My main research project at present is the production of a monograph entitled Subversive Spanish Cinema: The Politics of Performance. The book takes inspiration from one of the chapters of my PhD thesis, but significantly reworks this material alongside new research. Inspired by a recent post by Ellie Mackin, I have decided to share the book proposal I submitted to I. B. Tauris last year to give an overview of the project and in the case that it should be useful for others currently working on a book proposal. I was offered a book contract and I am currently preparing the manuscript for submission in April 2018.
One of my recent projects has been the production of an article on the 2014 box-office smash Ocho apellidos vascos (Figure 1). The article is to be included in a special journal issue on the film. The title of my piece is ‘”marriage itself as theater”: The Performative Politics of Marriage in Ocho apellidos vascos. My contribution focuses on the pivotal role of marriage in the film specifically in terms of its interlocking with performance and performativity. I propose that within the film marriage functions as a form of utopian unificatory politics that works at both personal and political levels.
I completed the article in the summer of 2016 and have recently been asked to make some changes following peer review. As a result, I’ve rewatched and been thinking and reading about the film again. I thought I’d write a post to facilitate some of the ideas I’ve had as a consequence of the extremely thought-provoking questions raised by the reviewers. I’m aware that this a rather messy and untidy piece and what the writing of it has revealed is that I still need to spend some more time mulling over what I think about this film.
In the original version of the article, my argument followed two main strands: the first concerned the performativity of the marriage ceremony and of regional identity in the film while the second linked this to what I termed utopian unificatory politics. By this I mean that the film proposes marriage as a tool for the union of the distinct autonomous regions – specifically Andalusia and the Basque Country – in Spain. One of the reviewers’ suggestions is that I link these two strands more cohesively and consider the extent to which the paradigm of performativity and the utopian unificatory politics are connected in film.
My article details how marriage in Ocho apellidos vascos is a romantic ideal that, while sustained as the primary objective throughout the film, is ultimately unattainable and perhaps even unnecessary. The plot of the film, and indeed that of its sequel Ocho apellidos catalanes, hinge upon the prospective nuptials of protagonist Amaia (Figure 2). We quickly learn that Amaia has been ditched by her Basque fiancé Antxon. Reluctant to reveal the truth to her estranged father Koldo, Amaia persuades sevillano one-night-stand Rafa, whom she meets on her no-longer-required hen do, to pose as Antxon. Though the couple do reach the altar, Rafa is ultimately unable to go through with the marriage. In spite of this, the film concludes (spoiler alert!) with Amaia travelling to Seville to declare her love for Rafa. This ending thus sustains the heteronormative couple, unmarried though reunited, as the desired object.
How does one negotiate this network of ideas surrounding the heteronormative couple then? The film provides an embittered critique of matrimony. Amaia is jilted not once but twice: initially (and outwith the diegetic content of the film), prior to the wedding, by the unseen Antxon and subsequently, at the church altar, by Rafa posing as Antxon. Early on in the film, we witness the protagonist attempting to return her custom-made wedding dress, willing to take a cut-price refund for the item. She later, having been dumped by Rafa, tosses it on the fire in her home, watching the dress disappear into the flickering flames. The wedding dress therefore becomes a symbol of disillusionment with the heteronormative institution of marriage.
Furthermore, there are no examples of happy marriages beyond the central coupling of the film (Figure 3). There is no mention made of Rafa’s parents. Amaia’s parents are separated. She is estranged from her father and has been for six years and her mother, who does not appear in the film, is apparently in a new relationship with a man from Seville. Merche, who poses as Rafa’s mother, is widowed, her Civil Guard husband presumably a casualty of the Basque conflict. The heteronormative institution of marriage, the film appears to suggest, is, if not an unobtainable ideal, then most certainly an outmoded and redundant concept.
With its renunciation of marriage as the ultimate objective of the heterosexual couple, Ocho apellidos vascos conforms to the genre paradigm of the contemporary romantic comedy. While the genre is renowned for its adherence to the narrative pattern that concludes with the happy ending, specifically the union of man and woman (Mortimer 2010: 4), contemporary works have shown a tendency to replace the romantic relationship with friendship (Deleyto 2003: 182). But, like the contemporary romcom, while the film might dismiss marriage as an antiquated idealism, it retains the heteronormative couple as the ultimate objective for its protagonists who are reunited in the concluding sequence, as mentioned above. In this regard then, Ocho apellidos vascos offers no escape from the heteronormative structures and structures that dominate society, politics and culture.
Without wanting to produce a dichotomous or reductive reading, should we interpret this position on marriage positively or negatively? How are we to understand the depiction of the unmarried couple and its function within familial relationships? How might the personal politics, epitomised by the unmarried couple, at the core of this film map onto national politics?
In my original article, I was quite sceptical about the underlying politics of Ocho apellidos vascos. My initial reaction was that the film is proposing the utopian unification of the nation, in which similarities rather than differences are emphasised, by means of a romantic relationship, if not marriage, between two individuals from distinct autonomous regions within Spain. However, having rewatched and thought some more about the film, I’m starting to wonder if the film is amenable to a more nuanced, and perhaps more generous, reading of kinships and affective relations (Figure 4).
The traditional nuclear family, which typically revolves around the mother and father (or, in other words, the heteronormative married couple), is absent in Ocho apellidos vascos. In its place are a series of affiliations forged through choice: Rafa and his friends, who appear to be a substitute for his family; Rafa and his “mother” Merche; even Merche and Amaia’s father Koldo, who will become romantically involved by the end of the film (and whose love will be rekindled in the sequel Ocho apellidos catalanes). With this in mind, to map the politics of the personal onto the national in Ocho apellidos vascos necessitates a nuanced interpretation of the relationship between the family and the nation. What I’m starting to realise, especially in the writing of this post, is that this relationship, and the associated political stance of the film, is more complex than I initially thought. This is not to suggest, of course, that the film is without issues or flaws but rather that I need to unpack in more detail the undercurrents of personal and national politics at its core.
Last week I watched Tenemos que hablar (We Need to Talk), a 2016 romantic comedy directed by David Serrano whose previous works include Días de fútbol (2003), Días de cine (2007) and Una hora más en Canarias (2010). The film is currently showing on UK Netflix. It stars Michelle Jenner (who I also saw recently in Almodóvar’s latest offering, Julieta) as Núria, a young woman recently engaged to her Argentinian boyfriend Víctor (Ilay Kurelovic). Her forthcoming nuptials mean that she must make contact with her ex-husband Jorge (Hugo Silva) to whom she is still married. A misunderstanding leads Núria to believe that Jorge is suicidal following her declaration that “Tenemos que hablar”. This in turn leads to Núria’s decision not to reveal her recent engagement to Jorge and her fabrication of a false reality whereby she attempts to convince Jorge that all is well in her and her parents’ life in an effort to improve his psychological instability.
I had initially watched Tenemos que hablar in some much-deserved downtime with the expectation that it would provide nothing more than light entertainment. I was by no means expecting the film to inspire an intellectual response. However, it quickly gripped me as being invested in a political commentary informed by the current economic climate, and concurrent related societal phenomena, both within and beyond Spain. The film appeals to me for two main reasons, both of which correspond to my forthcoming monograph on the politics of performance in contemporary Spanish cinema. Indeed, while I have already selected my case studies for the book, I may make reference to this work in the introduction to the text. The reasons for my interest in Tenemos que hablar are: 1) that it explicitly indexes the contemporary economic climate in Spain with specific reference to political involvement in this crisis; and 2) that it deploys performance as a means of dealing with this situation. In this post, I focus on the first of these aspects. I hope to write a follow-up entry on the role of performance in the film but want to rewatch it and spend a bit more time thinking about the significance of this trope. I welcome any thoughts on either of these themes. Feel free to share these with me either through the comments function below or via Twitter (@FionaFNoble).
Seseña: The Future Centre
The film immediately positions itself within the spatio-temporal framework of the current economic crisis gripping contemporary Spain. The scene-setting prologue takes place between the years of 2006 and 2012 with specific reference to the economic crash and its impact on contemporary Spain. The action begins in 2006 with a confident Jorge instructing his future in-laws to invest in a new-build apartment in the neighbourhood of Seseña (Figure 1) – one of Spain’s so-called ghost towns, situated to the south of Madrid. Half-finished towns like Seseña are the result of the 2000s construction boom, a phenomenon about which you can read here. While Jorge’s mother-in-law expresses concerns about the isolated locale of the apartment block, she is reassured that this is an up-and-coming area and will eventually be well-connected – a fact that the audience know not to be the case from the contemporary vantage point of 2016. They make reference to Spain’s financial buoyancy with Jorge self-assuredly asserting that things are only set to improve.
The subsequent scene takes place in 2007 at the wedding of Jorge and Núria as the hapless couple persuade Núria’s parents to invest in a company called Fórum Filatélico – a well-known pyramid scheme that defrauded thousands of investors. This is followed by a scene in 2008 in which Núria’s mother bemoans the fact that they’ve still never found anyone to rent out their flat in Seseña. Jorge advises them to put up their print shop as collateral as well as advising them to rent two units in the infamous Castellón airport – like Seseña, a spectral remnant of earlier economic buoyancy. Built to the tune of 150 million euros, the airport only welcomed its first flights – thanks to budget airline Ryanair – in 2015 despite opening in 2011 with the politician responsible for the project currently behind bars for tax fraud (you can read more about Castellón airport here). When Núria’s parents express concern at the contemporaneous economic climate, namely the crisis in the US, the young couple insist that this will not reach Spain, that Spain has the most solid banking system in Europe.
2012: Jorge’s Final Attempt
The final scene of this opening prologue takes place in 2012 with Jorge asking for what little money his in-laws have remaining for an investment in priority shares that will purportedly allow them to recuperate what they have lost (Figure 2) – a scheme that clearly fails as the opening scene of the film proper depicts Núria and her new partner Víctor as he proposes to her. This prologue thus provides a panorama of the Spanish economy, and its interlacing with politics and society, in recent years. In so doing, it offers a pessimistic survey of contemporary Spanish society.
This sequence sets the scene for the rest of the film which meditates on the hopelessness of individuals such as Jorge, who we subsequently discover is unemployed and flat-sharing with Lucas, the manager for whom he previously worked. Indeed the first post-credits scene featuring this pair reveals that they scrape by financially by letting out their spare room on Air BnB. In spite of its initially disheartening tone, the film does conclude with a triumphant ending in which [*SPOILER ALERT] Jorge successfully wins back his ex-wife’s affection. For Lucas, the fact that am unemployed Spaniard steals the girlfriend of an Argentinian is some victory!
Scanning through Netflix the other day, I happened to discover that A Perfect Day, Fernando León de Aranoa’s latest film, is currently available to stream in the UK. His sixth full-length feature film, A Perfect Day is the critically-acclaimed filmmaker’s first foray into English-language filmmaking. The work blends the director’s acute visual style, combining dynamically composed images (for example through the use of mirrors – a technique deployed throughout his filmography) and an impactful soundtrack, with noteworthy performances from a star-studded cast including Tim Robbins and Benecio del Toro. The film garnered a host of critical nominations at the Goya, Feroz and Cinema Writers Circle Awards in Spain, with León de Aranoa picking up the Goya for Best Adapted Screenplay (the film is based on a novel called Dejarse llover by Paula Farias).
Though I watched the film earlier this week, I haven’t had much of a chance to collect my thoughts on it as yet. But there were a handful of images and tropes connected to representations of death that caught my attention during my viewing of the film. I wanted to record these ideas here as León de Aranoa is one of the filmmakers I work on in my research and I may well analyse this film further in the future.
Netflix categorises A Perfect Day as a comedy and while the streaming site’s cataloging of films is sometimes questionable, this work does indeed deploy León de Aranoa’s now trademark acerbic sense of humour alongside the more dramatic and tragic events of its plot. The action takes place in 1995 during the Balkan conflict and revolves around a group of aid workers attempting to resolve a complex situation within a conflict zone. The problem? A corpse submerged within a well, contaminating the region’s water supply. The film focuses on their attempts to remove the corpse from the well, having to negotiate with both locals and intervening military and peacekeeping factions.
Figure 1: The Silhouetted Corpse
The corpse is a recurring motif throughout the film. Given that the plot centres on this troublesome dead body, it is perhaps unsurprising that it figures centrally within the cinematography. While the corpse itself is not shown explicitly instead silhouetted and framed from below (Figure 1), the camera frequently adopts the perspective of the corpse. These point-of-view shots form an important visual component of the film’s aesthetics. Indeed such an image adorns the promotional poster for the film (Figure 2). To adopt the perspective of the corpse is to position death and the subjectivity of the dead at the core of the film in aesthetic terms without sensationalising the image of the dead body.
The corpse in the well that appears in the opening sequence is the first of many dead bodies that feature throughout the film. The carcasses of cattle appear as road blocks on a few occasions, apparently placed in the road in order to divert traffic towards landmines buried by the roadside (Figure 3). Whether these constitute “corpses” or not is a dilemma diegetically addressed by the volunteers, sparking a subtextual debate about the line between humans and animals as well as suggesting that conflict brings out the savage characteristics of the human race. These carcasses additionally symbolise the political role of death in conflict – that is, an obstacle to be negotiated according to political ends rather than an abhorrent phenomenon eliciting compassion and inciting action.
The most striking scene involving dead bodies concerns the parents of a young local boy who winds up accompanying the volunteers. When the group arrives at his home, they discover that the house has been ransacked and the parents of the boy have been brutally murdered, their bodies still hanging in the internal courtyard of the house. This scene is arguably the most powerful of the film. The bodies remain just out of view of the camera, framed in a similar manner to the corpse stuck in the well. Furthermore, a dark and rocky cover version of the Eurhythmics’ “Sweet Dreams are Made of This” accompanies the scene, echoing the impact this harrowing event has on the young French volunteer. We learn that this act was sparked by the cross cultural relationship between the boy’s parents. This once again reinforces the savage nature of war.
In short, death permeates both the narrative and mise-en-scène of A Perfect Day, reflecting upon the centrality of death in war without sensationalising images of the dead victims. While the film deals with dark subject matter, it balances this with a lighthearted tone that serves to render the topic more palatable. Overall, a film that merits further consideration – which I hope to afford the work in due course.
Last week – amidst the chaos of A LOT of exam marking – I had the pleasure of attending a talk and workshop on the topic of transnational cinema delivered by the brilliant Deborah Shaw, Reader in Film at the University of Portsmouth. These events were organised by the World Cinema and Cosmopolitics research group, an interdisciplinary research cluster in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at Durham University, coordinated by Abir Hamdar, Francisco-J. Hernández Adrián and Dusan Radunovic. Having found these events particularly productive and inspiring at such a challenging and intensive time of year, I wanted to write a post to reflect on some of the topics of discussion that arose from Deborah’s talk and the related workshop. This post by no means accounts for the breadth and depth of the discussions that took place over the two events but rather focuses on what, at least for myself, were the salient points addressed.
I’m currently sitting in departures at Heathrow Terminal 5 having spent the last few days at Royal Holloway, University of London attending the Childhood and Nation in World Cinemas: Borders and Encounters since 1980 conference. With plenty time to kill before my flight, now seems as good a time as any to write up my experience of the conference – which, in short, was one of, if not the best conference I’ve been to in my academic career so far.
Screams and gasps accompany a dark, black and white image of a gun fading into focus. A shot is fired and a paper explosion escapes from the barrel of the gun, which is not a lethal weapon but rather a prop in an artistic performance (Figure 1). This is the opening image of Noviembre (2003), a relatively little-known and under-studied Spanish film directed by Achero Mañas. (The film is available to view here). Though extremely brief, this pre-credits scene microcosmically embodies the key themes and ideas of the film as a whole, which include the intermingling of performance and everyday life as well as the relationship between representation and reality. Noviembre is one of the films I am currently working on as part of a book proposal based on one of my thesis chapters and this post constitutes a starting point for me to think about the film in more detail. In what follows, I address the legacy of performance to which Noviembre alludes as well as the film’s reflection on the politics of spectatorship. Beyond this post, I am interested in further unpacking the ethics of spectatorship, and its therapeutic potential, in this film and I am keen to analyse the sequences involving death in this regard. Please feel free to leave feedback through the comments function below if you have any thoughts you would like to share on these or other related matters; you’ll also find me on Twitter (@FionaFNoble). More than a film, Noviembre is an artistic manifesto that produces a potent political statement about the radical potential of the arts, not just in the context of twenty-first century Spain but also more broadly in our contemporary globalised world.
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.
I’m currently writing an article on childhood temporalities in post-Franco Spanish cinema, which is based in part on one of the chapters of my thesis. I’ve written a guest blog post on this topic for the Childhood and Nation in World Cinema website, which you can read here.
Childhood and Nation in World Cinema is a Leverhulme funded research project, headed up by Sarah Wright (Royal Holloway). If interested in the representation of the child in Spanish cinema, you should check out Sarah’s monograph The Child in Spanish Cinema.
Any thoughts on my blog entry, please feel free to post comments on the Childhood and Nation website or on here.
As I’ve already mentioned elsewhere on this blog (see here and here), part of my PhD thesis focuses on the representation of immigrants and immigration in contemporary Spanish cinema. A crucial counterpoint to this figure is the Spanish exile or emigrant, a figure relatively neglected in contemporary scholarship on Spanish migratory cinema. In this context, Spanish exiles and emigrants are of both historical and contemporary relevance. As an example, Biutiful (Iñárritu, 2010), which I analyse in my thesis, juxtaposes the Spaniard exiled from Francoist Spain with contemporary immigrants.[i] The father of protagonist Uxbal, who appears as a ghost in the film, indexes historical patterns of migration that predate Spain’s contemporary status as a host country. Such patterns are often overlooked in discussions of the contemporary phenomenon of immigration to Spain.
While Biutiful proffers a somewhat gritty portrait of the harsh realities of immigration, emigration and exile, the subject of this post – Un franco, 14 pesetas (Iglesias, 2006) – provides a more light-hearted depiction of these issues. Unlike Biutiful, which straddles two temporal moments, Un franco, 14 pesetas focuses solely on Spanish emigrants in the context of Francoist Spain. The film is one of several in director Iglesias’ filmography that deals with the theme of emigration from Francoist Spain: Ispansi (2010) is set during the Second World War and concerns the transportation of Spaniards out of Spain at this time, while 2 francos, 40 pesetas (2014) is the sequel to Un franco, 14 pesetas.
Set in Madrid in 1960, Un franco, 14 pesetas narrates the story of Martín, a middle-aged Spaniard living in his parents’ basement with his wife Pilar and their son Pablo. Surplus to requirements at his place of work, Martín loses his job. When Martín’s friend Marcos suggests they emigrate to Switzerland in search of work, Pilar – who is desperate for her family to have a home of their own – encourages him to do so. The film recounts the trials and tribulations of Martín and Marcos as they travel to Switzerland in search of a better future for them and their families. Focused on the bromance between Martín and Marcos, Un franco, 14 pesetas is thus a road movie of sorts, set in the historical context of Spanish emigration.
While Un franco, 14 pesetas is not without its problems – it is, at least in some ways, akin to the nostalgic revisioning of the past as seen in films such as Belle époque and La lengua de las mariposas – the visual vocabulary deployed in the film resonates not only with other Spanish films that deal with immigration, emigration and exile, but, also beyond the Spanish context, with diasporic or ‘accented’ cinema, to use Hamid Naficy’s term, and with the Hollywood road movie. The most obvious motif in this regard is vehicles and transportation. For Naficy, the vehicle constitutes one of several ‘important transitional and transnational places and spaces’ in accented works.[ii] He considers vehicles ‘privileged sites’ in terms of ‘journeys of and struggles over identity’, given that makers of accented cinema ‘engage in many deterritorializing and reterritorializing journeys […] including home-seeking journeys, journeys of homelessness, and homecoming journeys’.[iii]
In Un franco, 14 pesetas, the protagonists travel by train from Spain to Switzerland. A frantic sequence on the platform of the railway station shows the emotional farewells of Martín and Marcos to their respective loved ones, before the film depicts in considerable detail their transit across Europe. They are shown sleeping in their compartment alongside several other men when officials enter and demand identification from all the passengers (Figure 1). Martín is depicted contemplating the passing landscape from the window of the train (Figure 2). They are shown befriending another Spaniard who shares his chorizo with them (Figure 3). The use of dissolves to transition between images (Figure 4) echoes both the passing of time and the passing landscapes, visible from the train carriage window.
The aforementioned bromance between Martín and Marcos is another trope that links Un franco, 14 pesetas to cinematic works of migration, movement and mobility. Indeed, the film resonates, in some ways, with the Hollywood road movie, so many of which are, as Julian Stringer observes, ‘same-sex buddy films’.[iv] Having arrived in Switzerland, Martín and Marcos initially share a hotel room. The film emphasises their blossoming bromance by frequently depicting them in their adjoining beds (Figure 5). At one point, they even snuggle closer together so as to keep warm in Switzerland’s frosty climate, to which they are unaccustomed (Figure 6). When Marcos is invited to spend Christmas with one of the Swiss girls they have befriended, leaving Martín alone, their reunion is depicted as a pseudo-romantic encounter. Marcos hurls snowballs at the window of Martín’s hotel room, leading to the resolution of their earlier conflict. Reminiscent of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, Martín appears at the window (Figure 7), addressed by Marcos below (Figure 8), as the pair resolve their differences.
The window constitutes a key visual motif in Un franco, 14 pesetas. The characters are frequently framed by windows within the filmic frame, as in Figures 2 and 7 above. This gesture carries several symbolic resonances. While many of Naficy’s examples describe scenes that feature windows, he does not expand upon the potential symbolic significance of this icon.[v] Here, the window functions as a reminder of these characters’ liminality, evidencing their status as outsiders looking in on a society of which they are, at least initially, not a part. This sentiment applies not just to their status in Swiss society but also in Spanish society upon their return to Madrid, a sentiment echoed by Marcos’ wife Maricarmen who declares, towards the end of the film, that ‘Ya no somos de ninguna parte’ (‘We are now from nowhere’).
The window as a visual symbol is something I’m only just beginning to think through in my research. Having recently completed my doctoral thesis, I am beginning to work on a post-doctoral project that examines the concepts of (in)visibility and (dis)location in visual representations of Ceuta, Melilla and Gibraltar. In the very early research I’ve conducted for this project, I’ve noticed that the symbol of the window is visually significant within these contentious border sites, a figure for the physical flimsiness of the border and a counterpoint to the lack of transparency at work within such liminal border spaces. A case in point is the Telecinco television series El Príncipe (Figure 9). Any thoughts on this would be very much appreciated, so please feel free to comment below.
To conclude, while Un franco, 14 pesetas is perhaps not the most imaginative or visually striking depiction of Spanish emigration, the film engages with other works pertinent to this topic through its network of visual symbols, such as train travel and windows, as well as through narrative tropes, such as the bromance or buddy relationship often at the core of the road movie. I hope to post on Iglesias’ other works in the near future as his work is exemplary of the cinematic swing towards migratory patterns away from Spain. While immigration from other countries to Spain represents one of the most dominant political themes of Spanish cinematic production from the 1990s until the early 2010s, the current economic crisis and its provocation of a shift in migratory patterns have diminished the prevalence and significance of this topic in the context of the most contemporary releases of Spanish cinema. A quick glance at the subject matter of recent works reveals that Spanish cinema is turning its attention to another crucial migratory flow relevant to contemporary Spain: the rising number of individuals leaving Spain, whether these are immigrants returning home due to the lack of opportunities resulting from the aforementioned economic crisis, or Spanish professionals unable to find employment in their own country. This trend is inspiring filmmakers across diverse genres. Recent releases include: Perdiendo el norte (Velilla, 2015), a comedy which focuses on two young men with degrees who cannot find work in Spain and so emigrate to Germany; En tierra extraña (Bollaín, 2014), a documentary which follows young Spaniards abroad in search of a better future and El rayo (Araújo, 2013), a road movie which follows Hassan, a Moroccan immigrant who, unable to find work, decides to return home after thirteen years in Spain. What this emerging cinematic trend reveals is the need for further examination of the migratory dynamics explored in contemporary cultural production in Spain, an example of which is Iglesias’ filmography.
[i] Biutiful also engages with the dynamics of internal migration. Protagonist Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is a xarnego/charnego, a term used in Catalonia to refer to migrants from other areas of Spain. Director Iñárritu discusses this aspect of the film in the notes accompanying the film at the Cannes Film Festival, available here.
[ii] Naficy, Hamid. An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001, 4-5.
[iii] Naficy, Hamid. An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001, 5-6.
[iv] Stringer, Julian. “Exposing Intimacy in Russ Meyer’s Motorpsycho! and Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” The Road Movie Book. Eds. Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark. London; New York: Routledge, 1997. 165-178, 172.
[v] Naficy, Hamid. An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001, 48, 116, 144, 165, 177, 180, 198, 203, 231, 235.