N-VI - Vanishing Roadsides


Reviewed by: Rebecca Naughten

N-VI - Vanishing Roadsides
"The close-up textures of worn surfaces - the asphalt, the concrete road markers with flaking paint, the walls of abandoned buildings - speak of neglect coupled with stubborn endurance."

N-VI is the name of the original 600km (372-mile) road connecting Madrid and Galicia. Superseded by the A-6 motorway since the 1990s, most of the N-VI nonetheless still exists although in a worn and unmaintained state - Pela del Álamo's documentary presents the old road through the eyes of those who live alongside it.

The initial impetus for the film came when the director was working on a commission to photograph the viaducts of the A-6 motorway and, from his vantage point, spotted the old road below. In contrast to the motorway cutting through the landscape in a straight line, the N-VI followed the natural contours of the land, creating a much longer journey but allowing for a more scenic and idiosyncratic experience. The film darts in and out of the nooks and crannies of this route - its forgotten spaces and people - and the varied landscapes that it traverses.

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The sense of lives being stranded - or cut off - accumulates as the film progresses. When the traffic moved elsewhere, many of these spaces - the bars, restaurants and hotels whose trade relies on transient populations passing through to other end destinations - lost their main clientele, giving rise to ghost towns and abandoned buildings and businesses. Windows and doorways are bricked up or left open to the elements - the wind howls and snow drifts into once lived-in spaces.

At the same time, the permanent residents of these areas found themselves left behind - younger generations have moved out in search of better prospects, leaving an ageing populace and dwindling pockets of increasingly isolated communities where the sheep seem more numerous than the people. This transformation is repeated along the length of the old road - a shared experience is suffered in geographic isolation.

The film is not an exercise in straightforward nostalgia. The people interviewed remember both the good - a young Julio Iglesias stopping for petrol on his way to perform in a local club - and the bad (a group of elderly ladies - with some glee - recounting the trials and tribulations of truckers using the N-VI pausing their journeys to frequent a nearby brothel) of being central to the ebb and flow of travellers passing through the region. But the sense of loss is palpable - more than one interviewee describes their respective town or village as being "dead" since the road "died" - and many of the elderly participants are overcome with emotion as they describe what life in the area(s) used to be like.

Likewise, late in the film when del Álamo explores the flipside - the people who live in the vicinity of the busy A-6 motorway - the sense of loss is sustained. Although their houses are mere metres from heavy traffic - we see an overpass almost touching the roof of one house - these communities don't seem integrated into the purpose of the motorway in the way those living alongside the N-VI were in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. They have seen the surrounding landscape stripped and bisected by the new road, cutting off individual households from the wider community - a sense of isolation accrues in a way not dissimilar to the N-VI communities, but accompanied by the constant rattle and hum of heavy traffic and concrete structures obscuring the vistas.

Shot between December 2007 and July 2009, the landscape is seen in all seasons - the colour palette of the film ranges from verdant greenery to dry dust, and from grey clouds to a stunning aquamarine sky. The close-up textures of worn surfaces - the asphalt, the concrete road markers with flaking paint, the walls of abandoned buildings - speak of neglect coupled with stubborn endurance. Del Álamo takes the time to stand and listen, not only to the residents, but also to the apparent silence along these back roads within which you can discern birdsong, insects and animals, and the wind reverberating across the plains and through the trees if you listen closely. The film records that road has 'gone' but remnants remain - the lives being lived alongside the N-VI may not be as visible as they once were, or as lively, but they endure all the same.

Reviewed on: 24 May 2015
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A portrait of the abandoned N-VI road between Madrid and Galicia, presented through those who still live alongside it.

Director: Pela del Álamo

Writer: Pela del Álamo

Year: 2012

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: Spain


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