Review: Matter Out of Place


“Matter out of place” refers to any object or impact not native to the immediate environment.

So begins this film about the production of societal waste, its collection and disposal, all within the environment we depend upon to sustain us.

Prepare yourself for scenes of pristine beauty: a snow shrouded mountain gorge with a river or inlet at it’s base; a sunny Adriatic seashore with a rider on horseback galloping by; a field in the Netherlands, densely forested hills in some Asian countryside. In every case, the initial beauty of the environment gives way to despoliation with vast tracts of discarded plastic bottles, floating debris, mountains of household waste, or hidden decades-old landfills.

The director, Nikolaus Geyrhalter (“Earth”) takes us on a journey, beginning with a neighborhood garbage collector with his bicycle-driven cart, making his way down a narrow alley as he blows a whistle to signal his pickup. He transports his load to a large dump truck that aggregates the garbage from several neighborhoods, including individuals arriving, garbage bags in hand. Then we are off into the countryside where dozens of such dump truck from a caravan over winding mud choked roads. And finally to the hellish dumping site, where truck after truck dumps its noisome load, and garbage pickers, like post-apocalyptic survivors, pick out, empty, and salvage the most valuable plastic bags. It’s a process that varies only in detail all around our crowded world.

This sort of incredible handling of refuse is not unique to third world countries. It’s just not always as obvious. For example, we are shown a luxurious ski resort in the Alps. Couples and families arrive high up the mountainside, emerging from a bus-sized gondola car. Later we see individuals and small motor-driven carts arrive at pristine dumpsters housed in a small building surrounded by the perfect white snow. The garbage is in identical orange bags that could have been 100 pound sacks of potatoes.
Later a Mercedes garbage truck arrives and the bags are moved by hand into its compressing maw. We follow the truck to a platform where workers attached cables from the ceiling above. Then comes the most amazing thing: the ceiling above is actually the bottom of the gondola – the same one that delivered the vacationers! What a sight as the gondola slowly moves down the mountainside and into the picturesque valley, with the entire loaded garbage truck suspended below it.

These and many more scenes, both amazing and disgusting, make up this documentary. There is no commentary, simply one example after another of the huge masses of trash that humanity generates and then disposes of. Some example represent careful collection and disposal (something that is never complete, even years after landfills are decommissioned) while others illustrate that slovenliness our race is capable of.

I highly recommend this film. It will shock you by illustrating the never-ending process of collection and removal of garbage that every one of us generates by the pound and the ton, year after year. There is no preaching – the images themselves do that. Cinematographer Geyrhalter and editors Michael Palm and Samira Ghahremani have done an excellent job of capturing and assembling these startling images.


Director: Nikolaus Geyrhalter
Producers: Marcus Glaser, Nikolaus Geyrhalter, Michael Kitzberger, Wolfgang Widerhoffer
Cinematographer: Nikolaus Geyrhalter
Editors : Michael Palm, Samira Ghahremani
Music: Flora Rajakowwitsch
Runtime: One hour, 40 minutes
Availability: Camden International Film Festival 2022 / USA release in 2023

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