them have had for decades. 

Scenes start to move from the factory and into the personal lives of both Carla and Lúcia. Both are battling struggles at home, long work days and the dwindling staff at the plant. They are the only two women that remain. For them and their fellow workers, the factory is the main source of income for their families. 2014 marked the start of a four-year financial crisis that signaled the breakdown of many otherwise stable factories and jobs in Portugal. Carla recounts how the staff was once made up of over 50 people, but only holds 10 now.

There is no background music in the documentary, leaving emphasis on the words each person speaks and the noises that surround them in their homes and at the factory. Gil plays no part in the film, other than directing the shots, letting the voices of each character lead the story.

Outside of her disappearance, it was hard to tell what significance Patricia held in the factory. She was described as having a short temper and wanting things done to her preference. She was not brought up in the scenes in Carla and Lúcia’s homes.

The women do not appear occupied with work while they are at home with their families. Lúcia clearly holds resentment towards her husband for how he acted while he was away at war and the time shortly after. He no longer works in the factory with her, making her the breadwinner.

Carla and her husband provide a contrast as they reminisce fondly over their scrapbook of wedding photos. They have a banter that appears to lift the weight off of Carla’s shoulders from her long days at the factory.

Both women come home dirty and wet from their work with the chemicals and skins, making the closing scene of Lúcia in the shower, bar of soap in hand, appear as a symbol of her washing away her hardships as she pushes forward into the next day.

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