An out-of-nowhere docu gem chronicling the civil disobedience of a group of unemployed men in Madrid in 2001, “The Iguazu Effect” is a Spanish incursion into an underside of contempo politics that rarely makes it to either screen or tube domestically. Thought-provoking and with moments of emotional clout, this first cinema outing by tube helmer Pere Joan Ventura is wholly left-wing partisan, but its idealism, and the commitment and passion of its characters to their ultimately doomed cause, generate an unexpectedly feel-good experience. Result could turn up in politically themed fest sidebars.
After 1,800 telecommunications workers, many of them middle-aged, were dismissed from a major subsidiary of Telefonica, Spain’s state-run telco, the newly unemployed decided to set up a makeshift protest camp in the middle of Madrid’s main thoroughfare, on the edge of the city’s financial district. The “Camp of Hope” lasted for 187 days and became a feature of the local landscape.
Pic is a record of that period. Starting with protest marches and personal testimonies, it goes on to focus on the rites and rituals of the camp itself as it slowly becomes a community. Early morning scenes in the market, and latenight scenes showing the men scavenging for discarded beds and mattresses provide a sense of old-style workers’ solidarity — heroic if deluded — which characterizes the worldview of the various interviewees. One scene featuring a worker trying to videotape another drinking a beaker of water is one of the funniest in recent Spanish cinema.
The camp is visited by Portuguese Nobel Literature Prize winner Jose Saramago, and various musicians: Saramago tellingly terms it a “refugee camp.” A group takes a long bus ride to Genoa, Italy, to participate in the anti-globalization protests at the 2001 G8 summit. The good humor, straightforwardness and dignity of the men dictate the feel of pic, though the infighting which must have existed between them is masked, and any corporate perspective on their predicament is not supplied. Later scenes, leading up to the uneasy deal struck with the government, focus on the increasing weariness of the project: the men come from all over Spain, and the women and children who have stayed at home are given their due in an emotionally potent couple of scenes.
Title refers to an elaborate metaphor used by Adolfo Jimenez, the worker’s representative and pic’s central figure. He compares the deceptive feeling of calm you feel in your boat as you unknowingly approach a waterfall (specifically the Iguazu falls in Argentina) with the false sense of security felt by many in employment nowadays. His metaphor renders a universality to pic’s anti-privatization message.
Pic is shot in a variety of formats with no voiceover commentary. Gently lyrical piano score by Angel Munoz provides an appropriately melancholy undertone.