Tag Archives: emigration

Expanding Views on Emigration: Economy, Travel and Windows in 2 francos, 40 pesetas

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.

Figure 1: Ornate Objects
Figure 1: Ornate Objects
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).

Figure 2: Domesticity Devoid of Clutter
Figure 2: Domesticity Devoid of Clutter

Figure 3: First-Class Cabin
Figure 3: Trains …
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).

Figure 4: Air Travel
Figure 4: … Planes …
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.

Figure 5: ... and Automobiles
Figure 5: … and Automobiles
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.

Figure 6: A Hopeful Gaze
Figure 6: A Hopeful Gaze
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.

Figure 7: Passing Landscapes
Figure 7: Passing Landscapes

Figure 8: Looking Out
Figure 8: Looking Out

Figure 9: Looking In
Figure 9: Looking In

Figure 10: Open and Closed
Figure 10: Open and Closed
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.

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Immigrants, Emigrants and Exiles: Un franco, 14 pesetas

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.

Asleep on the train (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 1: Sleeping (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 2: Contemplating the view (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 2: Contemplating the view (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 3: Sharing chorizo (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 3: Sharing chorizo (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 4: Passing time/space (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 4: Passing time/space (Un franco, 14 pesetas)

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.

Figure 5: Adjoining beds (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 5: Adjoining beds (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 6: Snuggling (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 6: Snuggling (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 7: At the window (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 7: At the window (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 8: Below the window (Un franco, 14 pesetas)
Figure 8: Below the window (Un franco, 14 pesetas)

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.

Figure 9: Moray at the window (El Principe)
Figure 9: Moray at the window (El Principe)

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.

Notes

[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.