The Balearic town of Magaluf has become an example of the excesses of drunken tourism, balconing and sexual debauchery. The filmmaker (and former singer of the musical group Manos de Topo) Miguel Ángel Blanca has decided to enter the social fabric beyond the epidermis of alcoholic celebrations. Over several summers, he has filmed boredomed teenagers, room maids afraid to leave the house, and willful Malian immigrants who do live year-round in a land that turns into a ghost town in the off-season. The temporary work and real estate speculation are part of the context of the work.
After passing through the Seville Festival, Magaluf ghost town has inaugurated the 28th edition of the Barcelona Independent Cinema Festival L’Alternativa. The film is a daily documentary but at the same time open to daydreams and small fantasies, to phantasmagorical presences and absences. It portrays a place where everything is supposed to be possible, but only for visitors and not for those who serve them.
Magaluf ghost town it’s a very attractive title …
Yes, we think so! But it is not a random name, it also connected with the phenomenon of tourist towns that empty in winter.
And it also ties in with the fact that various characters talk about ghosts or speak to loved ones who have passed away. Some even speak of legends about human sacrifices of the locals, in the style of films like The wicker man…
Although we start from reality, from the documentary, we wanted to incorporate a certain component of fiction, fantasy and presences, because it does not stop connecting with the nature of a place that sells desires and that becomes a ghost town out of season. The wicker man is a movie that interests me, or also Midsommar. They both build closed universes with their own rules, which is something that has always caught my attention, both in film and in literature or in video games.
And under what rules do they operate in Magaluf ghost town? Arouse curiosity to know what may be of your invention in the things we see.
We start from a documentary language that is expanding towards fiction little by little, as we discover the characters. As I was saying, it is something consistent with the nature of Magaluf. Also because it is a reality that is known indirectly, as who tells you The Wizard of Oz, because you read a media story or you get advertising stories. English tour operators, for example, promised completely unhinged things: to have sex on the beach, to do balconing… In the end, everyone thinks that something incredible is going to happen in Magaluf. We picked up on that idea and reinforced it through characters who try to discover something there, even a lie, to cope with those summers lived in a totally violent context.
One of the protagonists seems to be fooling herself with her attempts to quit smoking for health reasons …
That therapy is totally real. It is another example that we start from the documentary, from the manners. Anyone can understand an attempt to quit smoking. In parallel, we are talking about extreme temporality, real estate speculation, or what it means to grow up and be a teenager in a place where you can only work serving tourists …
The young Rubén says at one point in the film that life is “being born, studying, serving the tourists and dying.” At the same time, he says that he would like to be a tourist forever and the idea of running a place that is totally oriented to visitors is attractive to him.
It is that there is a constant contradiction: you hate that tourist who is destroying everything, but you need him because he is the only way to survive there. In that monologue that Rubén gave us it is very clear. In ten seconds, go from fiercely criticizing the sector to wanting to be a tourist all year long. He no longer reflects on collective effects, but fantasizes and places himself in the social place where he would like to be.
How was the process of finding the protagonists? What made you choose precisely the people who appear on the screen?
We organize a casting that opened up many possibilities for us. At the time of choosing, we had a clear idea, such as that we wanted to have a teenager and someone who had been living with such an exaggerated temporary work for a long time. We find Tere, who has been in Magaluf for twenty-five years, who faces life with humor but at the same time is afraid to leave home. We were also attracted to the idea of looking for people who are very subject to contradictions. For that reason, we discarded another boy with whom we had started and who was very used to tourism.
Did you use other criteria, in addition to looking for a certain representativeness of various social profiles?
Yes, that the specific person woke us up some kind of fascination. It’s what I do with movies. I know people who fascinate me and I look for a way to bring them to the screen. For example, we interviewed many people who ran discos, but Emilio had something. Just seeing him on screen wanted to know more about him. It was also important that the participants understood what we wanted to do.
Before you mentioned that few people know what really happens in Magaluf. What struck you the most about the time you spent there?
The capacity of tourism to overflow, to absorb everything, to survive any circumstance. Like anything, it is susceptible to becoming touristy. It is a subject that already interested me in a previous film of mine, The foreigner. At the same time, I am curious that we are so fascinated by something that is so destructive. For my part, I wanted to know how people who live in this context survive, what tools they use. I was also interested in what was a tourist in me … or what I hated about myself when I saw myself doing touristy things.
Did you want to become familiar with the environment, as a kind of cinematographic anthropologist, or did you find it fruitful that you were yourself a tourist who did not finish familiarizing yourself with the environment?
I think I started from a fairly anthropological approach. And it was difficult for us to be accepted, because we went with cameras and people often see them as a weapon that has been used against the people. Little by little, the people we talked to saw that we had another idea in mind, that we didn’t want to hurt them, because we kept going back and forth. We stopped being tourists to be other characters in Magaluf, because we spent a lot of time there.
When did you shoot the movie? Because COVID-19 doesn’t seem to exist …
We went for the first time in 2015, when we did the castings while we were looking for funding. The bulk of the documentary was shot in the summers of 2018 and 2019. We do not know what will happen in 2022, but right now the film can serve as an involuntary epitaph of what tourism was in Magaluf. We will see what happens in the future, with Brexit and with the pandemic, although tourism always finds some drift.
Like viruses and their mutations …
Yes, of course, tourism is a virus that constantly mutates. The character of Olga, for example, wants a change in the tourism model, she has in her head a fiction of what she would like the sector to be.
She talks about the attempts to transform the profile of visitors through business and urban projects. Was there something tangible in all of it?
Yes Yes. Since the first time we went, we have detected attempts to change the tourism model. They have built a couple of five-star hotels and a very familiar shopping center that aspires to other types of visitors … It was even rumored that the name of the town was going to change. We have fed this kind of legend, mentioning it in the movie.
This sounds like a Western movie: changing the name of the town because it has been stigmatized.
We include a mention for how exaggerated it seems to us, but we know that some have asked for this name change. In Barcelona itself very great atrocities have been done, so it no longer seems totally crazy to me.
You have stated that this is not a tourist-phobic film as the aforementioned could be. The foreigner, set in Barcelona. Have you gone from the protest phase to the acceptance phase, or did the story you wanted to tell about Magaluf seem different to you?
Before, I lived in the Raval of Barcelona and going out into the streets was very violent for me. There was a political change in the City Council and it seemed that some things could move, so I became a kind of militant in this area. The foreigner it was a thesis work. Now maybe I have accepted it, as you say. Perhaps I have assumed that tourism is part of capitalist society. I try what I can learn from there, what this phenomenon says about us and what we can do to survive it, in addition to hating it and making banners against it.
A scene from Magaluf ghost town where you see tourists coming out of the sea has reminded me of the zombies emerging from the water in the movie The land of the undead…
Yes, I wanted to take to a slightly strange and rarefied place, from a George Romero movie of the undead, that image that was actually very simple.
Although part of the audience will be very sensitized against the abuses of tourism, some moments are a bit crude. You play a baton about how many deaths per balconing there will be in the summer season!
This contest is real, yes. For me it is interesting that humor goes so far as to make a parody of people’s deaths. Suggest what tourism means to Magaluf.
You said that tourism survives everything and has a great capacity to mutate. You show that Tere rents a room to a worker from Mali and that they both hit it off. Is your film likely to be redefined as an Airbnb ad?
Hahaha, I don’t think I don’t. Also, I guess the platform business wouldn’t be profitable if it focused on situations like that. For me, Tere and Cheickne is a very beautiful story. Both are a priori very different people, but essentially trying to earn a living and cope with their circumstances.
Were you tempted by the possibility of ending the play with an epilogue shot in a pandemic context?
The images of the army evicting tourists came to us and we wondered if we should do something with them. After all, we had a lot of ideas and a lot of material to combine through the montage, but we understood that we were talking about the pre-COVID Magaluf. We assumed this possibility that the film became a kind of epitaph of very specific forms of leisure.
One of the protagonists of your documentary tells another, the son of a local and a tourist, that he was born precisely from that vacation Magaluf that generates rejection. Is Magaluf not only a machinery of precariousness, malaise and boredom?
Of course, within that detritus magical things can arise, an unforgettable summer can arise. There are many people in the world who link the town with some of the most beautiful moments of their life. In this regard, the image it has is unfair. This almost mythological account that special things happen there is true sometimes, although it also has many tricky components.
And many costs for the inhabitants.
Of course. On the one hand, you think that I wish there were more Magaluf in the world, more spaces where to dream and think that everything is possible. At the same time, you see that many things and many lives are ruined by that. The film deals with this ambivalence.