On This Side of the World (PG)      Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival

A layered look at the deeply complex issues of migration and immigration.

Alberto (Vito Sanz) is a kindly, easy going engineer working in Madrid who has just been made redundant. Not great news at any time but he has not long  had the news that his elderly mother has committed suicide and his girlfriend María (Ondina Maldonado), who seems desperate to start a family, despite his looking more like  her sperm donor than her lover. His share of the inheritance, to be divided four ways between him and his sisters, is modest so when he is offered a freelance post by his former employer in the autonomous Spanish city of Milella on the Moroccan border, he accepts.

When Alberto arrives in Milella, he meets his new boss Ciriaco (Janfri Topera), who has a fine sense of himself despite his shambolic appearance, and cryptically tells him he’ll be “working for Spain.” His office is an abandoned classroom with no wifi and his hotel room is a basic affair with a broken, dripping air con system. A folder containing newspaper clippings about immigration to Spain is all he has to go on for his remit. That is until he meets straight talking, hard headed Nagore (Anna Alarcón) who has the role of his Personal Assistant. If he were in doubt about his role up till now, his tour of Milella with Nagore leaves him with no doubt.

Alberto, convincingly captured by Sanz, is lost and bemused at the raw spectacle of man’s inhumanity to man in the form of the ‘atypical trade,’ a euphemism for contraband, that is shifted daily for a pittance by desperate folk. As the film proceeds,  Alberto, whose ‘freelance’ work is really to shield the big name of his company from the secret work they are behind, finds he is as much under the radar as the migrants who try to scale the fences that his designs are meant to stop.

Writer and director David Trueba has brought us an excellent a piece of work, shot in pale hazy heat colours, that lays the complexities and economics of migration and immigration starkly on the table, and shown through the eyes of a sympathetic male character whose decent humanity is evident.

The film‘s billing as a drama  comedy  may be more of a pointer to the avoidance of overt moralising and to the lighter tone that some intervening scenes take, particularly in the developing relationship between Alberto and Nagore. However its embedded messages, not least the billboard in the closing shot announcing ‘Consuma Producto Nacional,’ are designed to make the viewer think.

On This Side of the World (En este lado del mundo) was a Nominee for Malaga Film Festival 2020 Best Spanish Film.

It is part of ESFF online festival that runs from 14th -17th October and will have a Filmhouse screening at 18.00 0n Saturday 9th October,

Irene Brown

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