Theater of Cruelty

To rebuild a run down country

General Report II: The New Abduction of Europe
Regissør: Pere Portabella

Spain is barely saved from the edge of the cliff. Filmmaker Pere Portabella asks who will lead the way.


The New Abduction of Europe is a beautiful movie. A film that describes Spain's economic, social and political struggle for change. It tells the story of a society undergoing upheaval – how the popular movement that sprang from the rage over despairing economic conditions developed into a political force in the left-wing populist party "Podemos". The film takes a serious look at the political culture that emerged in Spain when democracy was introduced in the country, following the death of dictator Franco.

Spain has been through an extremely painful economic recession; and modern depression. Lots of people are thrown out of their homes because the banks have to get rid of bad loans. Heavy cuts have been made in government spending, and the labor market has become increasingly brutal – with severely weakened workers' rights. As the movie states: "People realize it can't continue this way."

World in Spanish. In trying to visualize and explain the wide range of issues involved, the film takes us to an unexpected starting point: Madrid's National Museum of Art, Museo del Prado – one of the world's most famous and prestigious art institutions. One is quickly impressed by the colossal cultural heritage rooted in Spanish history and society. The huge buildings with their endless archives filled with magnificent images are of global importance. Spain is the key to significant parts of the world heritage, there is no doubt about that. The manufacturer tells us: When Spain is to be transformed, the country's past greatness must be the guiding principle for the future development.

We enter the auditorium located in the new Queen Sofia building. Here the enthusiasm gets a serious crack. This part of the beautiful museum opened in 2005 and was designed by Jean Nouvel. The award-winning French architect hardly imagined a people in turmoil and upheaval when he designed this monumental building. It is obvious to think that he rather thought of the space and volume needed to store this world's Picassos and Dalís. He fused French and Spanish together height , perfect for displaying the superiority of Spain's outstanding cultural past. Still, as the camera moves into the dense auditorium, it strikes me how alienating these surroundings are to the congregation and the political message that is being delivered. They are distant, cold and condescending. If the panelists wore dark sunglasses, they would not have seemed out of place during the Franco period: short-grown, black-clad people with name tags so small that no one is able to read them, sitting at a long table. Fortunately, any resemblance to the past stops here, because the words we hear are about revolution and hope. It becomes clear that the film is about much more than political upheavals in the wake of the economic crisis. It seems to be about the origin and meaning of life, about the economic and cultural models of our society.

Spain is the key to significant parts of the world heritage.

European Brotherhood. We are also served a conversation between the museum director Manuel Borja-Villel and the Italian philosopher and thinker Antonio Negri, who takes the viewer back to the basic meaning of life and society: How do we organize production so that we still maintain freedom? As a tribute to true European brotherhood, both speak their own Latin language without a hint of misunderstanding. The outrageous economic crisis, with subsequent widespread poverty and suffering, has at least provided the basis for rampant mental activity. Intellectuals, who still seem to sit quite confidently in their positions, are beginning to worry. After a while, they engage in the difficulties of building a just, fair and spotless democratic society.

Unfair society. As the film addresses one social problem after another, the conversation changes shape and character. Monologue and auditorium are replaced with dialogue and plenary talks. Shades and facts come in place of slogans and metaphors. The discussion goes on how science can help create growth – and what kind of growth is useful. How is the university's ability to capture the social uprising and provide answers to how to deal with the basic problems of society? The conversation about climate change and the energy sector that goes between a group of scientists is touching sincerely. Is it only now that they find out how consistently unfair and industrialized Spanish society is? It is a pity that this conversation was not enough to cover the issue of subsidies to the Spanish coal mines, or in other words: the dilemmas associated with the transition from fossil energy sources to clean energy. Raising such dilemmas, such as the need to cut back on support for some sectors while creating new markets and jobs, would have strengthened the film.

It was a rescue package from the EU that saved the Spanish government.

The documentary testifies to a society looking for its own identity; an honest exercise most European countries should do. Despite the pain that this necessarily entails, it must be one of the finest moments in Spanish civilization: an introspective spotlight aimed at the nation's own people, at a time when most European countries are taking up the old and sad habit of blaming foreigners , asylum seekers and immigrants. Different sections of society are brought together in their common struggle for justice and solidarity. It brings to mind back to Paris in 1968, where workers and students found each other in rebellion against a dogmatic society at a time when Spain was still living with fear and oppression. Catalonia's struggle for independence stands as a symbol of the lack of legitimacy of an outdated centralized power.

Rescued by the EU. The New Abduction of Europe comes 40 years after Pere Portabella's first General Report-film. This "sequel" is long and demanding, but still a pleasure to see – if you have two hours and six minutes to spare. Free of Hollywood action as it is, the film would probably achieve significantly wider coverage and public interest if it were tightened. The message in this documentary is far too important to disappear in boredom. The irony is that what is at stake has little to do with the criticism of the EU. In fact, it was a so-called EU rescue package that allowed the Spanish government to avoid total economic collapse as banks began to falter. The corruption and the real estate bubble came from inertia and malady from the national government as well as regional governments. The responsibility for the lack of an adequate tax policy that could ensure fair income distribution rests solely with Madrid, not with Brussels.

One thing is certain, however: Spain's reconstruction cannot be undertaken by Spain alone. As this film emphasizes, it will require joint efforts. But Spain can take on a leadership role.

Watch the movie here.

Paal Frisvold
Paal Frisvold
Writer for MODERN TIMES on Europe issues.

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