9 September 2019 | hof-4
A realistic view of the working class
The title "Os Fenómenos" (The Phenomenals or The Aces) refers humorously to a crew of construction workers in Galicia, a region in northwest Spain. They work for an unscrupulous construction company that builds blocks of flats centering on profit and skimping on quality. The company also skirts labor laws by paying its workers under the table. In spite of the exploitative conditions, some in the crew have managed to save enough money to aspire to better things such as owning their own living quarters.
Neneta, a mother that has just separated from her companion Lobo, is looking for ways to survive. She lives in a trailer and moves near her mother so that she can take care of the baby. For lack of other opportunities, she becomes part of The Aces, the only woman in the group. Hers is a "man's job," so she faces surprise (and some harassment) but she is soon accepted.
All of this ends with the bursting of the housing bubble in 2008 that slows construction to a crawl with dire consequence for workers, in particular for The Aces.
This movie brings to mind the best work of the Ken Loach or the Dardenne brothers (not that there is any attempt at imitation). Its view of the working class is realistic and unsentimental. It does not romanticize or judge the characters; their flaws and virtues are in view. Neneta's determination to provide for her baby and improve her living conditions endears her to the viewer, but she is also capable of being irresponsible and manipulative. We learn enough about each member of The Aces to give them individual relief as human beings and we are thrown intriguing hints; for instance, Neneta seems to be more educated that she lets on.
Script by director Alfonso Zarauza and Jaione Camborda is witty and brisk, and has been skillfully put on screen by Zarauza. Lola Dueñas and Luis Tosar play Neneta and Lobo to perfection, and acting is excellent all around. Cinematography by Alberto Díaz captures the cloudy, melancholic wintry Galician landscapes with the typical rias (vast indentations of the coast caused by ancient flooding of river valleys) in the background. A movie worth watching.