October 25, 2020

Return to the village of childhood summers: the truths that inhabit empty Spain | Blog Doc & Roll


Trailer of ‘Plateau’.

“The peasant always lives looking at the sky” is a phrase that director Juan Palacios (Eibar, 1986) hears his grandfather say often. This is how the documentary was shot Plateau, which tries to provide “a less paternalistic view” of emptied Spain. He settled with his camera and lenses in the town of Zamora where he spent the summers of his childhood and watched life go by. He did it with part of the 20,000 euros that his first feature film, Pedalized, won as part of the Irizar Basque Film Award at the 2016 San Sebastián Film Festival. In addition to following with her the grandparents who raised him in the summer seasons, the film, which has just won the jury award at the festival Majordocs de Mallorca, records the textures of the place through other of its inhabitants.

Without being an expert on depopulation, Palacios, who has lived in Amsterdam (Netherlands) and Copenhagen (Denmark), has been able to appreciate that Spanish rural areas are especially isolated, compared to other European countries.

“My grandparents’ town is a place where I’ve had a lot of connection. Until recently, I kept that memory of childhood summers, full of people. But one of the times that I went to visit them in the fall, as an adult, I realized that this image I had was an illusion; which in winter becomes an empty and forgotten place. And that the youngest person in town was 16 years old. No one had been born there in all that time ”, recalls the filmmaker over the phone.

Once the strange filming began, the Basque accompanied his grandparents throughout the day, observed their movements and studied how to articulate their realities: “Recording, writing and riding happened almost at the same time,” he explains. From those first glances, he began to pull the thread and read literature on the subject. He has invested the last four summers of his life recording what he saw “in a very country way”. For example, two girls unsuccessfully searching for pokémons with their mobile phone, two brothers who once formed a musical duo with a certain relevance and a lot of Castilian race, and a shepherd who dreams of traveling to Titicaca.

An instant of 'Plateau'.
An instant of ‘Plateau’.

Although the term Empty spain Has monopolized many political speeches and press headlines in recent years, Palacios admits not having perceived a great change in these four summers that he has spent turning this part of Zamora on stage and protagonist of his documentary. “Perhaps it has been noticed that there are fewer people and less services and infrastructure. Or at least it is what the people there have commented in this time ”, he assures. “But it is true that the temptation to romanticize the rural world is great and it was also difficult to avoid in the film that nostalgic vision of a past time that will not return.”

Another question that the director also raises with Plateau is how the population will return to the towns, if that happens: “It is curious that the Internet is the tool that can help us to reconnect with the land and recover the wisdom of the countryside.”

In passing, some traditional masquerades appear, like those that the photographer Cristina García Rodero portrayed in Hidden Spain, a book published by the Lunwerg publishing house in 1989 that consecrated the career of its author. But the will of Plateau it is more observational than didactic, so the enormous tradition that those masks contain remains a brushstroke loaded with meaning. “The more I shot, the less data and more sensations I wanted to include in the film; and I tried to connect more through images than words, ”says Palacios.

For his third feature-length documentary, this time he will accompany the few inhabitants of one of the islets in the Wadden Sea, close to the Dutch, Danish and German coasts. “It is a group of people who live permanently with the threat that a storm will wash away their island. That storm on the horizon, rather speculative because no one knows if it will really come, connects with the reality of many current viewers ”, the director advances. It will be another way of analyzing what it means to be suspended in time.

The youngest protagonists of the documentary, between virgins and pokémons.
The youngest protagonists of the documentary, between virgins and pokémons.

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