Reality at the Back of the Neck

in 10th Sevilla European Film Festival

by Covadonga de la Cuesta G

Within the current Spanish cinematography, The Sad Smell of Flesh (El triste olor de la carne, 2013) joins other examples that combine auto production and a thematic commitment to the reality of a country in crisis. The urgency contained in a portrait of the present and the necessity of denunciating and meditating through images activates non-official funding channels in a time of economic paralysis. In this case, Chilean Cristóbal Arteaga Rozas drives this project together with a hundred collaborators, venturing into a strenuous shooting through the streets of Vigo, a Galician town historically linked to the Spanish labor movement.

The film bets on the following of the main character through a sequence shot that lasts 87 minutes, the entire footage of the film. The camera is attached to the back of the neck and face of the leading actor, Alfredo Rodríguez (a true discovery), who plays Alfredo Barrera, a husband and father whose labor and material stability is going adrift. He resists and tries to stay afloat while he holds onto pawning objects and his successive lies in order to maintain his ghostly status on which he laid the foundation of his life and that of his family. These are the last death rattles of a decaying system.

The filmic device keeps us glued to the character’s body and face and enabling both a disruptive and a deeply uncomfortable empathy effect and an effective one at the same time. Enclosed in his private headlong rush, in a hardly perceivable environment, the frame that oppresses him is also ours, physically and psychologically, slightly reminding of Ektoras Lygizos’ way of following a young Greek’s terrible ordeal in another crisis-ridden country in Boy Eating the Bird’s Food (To agori troeti to fagito tou pouliou, 2012).

From the beginning, The Sad Smell of Flesh incorporates a tension that will last throughout its main character’s crusade, just as well in the interaction with his daughter and his wife as in his commercial exchanges with other individuals. While he tries to resist and sustain the delusion that everything is going well, the specific dynamics the money flow obstruct him and chase him. The film cleverly knows how to combine elements that are traditionally related to the documentary with other elements associated with genre films, resulting in a sort of a social thriller with a countdown. The nexus with the Spanish socioeconomic reality is expressed not only through what we see, but also through what we hear. Different car radios will send us back to some fragments of the Debate on the State of the Nation in which Mariano Rajoy participated for the first time as President of the Spanish Government. As another recent Spanish film, Luis López Carrasco’s The Future (El futuro, 2013), which also brought back another political discourse, in this case the Spanish Transition, the promises made in our recent past by Rajoy unmask their own inconsistency and incompletion in our immediate present. Chickens come home to roost.

Edited by Steven Yates