During the tour of Europe’s food industry presented in Erwin Wagenhofer’s documentary “We Feed the World”, there is a sequence about the greenhouses covering Almeria.

Ian Mundell
Ian Mundell is a film and arts journalist based in London and Brussels.

Almeria, once impoverished region of Spain has become affluent, providing supermarkets with lettuce and other vegetables all year round. But where Wagenhofer only glances at this bizarre landscape and its migrant workers before moving on to his next case study, Belgian-Moroccan director Jawad Rhalib goes beneath the surface.

He is particularly interested in the young Moroccan men who come to the region expecting an economic paradise, only to end up living in makeshift cabins of cardboard and plastic between the greenhouses. He follows three of them-Driss, Moussaid and Djibril-as they look for regular work, revealing their enduring optimism despite dire living conditions. However bad it may be in Europe, they say, there is always a chance of success. In Morocco they felt they had no future.

While this is the film’s central narrative, a series of other encounters reveals the complexity of the society that has developed around El Ejido, Almeria’s main town. There are workers from Sub-Saharan Africa, who struggle to bring their wives and families to join them, and from Eastern Europe, who take the better paid jobs in the packing factories. The film’s most enigmatic figure is a silent young Malian nightwatchman who keeps a herd of goats next to his hut, like a piece of rural Africa transplanted between the greenhouses.

The Spanish greenhouse owners concede that they need foreign labour but insist that the region’s economic success is due to the owners’ own hard work. They remember a time when they were migrants within Europe and see nothing wrong about exploiting others. Then there are the successful Moroccans, one who runs a hostel, another who has risen to be a greenhouse owner.

Rhalib lets these people speak without passing judgement, although the film’s subtitle-the Law of Profit-suggests where his sympathies lie. The stories he presents are fascinating, but it is the strangeness of the environment that lifts the film out of the ordinary. He makes the most of the perspectives provided by the roads running in narrow corridors between the greenhouses, and the views over their roofs stretching from the mountains to the sea. The lives that people build in the gaps are a powerful visual representation of economic migration into Europe.

 

 

 


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