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Waiting for Barcelona / Barcelona tai kuolema

Juho-Pekka Tanskanen in his first feature-length film Waiting for Barcelona tells the story of the homeless, undocumented immigrant Mou in black-and-white for the reason that remains a secret throughout the film. While important issues are discussed, the lack of context can’t really help the viewers digest the events presented.  So the question is: do we actually care about Mou?

Waiting for Barcelona is a Finnish documentary set in Spain and follows Mou, an undocumented immigrant from Gambia. He arrived in Barcelona a decade ago and lost his papers so he has been struggling to make a living. He has a home and does jobs like collecting metal or selling stuff in the streets, etc. He speaks about the hardship he experiences, the demons he is fighting with. We get to know his inner circle and a few moments are dedicated to other undocumented immigrants and immigrant vendors living in the city. We’ve given information about police raids on the streets of Barcelona as a way of handling the illegal markets as well as the street protests against the actions carried out by the police. We can hear about people being killed and brutally beaten up, and we also need to visit Mou in the psychiatric ward at one point. We can only hope that the light of the tunnel is already turned on…

The Finnish director Juho-Pekka Tanskanen has undeniably chosen a severe subject to introduce to a wider audience, but the execution is only satisfactory. For starters, the use of black-and-white comes across as only a way of becoming artsy and does not seem to have any purpose than that. It’s possible that the aim was to reflect upon the bleakness of the situation Mou is in, as the original title Barcelona or Death translated into English suggests, but this is mere speculation. The life of Mou is presented in chapters with each of them referring to a season or a state of mood, but we miss out on many events in-between. His friends and girlfriend(s) are there as well, so someone else’s take on reality is incorporated into the film. Some moments like this in fact questions whether what we see is reality or something staged, especially the scenes with Mou’s girlfriend. Although this might happen because she opens up in front of a camera easily, and in contrast with Mou, she doesn’t show any signs of social anxiety or depression. When Mou is in the hospital, she’s there to help, and, luckily, Mou gains new strengths to reset the fight to get his papers.

The problem with Waiting for Barcelona, which is a title that doesn’t really capture the content of the film, that it requires too much effort to put the pieces together. That would be perfectly fine in the case of a fiction film or an experimental documentary, but Tanskanen’s motion picture is pretty conventional. He takes the role of the observer and lets his subject tell his own story. That part of the film reaches a certain quality but when the director starts broadening the horizon to show the reality in which his subject lives, the film’s intimate atmosphere that keeps the film together simply disappears. Mou’s and other stories like his should be shown and seen but a better guidance is needed.

Barbara Majsa

Barbara is a journalist, editor and film critic. She usually does interviews with film-makers, artists, designers, and writes about cinema, design and books.