‘Food and Shelter’ (‘Techo y comida’): Malaga Review

Food and Shelter Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Diversa Audiovisual

Food and Shelter Still - H 2015

Natalia de Molina’s performance is the heart and soul of a film about a system with neither heart nor soul

A grim, moving record of how a first-world country can allow its citizens to quietly hit rock bottom

Given the impact of the economic crisis in Spain, surprisingly few recent films have tackled the subject. But the largely crowd-funded Food and Shelter -- this is the sort of film which some governments don’t like to fund -- defiantly and rightly proclaims that the effects of the crisis are a story which needs to be told. It does so with a film which, one thing apart, is raw and direct to the point of crudeness.

The thing apart is the magnificent, wrenching central performance by the up-and-coming actress Natalia de Molina, which rightly took the Best Actress award at the recent Malaga festival and which elevates the film into more than mere testimony. This performance, combined with its somber, unsentimental X-ray of a southern Europe in crisis, will garner both further festival recognition for Juan Miguel del Castillo’s feature debut and awards for its actress. Food also took the public’s prize at Malaga.

It is 2012, and the crisis is at its peak. In Jerez in Andalucia, Rocio (de Molina) is a single mother, living in a apartment with her eight-year old son Adrian (Jaime Lopez). She owes eight months back rent, and has been receiving unemployment compensation for three and a half years. She has no family, for reasons not given. The opening scene is an interview in which she applies for financial aid, and is granted it: but the aid will not arrive for six months to a year. The conditions are ripe for the perfect storm.

Rocio is living on the edge of a precipice, and as such a current of tension pulses queasily throughout the film. It’s obvious that she will fall, but the question is how far. The answer comes early on with a legal order from her landlord, the slightly-too repulsive Alfonso (Gaspar Campuzano), telling her to pay up or get out. In other words, Rocio looks set to be evicted: at the time the film is set, evictions in Spain were running at 500+ per day.

Rocio’s life is a reflection of that of thousands throughout southern Europe as she helplessly leaves her CV any and everywhere, trying to fight back. Truthful, painful details abound, with Rocio sniffing at bottles of supermarket gel she can’t afford or quietly siphoning off shampoo from the bathroom of Maria (Mariana Cordero), her (slightly too) saintly neighbor, or waking up in a sweaty panic at night. The worst effects are seen in the strain Rocio’s lack of money places on her relationship with the physically undernourished Adrian, and in the social shame of her situation -- just as though she’s done something wrong.

The film is thus not just a harsh, unequivocal critique of a society which can let such things happen to its citizens but of the law which is upholding such injustice: daringly by Castillo and brilliantly by Molina, during an interview with a civil servant who tells her that she doesn’t have a leg to stand on, the camera is trained on Molina’s uncomprehending features for a full two minutes, whilst never moving onto the features of the literally faceless solicitor. The follow-up scene is equally striking.

In just her second feature, Molina -- notable in her debut, David Trueba’s Living is Easy with Eyes Closed -- is compelling. Nervous, edgy, increasingly hunted, apart from the occasional brief moment of tender respite with Adrian, she is the embodiment of someone whose life is spiraling out of control for reasons which she can do nothing about, and which indeed she doesn’t understand. She infuses the role with a raw vulnerability which bypasses the brain and goes straight to the heart. Later, the experience of watching her excitedly and innocently hear about a possible job offer which the viewer knows is false becomes awkwardly voyeuristic. Lopez as Adrian is more than able to hold his own during his multiple face-offs with his mother.

It would be easy to criticize Food and Shelter for its artless, grinding linearity: as the saying goes, Rocio’s life is just one damn thing after another. But that linearity is how Rocio herself is experiencing her decline, and since Castillo’s script is inviting us to accompany her on her awful, unjust journey, the fact that the narrative moves straight from A to B is the price the film must pay for its authenticity. Any such adornment would feel out of place in a grimly minimal film about a grimly minimal situation, and indeed through much of it we could be watching handheld documentary.

There is one uncharacteristically false note, a sloppy plot flaw in parting scene late on when neither the script not Rocio seem to spot the chance of a potential temporary solution to her problem.

Production company: Diversa Audiovisual
Cast: Natalia de Molina, Jaime Lopez, Mariana Cordero, Gaspar Campuzano
Director, screenwriter, editor: Juan Miguel del Castillo
Producers: German Garcia, Alfred Santapau
Director of photography: Manuel Montero, Rodrigo Rezende
Production designer: Paco Cardenas, Amanda Román
Costume designer: Helena Izquierdo, Alba Serra
Composer: Miguel Carabante, Daniel Quiñones
Sales: Diversa Audiovisual

No rating, 90 minutes