As I’ve already mentioned elsewhere on this blog (see here and here), part of my PhD thesis focuses on the representation of immigrants and immigration in contemporary Spanish cinema. A crucial counterpoint to this figure is the Spanish exile or emigrant, a figure relatively neglected in contemporary scholarship on Spanish migratory cinema. In this context, Spanish exiles and emigrants are of both historical and contemporary relevance. As an example, Biutiful(Iñárritu, 2010), which I analyse in my thesis, juxtaposes the Spaniard exiled from Francoist Spain with contemporary immigrants.[i] The father of protagonist Uxbal, who appears as a ghost in the film, indexes historical patterns of migration that predate Spain’s contemporary status as a host country. Such patterns are often overlooked in discussions of the contemporary phenomenon of immigration to Spain.
While Biutiful proffers a somewhat gritty portrait of the harsh realities of immigration, emigration and exile, the subject of this post – Un franco, 14 pesetas (Iglesias, 2006) – provides a more light-hearted depiction of these issues. Unlike Biutiful, which straddles two temporal moments, Un franco, 14 pesetas focuses solely on Spanish emigrants in the context of Francoist Spain. The film is one of several in director Iglesias’ filmography that deals with the theme of emigration from Francoist Spain: Ispansi (2010) is set during the Second World War and concerns the transportation of Spaniards out of Spain at this time, while 2 francos, 40 pesetas (2014) is the sequel to Un franco, 14 pesetas.
Set in Madrid in 1960, Un franco, 14 pesetas narrates the story of Martín, a middle-aged Spaniard living in his parents’ basement with his wife Pilar and their son Pablo. Surplus to requirements at his place of work, Martín loses his job. When Martín’s friend Marcos suggests they emigrate to Switzerland in search of work, Pilar – who is desperate for her family to have a home of their own – encourages him to do so. The film recounts the trials and tribulations of Martín and Marcos as they travel to Switzerland in search of a better future for them and their families. Focused on the bromance between Martín and Marcos, Un franco, 14 pesetas is thus a road movie of sorts, set in the historical context of Spanish emigration.
While Un franco, 14 pesetas is not without its problems – it is, at least in some ways, akin to the nostalgic revisioning of the past as seen in films such as Belle époque and La lengua de las mariposas – the visual vocabulary deployed in the film resonates not only with other Spanish films that deal with immigration, emigration and exile, but, also beyond the Spanish context, with diasporic or ‘accented’ cinema, to use Hamid Naficy’s term, and with the Hollywood road movie. The most obvious motif in this regard is vehicles and transportation. For Naficy, the vehicle constitutes one of several ‘important transitional and transnational places and spaces’ in accented works.[ii] He considers vehicles ‘privileged sites’ in terms of ‘journeys of and struggles over identity’, given that makers of accented cinema ‘engage in many deterritorializing and reterritorializing journeys […] including home-seeking journeys, journeys of homelessness, and homecoming journeys’.[iii]
In Un franco, 14 pesetas, the protagonists travel by train from Spain to Switzerland. A frantic sequence on the platform of the railway station shows the emotional farewells of Martín and Marcos to their respective loved ones, before the film depicts in considerable detail their transit across Europe. They are shown sleeping in their compartment alongside several other men when officials enter and demand identification from all the passengers (Figure 1). Martín is depicted contemplating the passing landscape from the window of the train (Figure 2). They are shown befriending another Spaniard who shares his chorizo with them (Figure 3). The use of dissolves to transition between images (Figure 4) echoes both the passing of time and the passing landscapes, visible from the train carriage window.
The aforementioned bromance between Martín and Marcos is another trope that links Un franco, 14 pesetas to cinematic works of migration, movement and mobility. Indeed, the film resonates, in some ways, with the Hollywood road movie, so many of which are, as Julian Stringer observes, ‘same-sex buddy films’.[iv] Having arrived in Switzerland, Martín and Marcos initially share a hotel room. The film emphasises their blossoming bromance by frequently depicting them in their adjoining beds (Figure 5). At one point, they even snuggle closer together so as to keep warm in Switzerland’s frosty climate, to which they are unaccustomed (Figure 6). When Marcos is invited to spend Christmas with one of the Swiss girls they have befriended, leaving Martín alone, their reunion is depicted as a pseudo-romantic encounter. Marcos hurls snowballs at the window of Martín’s hotel room, leading to the resolution of their earlier conflict. Reminiscent of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, Martín appears at the window (Figure 7), addressed by Marcos below (Figure 8), as the pair resolve their differences.
The window constitutes a key visual motif in Un franco, 14 pesetas. The characters are frequently framed by windows within the filmic frame, as in Figures 2 and 7 above. This gesture carries several symbolic resonances. While many of Naficy’s examples describe scenes that feature windows, he does not expand upon the potential symbolic significance of this icon.[v] Here, the window functions as a reminder of these characters’ liminality, evidencing their status as outsiders looking in on a society of which they are, at least initially, not a part. This sentiment applies not just to their status in Swiss society but also in Spanish society upon their return to Madrid, a sentiment echoed by Marcos’ wife Maricarmen who declares, towards the end of the film, that ‘Ya no somos de ninguna parte’ (‘We are now from nowhere’).
The window as a visual symbol is something I’m only just beginning to think through in my research. Having recently completed my doctoral thesis, I am beginning to work on a post-doctoral project that examines the concepts of (in)visibility and (dis)location in visual representations of Ceuta, Melilla and Gibraltar. In the very early research I’ve conducted for this project, I’ve noticed that the symbol of the window is visually significant within these contentious border sites, a figure for the physical flimsiness of the border and a counterpoint to the lack of transparency at work within such liminal border spaces. A case in point is the Telecinco television series El Príncipe (Figure 9). Any thoughts on this would be very much appreciated, so please feel free to comment below.
To conclude, while Un franco, 14 pesetas is perhaps not the most imaginative or visually striking depiction of Spanish emigration, the film engages with other works pertinent to this topic through its network of visual symbols, such as train travel and windows, as well as through narrative tropes, such as the bromance or buddy relationship often at the core of the road movie. I hope to post on Iglesias’ other works in the near future as his work is exemplary of the cinematic swing towards migratory patterns away from Spain. While immigration from other countries to Spain represents one of the most dominant political themes of Spanish cinematic production from the 1990s until the early 2010s, the current economic crisis and its provocation of a shift in migratory patterns have diminished the prevalence and significance of this topic in the context of the most contemporary releases of Spanish cinema. A quick glance at the subject matter of recent works reveals that Spanish cinema is turning its attention to another crucial migratory flow relevant to contemporary Spain: the rising number of individuals leaving Spain, whether these are immigrants returning home due to the lack of opportunities resulting from the aforementioned economic crisis, or Spanish professionals unable to find employment in their own country. This trend is inspiring filmmakers across diverse genres. Recent releases include: Perdiendo el norte (Velilla, 2015), a comedy which focuses on two young men with degrees who cannot find work in Spain and so emigrate to Germany; En tierra extraña (Bollaín, 2014), a documentary which follows young Spaniards abroad in search of a better future and El rayo (Araújo, 2013), a road movie which follows Hassan, a Moroccan immigrant who, unable to find work, decides to return home after thirteen years in Spain. What this emerging cinematic trend reveals is the need for further examination of the migratory dynamics explored in contemporary cultural production in Spain, an example of which is Iglesias’ filmography.
[i]Biutiful also engages with the dynamics of internal migration. Protagonist Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is a xarnego/charnego, a term used in Catalonia to refer to migrants from other areas of Spain. Director Iñárritu discusses this aspect of the film in the notes accompanying the film at the Cannes Film Festival, available here.
[ii] Naficy, Hamid. An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001, 4-5.
[iii] Naficy, Hamid. An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001, 5-6.
[iv] Stringer, Julian. “Exposing Intimacy in Russ Meyer’s Motorpsycho! and Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” The Road Movie Book. Eds. Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark. London; New York: Routledge, 1997. 165-178, 172.
[v] Naficy, Hamid. An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001, 48, 116, 144, 165, 177, 180, 198, 203, 231, 235.
Based on the real life story of writer/director and star Carlos Iglesias, Un Franco, 14 Pesetas lifts the lid on migrant workers, fleeing Franco's Spain for a better life in Switzerland in the 1960s, which has a resonance in the Europe of today.
Iglesias plays Martin a downtrodden Madrilleno, whose marriage to Pilar (Nieve de Medina) is solid but grim as they, along with their son Pablo (Ivan Martin) eke out an existence in a basement room at his parents'. Pilar is a feisty femme and, in a bid to escape the inlaws, saves up enough cash to put a deposit down on a house, only to lose the lot when Martin loses his job.
Martin, like many of his countrymen decides the only answer is to head north to Switzerland, where, though the streets aren't paved with gold, they are pretty close to it, in that a franc is equal to 14 pesetas. He and his pal Marcos (Javier Guitterez) are soon on the train, ready to pose as tourists to enter Switzerland, since they don't have work visas.
Once in, the film takes proceeds with a gentle charm as the emphasis falls on 'strangers in a strange land' comedy, which sees scruffy wideboy Marcos and dapper gent Martin find a room at an inn in a picture postcard village and work at the local factory. The inn's proprieter is, naturally, a buxom blonde - Hannah (Isabel Blanco) - but just as liaisons between she and he look as though they may become dangerous, Pilar and Pablo turn up.
This sounds like an awful lot of plot but, in fact, there's plenty more to come as the family try to adapt to their new life. Cleverly the German-speaking Swiss aren't subtitled initially, leading to us sharing the migrants' perspective and confusion.
Although, occasionally resorting to stereotypes and cliche to find a laugh, by and large Iglesias script is intelligent and witty. He isn't afraid of the downbeat - and has a very serious point to make about the nature of migration and life in Spain in the Sixties, which has implications today. The Spain of today is a far cry from the Franco era and is now on the receiving end of migrant workers from elsewhere. This tale that shows the difficult choices these workers face and invites us to understand and respect them.Reviewed on: 18 Mar 2007