An intriguing docu about the intense history of a working-class barrio in the south of Madrid, "Night Flowers" is a fine study of both a particular community and the wider history of which it's a part.

An intriguing docu about the intense history of a working-class barrio in the south of Madrid, “Night Flowers” is a fine study of both a particular community and the wider history of which it’s a part. Populated with remarkable characters and penetrating anecdotes, the doc reps a valuable addition to postwar Spanish oral history, faltering only over its final half-hour as it falls victim its own utopian rhetoric. Showings in political sidebars are the natural home for a project that has plenty to say about how to build successful communities.

Docu is presented as part of a wider project to be carried out by school kids to restore dignity and cultural awareness to the neighborhood of El Pozo de Tio Raimundo (Uncle Raymond’s Well), which for years was a byword in Madrid for criminality.

The research looks exemplary, generating a collage of old photographs, interview recollections and the views of academics. Scenes of collective debate, apparently part-scripted, lend a Ken Loach-like drama to several scenes as the concerned citizens of El Pozo debate how to make it a better place.

The story of the town’s oddball name is examined, before we move to the immigration years, where mechanization in rural, eastern Spain in the ’50s led many to build new lives — and homes — in the big city. One woman remembers arriving holding nothing more than “a basket and a child.”

Scenes from Vittorio De Sica’s “The Roof” suggest something of what illegally building the village was like.

Much of docu focuses on the unique figure of Padre Llanos, a priest and former spiritual adviser to Franco who threw in his lot with the dictator and went to live with the poor of El Pozo, transforming the place like a Catholic Robin Hood. His rebellious spirit presides over the neighborhood to this day.

Ultimately a political item that’s proud to beat the socialist drum, “Night Flowers” states unequivocally that the criminality into which the barrio fell in the 1980s was the byproduct of poverty and governmental abandonment. The docu falters somewhat when dealing with the present, with the concluding scenes an over-the-top celebration of solidarity.

But, the current dislike of today’s wave of Ecuadorian immigrants shows how quickly El Pozo has forgotten it was itself founded by immigrants.

Night Flowers

Spain

Production

An Atalanta production with the participation of TVE. (International sales: Atalanta, Madrid.) Produced by Elena Revilla, Cecilia Maric, Esperanza Nicolas. Executive producer, Pablo Blanco. Directed, written by Juan Vicente Cordoba.

Crew

Camera (color), Tito Carlon, Joaquin Manchado, Mario Blanco; editor, Pablo Blanco; music, Mario De Benito; sound (Dolby Digital), Alvaro Silva, Lucia Loiseau, Juan Carlos Cid, James Munoz, Jaime Fernandez Sanchez. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (Zabaltegi Specials), Sept. 24, 2008. Running time: 120 MIN.
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