Focus on La Plaga (The Plague)

Focus on La Plaga

The first feature film from Spanish director Neus Ballús, The Plague, world-premiered in the Forum section of the Berlinale. A hybrid of documentary and fiction, the film combines the stories of five individuals into an admirably coherent whole.

Ballús chose five people living on the outskirts of Barcelona and spent four years working with them and writing the script, in which the protagonists play themselves. The film starts with Iurie, a Moldovan wrestler who is taking on any odd job to make a living. One of the jobs is helping Raül, a farmer whose crops are hit by an insect plague. Another farmer, 88-year old Rosa, cannot live alone any longer because of serious respiratory problems, so she ends up in a home for old people, where she is assisted by Pilipino nurse Rosemarie. And by the road on which they all commute every day, middle-aged Maribel is working unsuccessfully as a prostitute.

Ballus describes her protagonists during the hottest part of the summer, and this was a wise decision. With a script that is not very tight due to the concept, it is necessary, besides the obvious social issues, to have a connecting tissue that casts as wide a net as possible. It influences the characters in various ways - Rosa’s health problem gets worse, Raül’s fields are more vulnerable to the insects because there is no rain, Rosemarie has to walk to the old people’s home in the scorching heat, Iurie has to do physical work in this weather, and Maribel has to sit in the sun in her folding chair by the road.

Some of the protagonists are “used” better than the others, and some are more appealing to the audience. It’s impossible to stay cold towards Rosa, who is practically a midget due to backbone deformity, but incredibly intelligent and aware. It is a joy just watching her moves and facial expressions, and especially her warm eyes. The others are likeable and interesting, but less impressive. Rosemarie in particular has a deeply touching scene, as she starts crying while she explains to a co-worker about the affection for the old people being the point of their job.

by Vladan Petkovic