A radio crackles. An announcer informs us that the oil crisis is destroying the Spanish tourist industry, that there are now around 900,000 Spaniards out of work and that Franco, aged 81, is critically ill in hospital. Accompanying the initial credits, this brief soundbite succinctly situates the narrative action of 2 francos, 40 pesetas (the sequel to Un franco, 14 pesetas, which I discussed in an earlier post on this blog) within a far-from-perfect mid-1970s Spain. Fourteen years have passed since we first encountered Martín (Carlos Iglesias), his wife Pilar (Nieve de Medina) and their friends Marcos (Javier Gutiérrez) and Mari Carmen (Ángela del Salto). The sequel hinges upon the desire of Martín and his now grown-up son Pablo (Adrián Exposito) to return to Uzwil, Switzerland. While Pablo sets off on his travels with his friend Juan (Luisber Santiago), Martín and Pilar make the return journey in order to attend the baptism of Marcos and Mari Carmen’s daughter. Though light-hearted in character, 2 francos, 40 pesetas sheds light upon a historical migratory pattern typically neglected in Spanish cinematic production as well as providing an acerbic commentary on contemporary migratory flows. In this post, I consider the depiction of the economic dimension of migration, the representation of travel and the symbol of the window in 2 francos, 40 pesetas. This is very much an initial response to the film and given that I hope to work on this film in future research, I would very much appreciate any thoughts, comments or feedback you might have.
As the title indicates, money and economic status play a key role in 2 francos, 40 pesetas. The opening sequence situates Martín within a lavish home, having a discussion with the maid about his son Pablo and whether or not he should be allowed entry. We might initially think that this domestic space, adorned with ornate picture frames and furniture (Figure 1), belongs to Martín, that his decision to remain in Spain has paid off (literally). However, from the discussion between the two characters, we quickly discern that this house belongs to someone else and that Martín is simply conducting odd-jobs there for additional income. What this brief scene denotes is the economic gulf between the owner of such a residence – Doña Antoñita, a right-wing singer who complains about being surrounded by ‘rojos’ (‘Reds’) – and Martín, whose sparse home provides the setting for the following scene (Figure 2). The financial fissure between these two characters is evident not just in the fact that Martín is working for Doña Antoñita, but also in their distinct domestic settings. While the home of Doña Antoñita displays her material wealth through an abundance of ornate objects, that of Martín and his family is sparse by comparison. The film’s focus on the economic dimension of migratory patterns is not only relevant to the historical context within which the film is set, but also comments on one of the most important push factors for migration in contemporary society. In the context of contemporary Spain, economic gain provides the motivation both for those migrating to Spain and for those leaving Spain in search of work, a migratory flow exacerbated by the current economic climate and the subject of several recent Spanish films. (For a more detailed commentary on this migratory development and its visual representations see here).
The film’s meditation on the economic dimension of migratory flows is apparent too in its depiction of travel and transport. As in Un franco, 14 pesetas, vehicles constitute a key visual motif of 2 francos, 40 pesetas. However, while the former concentrates primarily on the train as a means of transportation, 2 francos, 40 pesetas broadens its vehicular focus, including sequences on trains, planes and automobiles. Just as trains transported Martín and Marcos across Europe, from Spain to Switzerland, in Un franco, 14 pesetas, trains provide the initial form of transportation for Pablo and Juan (Figure 3). The economic disparity between father and son emerges through their distinct experiences of train travel. While Martín and Marcos shared their compartments with various other travellers, Pablo and Juan enjoy a first-class cabin to themselves, albeit thanks to the kindness of a station attendant who did not want them sleeping in the waiting room. Emphasising the generational gap in terms of attitudes towards money, Juan drops something in the cabin and remarks ‘Son 2 francos’ (‘Just 2 francs’). The more astute Pablo replies ‘2 francos son 40 pesetas’ (‘2 francs are worth 40 pesetas’). The relationship between travel and wealth becomes more apparent when Martín and Pilar make their way to Switzerland by aeroplane rather than by train (Figure 4).
The experience is presented as novel to the protagonists, evidenced by their amazement at the meals they receive on board and the views of the mountains they witness. A third method of border crossing occurs through the pairing of Luisa, Martín’s sister and Pablo’s aunt (Eloísa Vargas), and Arturo, a banker (Roberto Álvarez), who drive from Spain to Switzerland (Figure 5). This crossing is also economically motivated, as Arturo needs to deposit funds in a Swiss bank, an act later criticised by Martín, Marcos and their friends and thwarted by Luisa, who manages to swipe the cash from under Arturo’s nose. (That her suitcase at once provides the site of concealment for the money as well as the ruse for her keeping it produces a neat twist on the symbol of the suitcase in films centred on migration; see Hamid Naficy An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking (109, 257, 261-4) for more on this). Underscoring the economic aspect of migration and border crossing, 2 francos, 40 pesetas attends to an element of migratory flows often neglected in accounts of such experiences.
Alongside the economic dimension of migration, the diversity of migratory patterns constitutes another key element of 2 francos, 40 pesetas. An early example of this occurs when Mari Carmen goes into labour and is attended by a Spanish-speaking black doctor from Equatorial Guinea. While the racist reactions of Mari Carmen and Marcos make for uncomfortable viewing (as does Marcos’ joke that ‘Si es que aquí, con estos tan altos y tan rubios, todos somos un poco negros’ (‘With so many tall blondes around, we’re all a little black’)), the inclusion of this character speaks to alternative patterns of migration not typically addressed in Spanish cultural production. The host of individuals with whom Pablo and Juan become involved function in a similar manner; consider, for example, Rita (Anahí Beholi), the Swiss Columbian who laments the fact that people are afraid of her skin colour. Moreover, a frank discussion amongst the male characters towards the end of the film reveals attitudes towards internal migration in Spain. Rafa, a friend of Martín and Marcos, speaks of the fact that he has nowhere to go, that his family in Spain have returned to Cordoba and he has no desire to return to his pueblo (‘hometown’). Martín is surprised as he thought Rafa was from Catalonia. ‘Catalán dice… Charnego que es’ (‘Catalonian? He’s a Spaniard living in Catalonia’) remarks Marcos, indexing a further historical migratory pattern prevalent under Franco in Spain. In this way, the film opens up alternative avenues in terms of the representation of migration, both in historical and contemporary contexts.
One of the ways in which the film formally registers this opening onto alternative avenues connected to migration is through a visual emphasis on the window. As I discussed in my response to Un franco, 14 pesetas, the window underscores the liminality of the film’s protagonists, revealing their position as outsiders looking in on a society of which they are, at least initially, not a part. The visual focus on the window continues in 2 francos, 40 pesetas. As Juan and Pablo undertake their journey to Switzerland, the camera frames them in front of the window of their first-class cabin (see Figure 3 above), before a cut positions the camera outside the train carriage looking in, revealing a hopeful Pablo gazing out the window (Figure 6). The train carriage window furthermore provides a metacinematic frame-within-the-frame for the passing landscape (Figure 7), highlighting the tension between motion and stasis that characterises train travel. Windows allow individuals to look out (Figure 8) as well as in (Figure 9). They can be open or closed (Figure 10). As I mentioned in my earlier post, the window is a symbol that lends itself to multiple readings. Here, however, what prevails is the metonymic significance of the window as a divisive and yet permeable entity, much like the border.
To summarise, 2 francos, 40 pesetas, in many ways, picks up where its precursor, Un franco, 14 pesetas, left off, representing a facet of Francoist history – the emigration of Spaniards to other European countries in the latter years of the Francoist period – often neglected in contemporary cultural production. However, the engagement with return migration in 2 francos, 40 pesetas indicates an awareness of this phenomenon in the contemporary context as well as in relation to the migratory flows of the past, a trend becoming more significant as Spanish society negotiates the current economic crisis.