This section puts two autofictional films
about the current Iberian crisis into conversation: the long feature Mercado de futuros
(Futures Market) and the short film Vidros partidos
: Testes para um filme em Portugal (Broken Windows: Tests for a Film in Portugal) by Spanish directors Mercedes Álvarez and Víctor Erice, respectively.Footnote 5 Álvarez and Erice join a wide range of directors new and old who have explored the crisis in their cinema, including Isaki Lacuesta in Los pasos dobles
(The Double Steps) and El cuaderno de barro (The Clay Diaries) (2011), Sergio Oksman in A Story for the Modlins (2012), José Luis Guerín in En construcción (Under Construction) (2002), and Joaquim Jordà’s entire oeuvre. These filmmakers have experimented at the margins of the Spanish documentary film industry by openly intruding on their object of cinematic inquiry, proposing a self-reflective form of cinema, and showing a careful authorial preoccupation with the aesthetic component of their artistic work. Through the medium of autofictional cinema, presenting their work simultaneously as documentaries and fiction films, these directors break with the illusion that presupposes an unproblematized relation between the visual trace and its origin, personal memory and its referent, what is presented as real and reality itself.
The title Vidros partidos
, or “broken windows,” alludes to the name used by the current residents of Guimarães, in Northern Portugal, to refer to the Vizela River Factory. When it opened its doors in 1845, the factory brought electricity and trains to the region. Half a century later, at the time when Louis and Auguste Lumière in France made the first short motion picture, it had become the second-largest textile manufacturing company in Europe. With their memorable, silent black-and-white documentary, La Sortie de l’usine à Lyon (Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory) (1895), the Lumière brothers had filmed a group of workers leaving their place of work. When making his documentary in a twenty-first-century context, Erice asked a group of men and women to reoccupy the empty canteen of the Vizela Factory.Footnote 6 Erice’s documentary is best described as a participatory autofiction: it takes the form of a visual archive of staged testimonies given by former workers who have remained unemployed during the financial crisis. From its subtitle, Testes para um filme em Portugal
, the film presents itself as an unfinished work, a series of screen tests for a documentary to come. As they pose in front of the camera, the newly converted nonprofessional actors attest to the end of their working lives: “I’d like to work again … They told me I was too old. I’m 56 years old, and it’s all over for me” (1:00:38–53). On the canteen wall hangs a large group portrait in which we see hundreds of people who worked at the factory at the end of the nineteenth century (Fig. 12.2).
The men and women from Vidros partidos
look at the large black
photograph, which was taken in the very location where they are being filmed. They perceive it as an archived trace of a world that no longer exists: “I find it difficult to look at these people … I can’t recognize anyone”; “These people trouble me. They’re looking at us, and it seems like they want to tell us something. But I’m not sure what it is. I don’t know. I don’t know” (1:09:40–59, 1:12:10–34). Mercado de futuros
proposes a similar discourse of memory about a more recent past. Álvarez’s voice-over warns us, at the beginning of the film, that “one day all the newspapers began to speak of a great financial crisis […], they would try to explain the path that had led us here. But the path had disappeared” (1:27:09–1:28:24, our emphasis). Through documentary cinema, a cinematic genre that is conventionally associated with the ideas of evidence and truth, Álvarez and Erice illuminate the impossibility of archiving definite origins, be it the origins of capitalism as it was lived by the old working class or the origins of the current financial crisis.
The contemporary subjects of Vidros partidos
do not only tell us about their relationship with the past. By describing their new relation to the future, they also reveal their connection to a present of crisis: “The factory closed, like many others. That’s why the generations of workers from here feel lost now. What are they going to do? Where will they go? Most of them don’t know”; “Things are different today … [In the past, factory workers] had their own ideals, and they also had some hope for the future” (Erice 2013b
, 1:02:28–48, 1:11:20–35, our emphasis). Mercado de futuros
and Vidros partidos
are symptomatic of the prolonged and widespread sentiment of social indeterminacy evoked by the former workers of the Vizela Factory, a sentiment which has grown in the Iberian Peninsula since 2008. In the autofictional cinema they propose, Álvarez and Erice reflect upon the ongoing crisis which at times they document openly through the lens of fiction. Additionally, by virtue of the transgeneric mode of filmmaking they adopt, their films also formally reflect the sense of ambiguity that orients the social imaginaries of that crisis.
In both documentaries, the urge for temporal anchoring is inseparable from another pressing need, that of spatial anchoring. In Mercado de futuros
, the discourse on the loss and malleability of memory in the voice-over contrasts with footage which documents the drastic transformation of Barcelona’s landscape during the period of the real estate bubble that preceded the 2008 economic crisis in Spain. Many indoor scenes are shot in undistinctive “non-places,” that is, spaces which “cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity” (Augé 1995, 77). The scenes shot in malls and international real estate fairs held in Barcelona before the financial crash are markedly ambiguous, insofar as the spectator cannot tell whether these are, or are not, the result of intended performances. By repeatedly showing what Sophie Mayer (2012) has described as “elaborate, life-size promotional photographic backdrops and light-up architectural models [that] implicitly indict mainstream cinema,” Álvarez highlights the creative artificiality, and consequently the inevitable fictionality, of documentary cinema.
In his introduction to Vidros partidos
at Madrid’s Cineteca, Erice
(2013a) recalls that documentary cinema is indeed constituted through fiction, not only because the real must be altered at times in order to be more accurately documented, as has been the case from the very origins of documentary film,Footnote 7 but also because the filmmaker’s gaze is embedded in every film, albeit visible to varying degrees. Throughout Mercado de futuros
, the voice-over adopts an intimate, and at times nostalgic, tone which persistently reminds the spectator that the documentary is itself a subjective cinematic construct. In Vidros partidos
, conversely, the worldview proposed by the filmmaker rests on an equally subjective work of scriptwriting, but one that is collective. After conducting a long series of interviews with former workers of the Vizela Factory, Erice interwove their personal testimonies into the film script. In the second phase, the acting crew—nine people chosen from the larger group of interviewees—collaborated with the director in a process of collective script rewriting (Erice
2013a). Erice asked each of them, and one professional actor who joined the crew, to pose in front of the camera as if reciting a part for a screen test. One by one, each subject in this participatory autofiction directs their gaze toward the director positioned behind the camera, whose ghostly figure thus also infiltrates the film.
Unlike mainstream fiction films, Vidros partidos
and Mercado de futuros
treat the real not as an effect to be produced for entertainment but as a territory filled with obscure traces to be explored.Footnote 8 As cinematic autofictions, Vidros partidos
and Mercado de futuros
are clearly distinct from contemporary comedies and dramas that make the Spanish crisis their principal focus, such as Alejandro Marzoa’s Somos gente honrada (We’re Honest People) (2013) and Pedro Almodóvar Los amantes pasajeros
(I’m So Excited) (2013). They also distinguish themselves from the Spanish new wave of overtly political documentaries, like Basilio Martín Patino’s Libre te quiero (Free is How We Love You) (2012) and Stéphane Grueso’s 15M: Excelente. Revulsivo. Importante (15M: Excellent. A Wake-Up Call. Important) (2012), among many others. Yet, while the autofictional films generated by Álvarez and Erice do not seek to transmit an openly political message, they become political in an oblique fashion as they document, and at times propose, alternative orders of memory that are intrinsically linked to transgressive uses of space.
Notably, in Mercado de futuros
, a series of scenes serve to record and make visible symbolical practices, tactics by which citizens momentarily occupy public spaces and thereby create memories of, and for, their city, Barcelona. For instance, we see lively interactions in Barcelona’s Els Encants street market (today relocated to a modern shopping mall), a man taking care of a community garden beneath a noisy highway, or a group of people doing parkour surrounded by graffiti art (Álvarez 2005
, 00:39:16–47:45, 1:02:48–1:07:34, 1:27:09–28:24). These outdoor scenes serve to document what Michel De Certeau (1988, 41) famously described as “an art of the weak, […] a proliferation of aleatory and indeterminable manipulations within an immense framework of socioeconomic constraints and securities: myriads of almost invisible movements, playing on the more and more refined texture of a place that is even, continuous, and constitutes a proper place for all people.” In contrast to other scenes shot in “non-places,” these images interrupt the visual succession of nonspecific spaces (such as newly constructed malls or international real estate fairs), which contribute to the global homogenization of the urban landscape, and the growing assumption that its cultural memory is in decline. In Vidros partidos
, in turn, the reoccupation of space by former workers of the Vizela Factory was carefully planned and set up in order to be documented. The script incorporated the former workers’ personal testimonies and was later submitted to them for revision and approval. Each of the nonprofessional actors did not necessarily recite what would have been their own “real-life” part. This participatory autofiction should be understood, therefore, as the enactment and recording of the creative process by which collective memory was reconstructed for the unemployed community of the Vizela Factory. Additionally, Vidros partidos
includes a performance by a professional actor, Valdemar Santos. After claiming to know by heart every one of the parts that he has played throughout his career, Santos explains his choice to recite a fragment from O Capital (1896), by the Portuguese socialistSeeAlsoSeeAlsoCapitalism; Working class playwright António Ernesto da Silva:
Memory! You want to know if I have a memory. Of course, I do! Because an actor without memory is nothing (….). And I’m an actor. A real actor. I certainly do have a memory. What I don’t have is a job! But I remember every part that I’ve played in my life. Every one. From the first to the last. I was Carlos Marques in O Capital, by the great Ernesto da Silva! I see you don’t know what I am talking about. You! You’re the ones who have no memories. (1:12:50–13:57)
It was the first socialist known to have defended the potential use of theater as a pedagogical tool, Luís de Figueiredo, who asked Ernesto da Silva to write a play to be performed on May 1, 1895, O Capital.Footnote 9 In Erice’s Vidros partidos
, a film where “nothing was left to improvisation,” as María Filomena Molder (2017, 247) has rightly noted, the reference to O Capital serves as a reminder of a forgotten tradition of European workers who used to perform socialist plays in factories and theaters as a way of vindicating their working rights. As Beatriz Peralta García recalls (2011, 37–45), while for Marx, art, including theater, was an instrument of analysis among many others, this was far from being the case in the Portuguese socialist circles at the end of the nineteenth century. Today, through a form of participatory autofictional cinema which is generated collectively, in times of crisis, the unemployed assert their right to be visible. Ultimately, Santos’s final performance reminds the audience that we are the ones prone to forgetting them. By physically re-occupying the empty space of the factory, sharing their stories with each other and with the viewer, and becoming the actors and thus the agents of this cinematic autofiction, the former workers of the Vizela Factory create a new symbolic space of collaboratively constructed memories.
Víctor Erice’s Vidros partidos
and Mercedes Álvarez’s Mercado de futuros
go beyond lamentations over the loss of memory or the impossibility of determining absolute origins. By displaying their own fictionality at multiple levels, and becoming self-reflective archives of constructed memories, these two documentaries about the crisis counteract the proliferation of “new fictions of globalization” (Morán Rodríguez and Gómez Trueba 2017, 22) whose covert intent lies in the manipulation of beliefs, opinions, social attitudes, and emotions. The full force of the lyrical yet political cinema produced by Álvarez and Erice lies ultimately in the original modes of artistic and social resistance that both autofictions document, and at times enact, within the context of the ongoing Iberian financial crisis.