The Plague (La Plaga): Berlin Review

The Plague Film Still - H 2013
El Kinograf S.L.

The Plague Film Still - H 2013

Vividly shot slice of realism struggles to find a story.

Writer-director Neus Ballus' debut feature follows five characters in the Catalonian countryside.

BERLIN -- A languorous docudrama set in the scorching distant suburbs of Barcelona, writer-director Neus Ballus’ The Plague (La Plaga) follows a handful of real-life characters as they toil their way through one long, hot summer of strife and disillusion. Featuring textured realistic imagery and atmospheric sound work, the film is nonetheless too much of a narrative slog to captivate for feature length, and should remain quarantined in festivals after premiering in Berlin’s Forum section.

Featuring a cast of five disparate individuals who more or less play themselves, the movie never quite gets off the ground story-wise, even if the various plotlines reveal marginally interesting slices of Catalonian life seldom seen on the big screen.

Iurie Timbur is a Moldavian immigrant who, when he’s not training for a regional wrestling competition, works as a day laborer alongside struggling farmer, Raul Molist. As they try to salvage a crop spoiled by a swarm of white flies (the “plague” of the title), they cross paths with Rosemarie Abella, a recently arrived Filipino nurse who tries her best to take care of an elderly local, Maria Ros -- a woman as short in stature as she is long on attitude. Observing it all is Maribel Marti, a middle-aged prostitute who rather unsuccessfully hustles herself along the winding country road that connects everything together.

Capturing their endeavors and improvised dialog with a stylish documentary eye, Ballus and cinematographer Diego Dussuel (The Double Steps) do a decent job portraying the daily grind of people who have few viable options beyond surviving from one paycheck to the next, if at all. Heavily layered sound design – courtesy of Marisol Nievas (Nico and Dani) and Juan Sanchez “Cuti” -- further underlines the ruggedness of the impressive, natural settings.

But such technical prowess never quite compensates for a minimalist plot that, even when it offers up a few final glimmers of hope, is too often stifled by the slow and quiet desperation of its subjects.

Production companies: El Kinograf SL, Televisio de Catalunya
Cast: Maria Ros, Raul Molist, Rosemarie Abella, Iurie Timbur, Maribel Marti
Director: Neus Ballus
Screenwriter: Neus Ballus, in collaboration with Pau Subiros
Producer: Pau Subiros, Jordi Ambros
Director of photography: Diego Dussuel
Music: David Crespo
Editors: Neus Ballus, Domi Parra
Sales Agent: El Kinograf SL
No rating, 84 minutes