Sunday, 28 December 2008

Barcelona (un mapa) (Barcelona (A Map), Spain, 2007)

Director: Ventura Pons.

Principal cast: Núria Espert, Josep Maria Pou, Rosa Maria Sardà, Jordi Bosch.

It is peculiar how dictators across the world, nominally professing to different ideologies, are always adamant to be seen as defenders of the „traditional” family values. There is, of course, nothing particularly suprising in that – people coerced into appearing and acting as a homogenous and „happy” mass are much easier to control. Anybody sticking out can be instantly identified and eliminated. However, to great chagrin of all dictators, this only means that the „exemplary” citizens quickly learn double speak and double act while all behaviour inconsistent with the „traditional values” endorsed by the regime is simply consigned to the shadowed fringes of the society. Dictators are disposed of or die, regimes change but their highly harmful legacy of secrets and lies can last for many generations. Still, sooner or later the façades of the „exemplary traditional families” will inevitably crumble and the shadowed fringes will come to light, just like it happens in „Barcelona (A Map)”, a film by Ventura Pons set in the Catalonian capital some 30 years after Franco’s death, based on a novel by Lluïsa Cunille „Barcelona, A Map Of Shadows”.

Rosa and Ramon are an elderly couple who are living in a spacious old Barcelona flat. Not requiring all the space themselves, over the years they have rented out some of the rooms. But now, as terminally ill Ramon is slowly preparing for his final moments on this planet, the couple have asked the three current tenants to move out as quickly as possible. The film’s account takes place over the course of one night. As tenants come home one by one, the pair take their time to urge them to keep their promise and vacate the premises before Monday. The film’s story is displayed as five dialogues with a striking pattern – while Rosa talks to the only male tenant, Ramon takes care of the two ladies. This, however, only emphasises the contrast between the ingrown „traditional” façade of the couple and the dark secrets they are about to reveal.

The three tenants – a 40 something lady giving private French lessons, a 31-year-old failed football player working as a security guard at a shopping mall and a pregnant Argentinian migrant worker – can all be described as examples of urban solitude. They all have one thing in common – they have no where else to go, nor do they really care about moving on. The French teacher doesn’t get along with her son and can only moan about God and French vanishing from the local people’s lives at the same time. The guard is separated from his wife and his only ambition seems to be beating up his wife’s new lover with his service gun. The Argentinian girl has no family or friends in this city and generally has difficulties communicating with people in Barcelona which isn’t only down to her inability to speak Catalonian. At one point she exclaims that „here, for someone to look into your eyes you have to fall down”. And in a figurative sense, in these conversations they all have to fall down before they can truly look into each other’s eyes.

During the course of the night we learn that Ramon has one particular secret (one of many). When he worked as an usher at the city’s Opera House, he often sneaked into the artists’ wardrobes and dressed up in the different outfits found there, preferably women’s clothes. A secret favourite pastime which has survived to this day and which has once been accidentally witnessed by the Argentinian girl. In his conversation with the French teacher, Ramon actually confesses to that himself. When asked by her if he would have liked to have been found out, his answer is no. His answer is the same when the French teacher gives him a departing gift, a black and white photograph of a naked man dancing over the body of his murdered mother, and asks him if he’s never felt the need to get undressed just to be really looked at? In many ways crossdressing and undressing have the same quality – they can reveal your true self. But while crossdressing will ruin your official façade, full nudity will be seen as the ultimate intimacy, baring yourself completely in the eyes of the beholder. There is no place for either in a shadow existence.

The fourth conversation takes place between Rosa and her homosexual brother who had just picked up a hustler in a sauna but left him at home since the guy managed to fall asleep before any action took place. He wants her to run away with him while she wants him to attend to her ill husband. But the brother and sister turn out to be something quite different when we learn another secret during the fifth and final conversation which takes place between the two old spouses themselves. During this conversation Ramon also gives Rosa an old map of Barcelona where he, having once worked as a courier on foot, marked all the shadowed streets to avoid too much direct sunlight - a map of shadows.

True to its title, „Barcelona (A Map)” maps the shadowed lives of people trapped behind the façades of „traditional values”, secretly wishing to set the whole city ablaze, especially Sagrada Família, the famous cathedral designed by Gaudí which still stands unfinished, a symbol of uncompleted lives of our protagonists. To burn something down may also be necessary to be able to build something new. It is a slowly-paced film whose characters are full of surprises with a distinct similarity, however seemingly unlikely, to Pedro Almodovar’s universe. By dissecting its characters, the film also reveals Franco’s legacy in the fabric of the Spanish society. Fascism begins in the family, as everything else. At one point, Rosa who recently watched the traditional Spanish bullfight, notes with a certain surprise that the mostly foreign spectators were cheering the bulls instead of the bullfighters. This was a note of optimism, of changed times. Siding with the underdogs and opposing the brutality of force is the opposite of fascism. The map of shadows needs not exist anymore.

Here you can watch the film's trailer


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