A Portrait on the Search for Happiness

The first thing to know about this film is the cinematography is beautiful. Just stunning. The story is as much told through the camera’s gaze on these amazing landscapes as it is on the human actors in the frame. It makes every view a vista. Whether it is the powerful growl of the sea crashing to shore or the stripped and scarred expanse of an abandoned mining quarry. The camera seems to thirst after everything it sees, even when it is the litter and debris of a makeshift quarry encampment.

A Portrait on the Search for Happiness follows a number of people who try to make their living by scavenging for diamonds in locations the massive mining companies have already moved on from. On these balding, brutal plateaus of rock, the would-be miners break apart what rubble remains to see if they can find anything that will compensate them for their days and nights of effort.

Finding diamonds would be like winning the lottery, but most are not fixated on an extraordinary level of wealth, but looking for the basics of a decent life – a home of their own, to provide for their kids, to be able to afford Christmas presents. They are such modest and achievable dreams, or they should be.

What does not need said is unemployment and poverty is such that even the basics of a decent life seem so out of reach that the only hope is winning the lottery or finding a 4-carot diamond. The work is labour intensive and goes on into the night. The men’s clothes are torn and ragged. This is not work they would be doing if there were better or easier options.

The camera’s panoramic eye contrasts these immediate needs of the moment with the eternal forebearing earth. The sea, the land is resplendent with life, but the quarry is scourged to bedrock alone. In these desolate plains, the workers look small as ants, as they shred up the last vestiges of the earth. Without need for comment, we see how destructive this activity is for such temporary needs.

Only George One-Time has ever hit it big. He was a millionaire in the 80s after diving for diamonds beneath the waves. Now he is back to living in a shack, making ends meet like any other person. Even if diamonds are found, all is consumed so quickly.

A Portrait on the Search for Happiness is a meditation on material need, the wider scope of human necessities, and the ancient provider of the earth.