Further along, Users regrettably deviates from this concept and ventures into the exploration of modern technology at large by vaguely juxtaposing children’s evolution and that of the planet and humanity doing to the latter. Thus, it becomes one of those “it’s all connected” movies. Natalia follows the “the sound of Earth,” which is one of the constant electrical hummings we can hear almost anywhere, by taking us deep down into the ocean where cables are being installed at an alarmingly increasing rate. Then she takes us on a train ride bringing goods and connecting at the highest speed. Later, for some reason, we end up at pinnacles of burning trees, then back on the ground covered with ashes.
Here we go again; the movie now becomes one of those “save the planet” environmental documentaries. The off-track progression between the three topics of the essay that is Users is more or less done smoothly, and there is no arguing that it makes total sense, as indeed it is all connected. It’s not an unwelcome move, but it felt that the original question could’ve been explored more thoroughly, or it would have been nice to give it more room as docs about Earthlings messing up the planet are a dime a dozen. Besides, from the first scenes, one cannot be but fascinated by the feature’s central idea and Almada’s “cause we live in a technical world and I am a tech-friendly mother” approach. The obligatory meditative-like narration, impressively immersive score, excellent sound mix, and hypnotic cinematography gently blend together via clever tricks and aerial footage to great effect.
“…a visual feast and some of its more striking images leave a long-lasting impression.”
The director astutely poses, and maybe even answers, both existential and universal questions by using very intimate moments of her private and privileged life as she comes to terms with how scientific advances are changing the very meaning of being a mother for folks who can afford, among other things, a self-rocking cradle. Therefore, Almada shows the price she might pay by using this assist, and it also certainly has a literal one she has already paid.
This actually brings another layer to the endeavor, as the documentary acknowledges this but sadly doesn’t attempt to examine it further. So for better or worse, Users might appear to ask or answer only those “first world problem” questions, but lest we forget, all is connected in the end, especially when it comes to how we are running Mother Earth to the ground, probably because of the abhorring pillaging of resources to create this “new mother” for the benefit of a very few but to the detriment of most.
For all the artistic choices it made and its singular personal narrative, Users still feel quite formulaic. Nevertheless, it is a visual feast, and some of its more striking images leave a long-lasting impression. It is also satisfying enough to perhaps even stand as the gold-standard in this field of nonfiction features. And, for those who delight in that niche or those who are game for it, Almada’s documentary will no doubt be a pleasing full-on sound and color experience.
Users screened at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
"…the director astutely poses, and maybe even answers, both existential and universal questions..."