Transforming trash into art has multiple rewards

Lucy Walker's documentary tags along as artist Vik Muniz returns to his native Brazil, and engages workers at Rio de Janiero's massive landfill in an art project. Muniz photographs these catadores -- they pick through the trash for recyclables -- then, with their help, re-creates the photos as giant mosaics using trash. (Pictured: A junk-filled portrait of Tiao, who is compiling a library of classics found in the trash, jokingly posed as the slain Marat.) The risk is fetishizing or exploiting the poor in the name of "art," but Muniz is surprisingly sensitive, and the catadores enthusiastic. It's not just that the proceeds will benefit their union; the workers also delight in the dignity and beauty Muniz finds in both their spirit and their work. The final artworks are impressive, but Walker knows the people in them -- who fill the canvas with their hopes and sorrows -- are the film's real stars. In English, and Portuguese, with subtitles. Starts Jan. 21. Oaks

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