Neus Ballús’s cinema turns invisible people into real characters

The author of 'La plaga' and 'El viaje de Marta' premieres her most humorous feature film

Since his first feature film, The plague, the director Neus Ballús seems determined to explore somewhat different ways of approaching social and political cinema. His second feature film, Marta’s trip, It was a more narrative proposal that dealt with the story of an adolescent and her awakening to sexuality, adult life and inequalities for reasons of class and ethnicity. His new film, Six ordinary days arrives in commercial theaters after its successful time at the Locarno Festival (its two protagonists received an award for best performance) or Valladolid (it won the Silver Spike, in addition to the audience award) and to appear out of competition in other competitions such as the L’Alternativa Festival. Its premiere in the last part of the year perhaps partially explains its absence between nominations for the next Goya awards.

Six running days portrays with a rather humorous tone, but bittersweet and not without dramatic inflections, a week of work and personal life of a trio of plumbers. Pep, a veteran professional and perfectionist, is retiring. So Valero, a man with a sour mood and not fond of changes, will have to get used to a new partner. The company contacts Moha, a Moroccan professional, for a week’s trial. From the first moment, Valero will reject it and try to ignore it.

Ballús’ new film combines the methodology of the creative documentary with the forms of narrative comedy. The director worked with some person-characters, non-professional actors who are plumbers on and off the screens, and was fed by their real experiences, which she modeled through the tools of fiction. The result conveys an unusual authenticity that befits the director’s intentions. “I wanted to get closer to the cinema of the real and the committed from the comedy, which is something that I had not seen much and that seemed a challenge in itself,” he explains. Its author affirms that he has not found references that would facilitate the challenge of finding a balance between the different aspects of the project through montage: “There were seventy hours of material that could take the form of a very dramatic and tearful social cinema or a perhaps too light comedy, which could be more documentary and less narrative or go more towards fiction “.

In the process, the filmmaker unsuccessfully sought sources of inspiration in classic film comedy, which she considers to be largely based on the wit of dialogue. “Those works were based on a very good script writing and a very good interpretation of the actors. I did not count on that, so we could not aspire to build that comic music,” he explains. So Ballús approached the cinematic humor of silent movies. “I took advantage of what I could from there,” he says. This distancing from the more commercial models implies an added difficulty when obtaining financing. “It is not easy at all to get a budget for these projects, especially if there are no well-known names in front of the camera, but I like to try to convince, to work with producers who believe that the things we deal with in film and television can be shaken up. how we treat them, “he explains.

As in his short films, Ballús has started from close, familiar memory. His mother’s partner is a plumber and the filmmaker lived with him since he was twelve years old: “I remember a lot the time of high school, when we ate together and he explained his experiences with classism, how clients often made him feel dirty, or bad treated or little recognized “. Working in this field allowed him to do what he had in mind: a film about the world of work that involved him exploring something that was close to him, and that allowed him to do “a lot of field work, which is what I enjoy the most.”

Six running days aspires to connect with varied and broad viewers, but this is not a proposal that mimics the codes of populist humor that can usually be found in multiplex cinemas. The effort may have something paradoxical: Ballús represents the working class on the screen, but tries to keep his distance from the type of humor that is common in comedies that try to seduce this audience. The director says she doubted whether the film was going to connect with the audience. In this sense, he explains that the first screening in Locarno was a great liberation: “I saw that people laughed from the first scene, despite the methodological risk we had taken”. “I am very happy, because I think Six running days It is different and at the same time it is very accessible. And maybe it shows that you can connect with the public through something that you have not manufactured based on a standard, that the public is prepared to see different things, “he remarks.

Even in a very hectic scene, where an explosive discussion between Moha and Valero coincides with the comical misalignments of an automated home that seems to be out of This house is a ruin, Ballús is committed to maintaining a certain distance. The humorous escalation that stimulates laughter is not sought, but parentheses are incorporated and some of the most intense moments are expelled out of the frame. “I like that the viewer cannot be everywhere. And I don’t think it is necessary to show the viscera of conflicts,” he says. The director explains that she works “from a certain restraint. It is as if I like to keep a part of the intimacy of the characters, even if they are semi-fictional.”

Music is one of the elements that show the particular tone of the proposal. René-Marc Bini’s compositions establish a somewhat vague comic tone, without the marked humorous component that would push the images towards farce or vaudeville. And they convey a certain ductility: there is also room for the dramatic or the introspective. Ballús reveals that the soundtrack was “one of the most important guides to find the tone during the editing process, to achieve that middle ground between an apparent lightness and forays into the drama of the characters, incorporating a certain pathos that can remember the characters of Charles Chaplin and from slapstick“. The director of The plague He explains that Bini provided them with the main theme already during filming and that they edited the film “with material from other themes, even if they were not the definitive versions.”

Ballús explains that Six running days it is a work about coexistence. His character comedy seeks an empathy and an identification towards the characters somewhat differentiated, by less obvious and more conflictive, from the logic of the markedly positive and markedly negative figures that abound in genre cinema. In this regard, the approach to Valero’s character has been difficult. “Although Valero and company are a version of themselves, although they have gone from people to characters in the process of making the film, it was clear to me that it was only necessary to simplify up to a certain point and that we had to attend to the grays. At the end of the day They are real individuals that I really appreciate and with whom I have spent six years, “he explains.

Valero is portrayed as someone who is judgmental, with an often sour and offensive sense of humor, but he is not defined as a very villain who makes us feel like good people by contrast. The unqualified condemnation of his closedness would perhaps be more comfortable to contemplate. Instead, Ballús has proposed to make the audience a little uncomfortable: “That the viewer laughs with him when he says atrocities can make it easier for us to check ourselves.” In parallel, there is an exploration in the character. “I work on the idea that it is difficult to accept the other if you do not accept yourself. After seeing how Valero was able to accept Moha after accepting his own insecurities, I think that within the prejudices perhaps there is a personal dissatisfaction, a fear And that is something that whoever has the problem would have to manage “, considers the author.

The long gestation of the project implies that Six running days was devised before the rise of the uncomplexed extreme right that Vox represents. Ballús, in any case, does not address the radical nature of hatred expressed through xenophobic or homophobic attacks, but rather more subtle intolerances. “In the management of these daily lives there can be the success or failure of how we manage the diversity of our country,” he says. His film talks about “how we relate to someone who is different from us, which is one of the central issues in the existence of conflicts. If there are conflicts, it is usually because we do not understand the other, because we do not know or do not want to see him as who he is. Really”.

As you already did through Marta’s trip, the director addresses a certain otherness again. On that occasion, he was exploring the relations between North and South in the bubble with neocolonial components of a hotel complex located in Senegal. On this occasion, it gives prominence to Moha, a man of Moroccan origin who tries to earn a living in the metropolitan area of ​​Barcelona. Ballús explains that “giving the voice to Moha is not exactly part of a political reflection, but of something very concrete. Valero spoke a lot, he did not listen to Moha. And that is revealing of how we function, because Moha is a very deep, poetic person, which has many things to say about our society. ” Along the way, the plumber turned actor has known the media attention, the care given to the guests at film festivals. “He says that thanks to the film he has been seen and heard for the first time. And it is something beautiful for me and for the process of the film, but it is also terrible because he has lived here for fifteen years,” says the filmmaker.

Marta’s trip it ended in a bittersweet way. It explained a maturing story that led to a certain disenchantment: its young protagonist assumed that, although she considered herself alien to racism or exploitation, she could not withdraw from a social fabric traversed by power relations. Six running days role-play a learning process and apologize from that eager beaver closed and judgmental, but does not seem to project banal optimism. As in the final scene of Marta’s trip, the gesture of complicity or openness between two individuals does not imply that the world and its hierarchies change. Yes, it can serve, perhaps, as one more link for a collective construction. “Somehow, Six running days it is an optimistic movie. If we can make someone like Valero change slightly, several generations have seen it change a lot. Although you have to push for it, of course, as always when you have had to win rights “, defends its director.


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