“Catalunya uber alles!” reps a misleading sledgehammer of a title for a three-part drama that, while undoubtedly punchy, also incorporates plenty of intelligence, wit and compassion in its examination of attitudes toward immigration. Though the pic radically simplifies the issues in its determination to get the message across, its three yarns — grim, darkly comic and thriller-like, respectively — add up to a fresh, bold view of the hypocrisy of racism. Meanwhile, the decision to center events in a Catalan town rather than going for a bigger picture keeps things intriguingly grounded in the real. Offshore arthouses beckon.
None of the characters are named in the film, the first, least successful chapter of which deals with a convict (a haunted-looking Gonzalo Cunill) welcomed home by his mother (Vicky Pena) after doing time in prison for rape. Clearly damaged — he barely utters three sentences throughout story’s course — the convict is soon victimized by locals who have already judged him, as gangs leave him offensive notes and destroy his attempts to reconcile with his ex-g.f. (Angels Bassas). Depiction of mob mentality teeters on misanthropic but cleverly implicates the judgmental tendencies of its audience, which learns as little about the protag’s real history as the townsfolk do.
The beautifully rendered second part is altogether more upbeat. An unemployed Senegalese immigrant (Babou Cham, oozing dignity and charm) finds a job as a debt collector, which in Spain involves publicly humiliating the debtor into payment. The boss (Boris Ruiz) realizes that a black man is more likely to strike fear into the hearts of local debtors, so he dresses the immigrant in local costume and, in a delicious conceit, sends him in pursuit of a local right-wing politico (Jordi Dauder), campaigning on an anti-immigration platform. Barbed laughter ensues.
Moral questions are engagingly probed in the third section, which contains enough artfully compressed material for a full-length feature. A businessman (Joel Joan) returns home with his family to find a burglar — an immigrant, whom he pursues and kills. Arrested, he quickly becomes a local hero as the media present him as the perfect family man, a perception complicated by a late revelation.
Each tale works just fine on its own, and occasional cross-cutting among the stories is merely incidental and unforced. But taken together, they yield an uncompromising vision of a society that willfully ignores prejudices toward immigrants. Some may criticize Catalan helmer Ramon Termens, however, for making such a forceful attack on his region when the uncomfortable issues he raises are universal.
Perfs are convincing across the board. Standouts include Cham, combining physical authority with fine comic skills, and Joan, although given the lack of screen time and the forward-driving script, the latter inevitably struggles to communicate the psychological nuances of someone whose life has been transformed. Apart from a few tricks in the first section, one featuring a real-time pause for the steam to fade on a bathroom mirror, lensing is unobtrusive. Music mixes traditional Catalan fare and heavy-handed rock music, using both to excess.