The New Abduction of Europe is a beautiful film.
It is a depiction of Spain’s economic, societial and political struggle to introduce change. It tells the story of a society in upheaval – how the popular movement that grew out of anger from economic despair, developed into a widespread political force in ‘Podemos’. From an outsider’s vantage point, the film takes a serious stab at Spain’s political culture which evolved since democracy was introduced post Franco’s death.
When reforming Spain, its past grandeur must be the guiding star when defining its future.
Spain has been through an extremely painful economic recession. A modern time depression. Masses of people evicted from their homes as banks were forced to get rid of bad loans, vast cuts in public spending, and brutal labour market reforms severely reducing workers’ rights. As the professors state in the film: ‘People realise that things cannot continue in this way.’ In its efforts to visualise and explain the broad set of issues involved, the film takes the viewer to an unexpected place of departure: Madrid’s National Museum of Art (Museo del Prado) – one of the world’s most famous and prestigious art institutions. For a non-Spanish national, I immediately become impressed by the immense cultural heritage ingrained in Spanish history and society. The enormous buildings, with their endless archives filled with grand paintings of global magnitude. Spain is key to world heritage. No doubt. The producer tells us: When reforming Spain, its past grandeur must be the guiding star when defining its future.
We enter the auditorium of the new Queen Sofia building. And here my enthusiasm plummets. It is a beautiful museum by award-winning French architect Jean Nouvel, who probably did not consider a people in unrest and upheaval when designing this monumental building. Obviously, he thought of the space and volume it takes to store the Picassos and Dalís of this world. He melted French and Spanish grandeur, perfectly designed for showing off the superiority of Spanish cultural past equal to few, if not to none. However, as the camera moves into the immense auditorium, it occurs to me how alienating this scenario is to the audience and the political messages that are conveyed: Distant, cold and condescending. Had the panel members worn sun glasses they would not have looked out of place in the Franco period: Little people clad in black seated at a long table, with name plates too small for anyone to read. Luckily, any resemblance to the past stops here, as the words we hear are those of revolution and hope. It dawns on me that the film is about much more than political upheaval in the aftermath of the economic crisis. It seems to be about the origin and meaning of life, about our society’s economic and cultural models.
The existential conversation between the museum’s director Manuel Borja Villel and Italian philosopher and thinker Antonio Negri takes the viewer back to the basic meaning of life and society: How do we organise production while providing freedom? As a tribute to true European brotherhood, both men speak their own Latin language without a glimpse of misunderstanding. The combination of an unprecedented economic crisis, leading to widespread poverty and suffering, spurred a tremendous movement of the minds. Intellectuals, who still seem rather safe in their positions, start to get worried. They then engage in how difficult it is to build a fair, just and clean democratic society.
An honest exercise most European countries should undertake.
As the film tackles one societal problem after the other, the conversations’ form and shape change. Monologue and auditorium are replaced by dialogue and round-tables. Nuances and facts replace slogans and metaphors. Discussion about the role of science in generating growth – and what kind of growth is useful. What is the ability of universities to capture the social revolts and provide answers to how to deal with the profound problems that society is going through? The conversation amongst a group of scholars about climate change and the energy sector is almost cute in its candour: Is it only at this point that it occurs to them just how unjust and industrial the Spanish society is? It is a pity the conversation did not reach the issue of Spanish subsidies to coal miners. In other words: The dilemmas of transitioning from fossil based to clean energies. Bringing forward such dilemmas, where the need to cut government subsidies in some sectors, while creating new markets and jobs, would have strengthened the film.
The documentary bears witness to a society in search of its own identity. An honest exercise most European countries should undertake. Despite the pain, it must be one of the finest moments of Spanish civilisation: an introspective exercise, putting the spotlight on its own people at a time most European countries turn to the old and sad habit of blaming foreigners, asylum seekers and immigrants. Various segments of the society are brought together in their common struggle for justice and solidarity, bringing my thoughts back to 1968 Paris where workers and students found each other in their revolt against a dogmatic society at a time Spain was still living in fear and under oppression. Catalonia’s struggle for independence stands out as symbolic of the lack of legitimacy of an outdated centralised power.
The New Abduction of Europe is long and demanding, but a pleasure to watch. If you have the time. Devoid of Hollywood-like action, its diffusion and general interest would increase substantially, if tightened. We can only hope it will be cut in half as the messages it conveys are far too important to be lost in boredom. The irony is that the issues at stake resonate little with criticism of Europe as the EU. Rather the opposite. It was EU’s emergency fund that provided capital to the Spanish government in order to avoid total economic collapse as its banks started to fail. The corruption and real estate bubble were rooted in inertia and mal-governance of national and regional governments. The lack of proper tax policies to ensure fair and just redistribution of income lies solely in Madrid, not in Brussels.
One thing is clear though; the reconstruction of Spain cannot be done by Spain itself. As the professors point out, it will need a communal effort. But, Spain can assume a leading role.