26 October 2002 | khatcher-2
Time goes by, and things change in the name of progress
This Argentinian-Spanish coproduction is interesting, to say the least, for several sociological and historical reasons, as well as the story per se.
The years roll by, and almost without noticing it, things change, the world advances, maybe it even progresses in some aspects; with the result that one finds oneself with the tables turned. Back in the 1930s and 1940s hundreds of thousands of Spanish people emigrated to the Americas above all to Argentina, Chile and Mexico. Today thousands of Subsaharans try to cross the narrow channel of water that separates the south of Spain from Africa. Today many Argentinians wish they were living somewhere else: the country is bankrupt.
Over 40.000 Riojans emigrated to Argentina and Chile and this is one of the smallest provinces in Spain, with barely a quarter of a million inhabitants. Today, in the villages high up in the Sierras, I sometimes see these people, returning to their birth-town for one last look before they die. Their eyes glisten with saddening nostalgia as they remember this or that, and who went to Barcelona or Madrid, and whose grandchildren are now herding cows and pasturing sheep; or they see the ruins of what had been a proud stone-built house belonging to a family who dispersed to different far-flung corners of the planet, such that today it does not belong to anyone. Big bare beams hang out ghost-like defying gravity; the floors have long since fallen into a pile of rubble overgrown with thistles and brambles
Such is the scene for this film: now old, he returns to his birthtown, called `Higueras' (Fig-trees) in the film, but is in fact the town of Riaño high up in the Sierras of León. This town was to be (and now is) flooded by the gigantic new reservoir.
Federico Luppi plays his part of the old man with his usual noble style, sharing those nostalgic memories with the townspeople now preparing to leave. As one elderly neighbour exclaims: `what can you do in Madrid with 80,000 pesetas (less than $500)?' The new reservoir may represent progress for some, but there are other kinds of impacts to be taken into account.
This film explores a few of these problems rather well, and thus makes it an interesting film for the viewer who is able to discern the necessary historical background, as well as the evident sociological feelings, expressed in crude rural language. From my own knowledge I can name more than 20 villages which have disappeared under the waters of progress, about 8 of them alone in this province of northern Spain. Try to see Federico Luppi in `Martin (Hache)' (qv). An exceptional film.