March 9, 2014
Where have all the Indignados gone?
Rather than a study in human character and individual traits, Spanish filmmaker Alex de la Iglesia’s black comedy La chispa de la vida (2011) is context-dependent — heavily so — and situation-driven. Set against the background of the socioeconomic crisis hitting Spain and Europe, La chispa de la vida, about people in the grip of unexpected events, is a step-by-step guide on how to go through unimaginable catastrophes until the storm clears.
Although perfectly consistent with De la Iglesia’s trademark humorously dark take on solemn matters, La chispa de la vida, as said before, cannot be viewed in isolation, out of context, as it is built upon the economic crisis and joblessness affecting Spain’s workforce. What this dark comedy by De la Iglesia does is provoke soulful empathy with the victims of a crackup that’s more financial than economic, as the Occupy Wall Street and the Indignados movements sought to clarify.
La chispa... premiered in Spain in November, 2011, just two months after the Indignados and Occupy Wall Street movements began, protesting, among other evils, the financial vultures’ and hedge funds’ huge profits at the expense of homeowners facing foreclosure.
The Movimiento 15M (www.movimiento15m.org) has been struggling since May, 2011, to demand an end to corruption in financial and government circles, and to enforce legal measures to protect the weakest sectors of society.
In the US, the www.occupywallst.org site, that 1 percent of unethical investors continue to steal homes and grab a bigger share than ever of the country’s economy. An example of spontaneous movements not affiliated with any political party, these movements continue to express their indignation and to push their demands forward.
However, two years after their emergence, there seems to be media numbness about this phenomenon. It may well be the case that La chispa de la vida, so close in time to the emergence of the Indignados and Occupy movements, now functions as a welcome reminder that these problems have not been reversed yet.
In La chispa..., Roberto Gómez (José Mota) is an out-of-work publicist who has been on the dole for two years. To better picture the situation, Argentine audiences, perhaps, ought to look back to 2001 and 2002, when an economic crisis of unprecedented proportions hit the country with no hope of fast recovery or amelioration.
Just like Pablo in Andrés Paternostro recent comedy La boleta, Roberto hops from job interview to job interview, CV in hand, coming home every night empty-handed and faking high spirits before wife and kids.
But there’s an unexpected plot twist in La chispa...: Roberto suffers an absurd accident at the site of a recently discovered and restored Roman circus. After a teeth-grinding stunt fighting for his life, Roberto lands in the circus arena, but he is not home and dry, not exactly.
Roberto lands on his back in a piece, but an iron rod is stuck in his head. As the culture authorities find themselves unable to inaugurate the restored Roman circus (which would have served their political plans to perfection), Roberto engineers a scheme to make the best out of this life-threatening situation.
Just as any good publicist would do, Roberto engages the services of an agent to strike a lucrative deal with a TV network for a live broadcast of his crucifixion and last words before ascending to Heaven. Roberto’s fatal head wound has caught the world’s attention, just like the thirty-three trapped Chilean miners had a couple of years back.
As Roberto’s agent wisely and cruelly cracks, the only problem with the Chilean miners’ case (for a profit-making opportunity, that is) was that they eventually came out alive.
Roberto (pungently performed by José Mota) is well aware that opportunity will not knock on his door twice, and that this is his one and only chance to secure financial protection for his wife (Salma Hayek) and their children, soon to go to college.
The ensuing media circus surrounding Roberto’s plight provides De la Iglesia with the kind of material he expertly translates into mordant irony and ethical dilemma. For De la Iglesia’s hordes of staunch fans, La chispa de la vida will prove intelligent, sardonic entertainment, but non advocates of his backbiting, thought-provoking humour will probably be left wanting for a more original and less moralizing finale.
La chispa de la vida / As Luck Would Have It. Spain / France / US, 2011. Written by: Randy Feldman, Alex de la Iglesia. Cinematography: Kiko de la Rica. Music: Joan Valent. With: José Mota, Salma Hayek, Blanca Portillo, Juanjo Puigcorbe, Juan Luis Gallardo, Francisco Tejero. Distributed by: Distribution Company. NC13. Running time: 98 minutes.