Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Plague (2013) Film Review
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
For her debut feature, documentarian Neus Ballús adds the merest pinch of fiction to her facts, working with her five protagonists on the fringes of Barcelona for four years in order to develop a film in which they, in essence, play themselves.
The resulting docudrama plays out more as a curated slice of life than a straightforward narrative, and finds plenty to say about what it means to pass your time on the margins of a city in contemporary Spain and the nature of home and being away from it more generally.
We follow Maria Ros, Raül Molist, Iurie Timbur, Rose Abella and Maribel Martí over the course of a long, hot summer, captured in all its dusty, heat haze sultriness by cinematographer Diego Dussuel. The film is framed by the story of Raül's farm, where his crops are under siege from a plague of white fly, that cluster thickly on virtually every leaf. They rot away the stalks from within, his dad tells him, breaking one open to demonstrate - it's a thought that echoes through the rest of the film.
Doing donkey work on Raül's farm is Iurie, a Macedonian emigre who is still waiting for his official papers after two years in the country. Once his shift clocks off, he heads to the local gym for wrestling practice in the hopes of beating the best in Spain. "All I do is work," he says, which is true, and the same could be said for Raül, who also might as well be living in a different country to his family for all the time he is getting to spend with them.
They're not alone in wrestling with long hours. Rose, a migrant from the Philippines, works 12-hour shifts at the local old folks' home, walking there and back past Raül's rebellious crops. At the other end of the spectrum lie Maria and Maribel. Octogenarian Maria is about to find herself exiled within the country she has lived in all her life - forced by ill health to move to the care home where Rose works and where her life as she knows it is lost forever. Ageing prostitute Maribel, meanwhile, plays a waiting game by the side of the road, watching the others come and go as she waits for a living to come to her.
Ballús creates the impression of a fragmented community, with the city a place far off, symbolised only by the rumble of the rushing traffic on a distant motorway, travelling at a different speed to these five isolated souls, whose struggles are epitomised by Maria's ragged, asthmatic breathing.
Yet, this is not a maudlin film. Ballús is drawing parallels between different types of displacement but she also connects her protagonists through their stoicism. The characters may be variously plagued by debt, illness and emotional strain but they also prove there is conoslation in friendship and that a single shared chocolate can be more important and touching than a thousand words.Reviewed on: 12 Sep 2013