I am a 1997 kid and I grew up in a Spain of economic decadence, a straight-up (note the irony) down-hill Spain. The new millennium approached and within less than a decade, apartments went from somewhat affordable prices to price tags that nobody could handle. Banks gave out a lot of money and messed up a lot of people, particularly hard-working, middle-class folks. I still remember the year my sister moved to Madrid and she paid 1,000 Euros in rent for a 30 square meters (322 ft.) apartment. Having a teacher salary of 1,600 euros/month for a tiny apartment and using more than half of it to pay rent had become the norm in the big city. This was 2004.
Discomfort grew and we transitioned from a right-wing government to a left-wing government when I was six. I still remember the moment when socialists won the election in 2004, and my dad increased his involvement in the party. I also remember the day when he had to close his small construction company, which he had worked his way up to owning after years of being a construction worker himself. There were too many buildings, and no one to live in them. Hundreds of construction companies around the country shut down, hundreds of people were out of luck. This was 2008.
Ada Colau, Faus’ film star, had a lot more schooling than my father. Nevertheless, the two of them have something in common and that had to do with money. They were both affected by a collapsing burbuja inmobiliaria (real estate bubble in English). Whatever side of the bubble they had been in, both companies and customers alike weren’t happy. Fast-forward, mass evictions became a norm and Ada Colau, current mayor of Barcelona, became one of the leaders for the social movement emerging from such evictions– the PAH (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, or People Affected by Mortgages).
Pau tells the story of another working-class member, Ada Colau, who went from calling a representative of the Spanish Banking Association “a criminal” at a parliamentary hearing to the first female mayor of Barcelona under the merger left-wing party of En Comú Podem. As Pau would put it in his Q&A session, he “was interested in documenting how someone moves from activism to institutional politics.”
Through Catalonian independence debates mostly unmentioned in his work, Fau brings a human perspective to the life of the politician. How many times have I heard people insulting politicians? I don’t even know. As my mum used to say, “blame all these politicians now, but the one getting crazy mortgages without holding a clue of whether you’d be able to pay back were you.” Political figures come from all different socioeconomic backgrounds, and they get credited and discredited often. Fau succeeds in creating a documentary film that forgives the position of the politician and humanizes the gaze of their viewer.
Presented in a countdown narrative that unfolds in both Catalán and Spanish, Fau documents a whole year of En Comú Podem’s political campaign through the eyes of his camera and its gazes at Barcelona’s mayor.
We see Colau in campaign planning meetings, in rallies, in debates with other electoral candidates, and in her humble apartment in Barcelona. We also see her a lot in the back-room of the party’s untidy headquarters. There, Fau pulls out some black background and films Colau in some sort of video-diaries that express her concerns.
Interestingly enough, when Fau was questioned about what he asked her in those interviews, he stated that his go-to strategy was to ask, “How are you feeling today?” These video-diaries, extremely powerful because of the intimacy created, let us learn about her strengths but also about her fears. Believe it or not, she is human and is afraid of becoming a leader as she analyzes her journey and realizes that a couple of years ago, it was she who cursed institutional political powers.
Politics is a tough and over-complicated beast.
I am aware that back home people would hate on me for looking at our politicians from a forgiving point of view. “Whether they are right-wing or left-wing, they are all thieves” is the current motto in many households. That being said, I found enjoyment (as one of the only Spaniards in the room) in watching Fau’s documentary succeed in finding an empathizing eye in a profession that can bring its “professionals” as many supporters as haters.