The Baby Chicken vs. the State

Aca Ilić's The Mallet is set in a grimly futuristic factory where faceless workers separate the chicks they deem healthy from the chicks deemed defective; a giant mallet crushes the rejects to death. Amid the yellow chicklets, one little black bird stands out as different. As a conveyer belt carries it to its doom, it repeatedly tries to escape its fate; finally we see it running away, free at last. With its stark industrial imagery and dissonant soundtrack, the film feels like a dystopian horror story with a hint of hope at the end.

Here's the twist: None of that was scripted. According to Ilić, he was there at the factory to make a documentary about agriculture and captured this other story by accident. Score one for serendipity. (That said, I would not be surprised to learn that the storyline was at least partly concocted in the editing room.)

The Mallet was made in Yugoslavia in 1977. Communist countries were not generally receptive to stories celebrating individual rebellion, but Yugoslavia allowed more freedoms than most Eastern European nations did, though still within tight limits. The Mallet appeared a few years after the so-called Yugoslav Black Wave of anarchistic dissident films, and it feels like a latebreaking addition to the movement. Forty years later, it still packs a punch.

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)