Marina lives in a small, decrepit house in Spain’s Alicante province, a house she has inhabited for 59 years, ever since she married her husband. Life for Marina is fairly typical for a woman of her age. She walks to buy groceries, carrying home heavy plastic bags. She sits with her friends in lawn chairs on the sidewalk, gossiping and talking about their lives. She watches telenovelas and catholic masses on a television set she couldn’t live without.
Enter Marita, her granddaughter. At six years old, she doesn’t have a care in the world and acts the typical youth. She lives in a tall apartment building and loves to run around outside. She explores empty lots. She plays at school and participates in lessons. She chases the rats at her grandmother’s house. And often she drives Marina crazy (lovingly).
It’s a typical clash between youth and old age, but Adán Aliaga presents it beautifully, with an obvious compassion for the two characters. He gives the two females room to breathe, while revealing the small details of their lives. My Grandmother’s House is not a film where all that much happens. The main theme (another example of old versus new) is that Marina’s children agree to sell her house for the construction of flats, in exchange for a large flat for Marina. The house is old and falling apart, but it is Marina’s home. It’s painful to watch as she learns of her displacement, as she moves her things, as she breaks down crying from the heartbreak of losing the home her husband built for her, the home where she raised her children.
Other than that narrative, however, the film is just a meditation on everyday life. The camera work is stunning. The way the light hits Marita’s hair and the sun reflects off the clouds is beautiful. There are many close-ups that bring the viewer closer to the personal. The camera captures a mixture of the mundane (cracks in the wall, stuffed animals on the worn bed), the playful (Marita crawling around on all fours in the schoolyard) and the touching (Marina and Marita holding hands as they watch as bulldozers demolish the house).
The fascinating aspect of My Grandmother’s House is that it has adopted elements of a highly-crafted fiction film. From its opening, the credit sequences are graphically intricate, featuring Marina and Marita as though they were leading actresses. The way the camera shifts and plays with its subjects makes it feel less like a hidden camera (in a traditional vérité style) and more like crafted shots. All these aspects transform the simple story of a family relationship into a complex visual journey.