Jose Luis Guerin :: Spain :: 2001 :: 2h05
An invitation to watch the effects of an urban renovation in Barcelona, filmed over a period of 18 months. The movie opens with an archive film of a drunken sailor waving his way through the grand city. The contrast of the grandeur of the buildings and streets with the temporary presence of the drunken sailor set the tone. We are cut to the present day working class neighbourhood of El Xino, where we see drunks, day workers, prostitutes and the general bustle of the area crowd around the destruction of a few buildings in their midst. The neighbourhood today is presented as a timeless agglomeration in which people find themselves, as the sailor, looking out at the world around them. The temporality of their stay is both one of their presence and of the mutating reality around them.
For those who have seen Still Life, with its different social strata in a mutating urban landscape, there is reason for comparison. Both tackle the same subject matter, but China is experiencing a complete reboot rather than an urban refresher. Here, the transformation is slow and presented as a normal progression of the area, even if the inhabitants know that they are slowly being moved away. We see them looking through the cracks in the wall to see the outside world. We hear the word on the street as they discuss the inevitable. The new apartments will be cleaner and better than the ones they are replacing, but they will also exceed the budgets of the current residents – the silent onslaught of gentrification.
As is often the case with renovation, when you destroy a building, and look into the gaping hole, you will find the remnants of something much older: in this case nothing less than a Roman burial. The onlookers (with even bigger shadows) are all amazed to see the skeletons found in the uncovered building pit. Archeologists are unearthing the bones, with the local TV stations broadcasting the details, the children fantasising, the old people explaining… till the subject passes and everybody watches the new buildings rise up on the bones of the old. The whole process of transformation shows the urban tissue as a living entity. The mutation of the entity holds a certain ambiguity within it – renovation is necessary and an improvement, but it always hides a tragic part as well. The day labourers, as in Still Life, will always move on.