Writer: Neus Ballús and Margarita Melgar
Director: Neus Ballús
Using real plumbers and electricians Neus Ballús’ new film examines a world that remains invisible to most of us. Standing somewhere between improvised drama and scripted reality, The Odd-Job Men follows a Moroccan immigrant in his first week working for a repair company in Barcelona. It’s a funny, if slight, tale carried by the strength of the non-professional actors.
The English title of this award winning film does the actors a disservice as they are presumably trained in their professions. Its Spanish title of Sis Dies Corrents translates as Six Ordinary Days and perhaps this would be a better fit for the film, which is absurdly mundane for its two main leads.
Moha has been offered a trial at a firm of handymen but no one has told Valero. Moha does his best, fixing taps and mending fuses, but there’s no pleasing Valero who shouts and moans constantly, declaring that Moha’s Spanish is not good enough, that he’s lacking in experience. Only the-soon-to-retire Pep is kind to the Moroccan.
With each day that passes, Valero becomes louder and nastier. It’s a wonder that Moha sticks around. It’s also hard to watch and Valero’s complaints soon become repetitive. Fortunately, for the audience variety comes in the jobs to which they are assigned and the situations they find themselves in. Their clients include a 100-year-old fitness freak, a predatory photographer and a pair of mischievous twins.
But more interesting than the story is Ballús’ methodology. After selecting her actors from visiting plumber apprenticeship groups, Ballús then prepared them for camera, meeting weekly over a period of two years. Six months before filming she forbad Valero and Moha from seeing each other, hoping to capture an awkwardness when they met again on set. And in a nice touch the actors didn’t know what scenarios were planned, and filming chronologically Ballús’ crew set the plumbers real tasks. When we see Valero trying to mend an air-conditioning unit he is doing just that. This strategy makes for some fine performances, with Valero Escolar and Mohamed Mellali sharing the Best Actor award at this year’s Locarno Film Festival.
Ballús is surprised that she has made a film that doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, but her female gaze uncovers the men’s anxieties in a way that perhaps a male director would have ignored. We see Valero worrying about his weight and Moha’s struggles to assert himself with his flatmates who want to eat pizza and watch football all day. The Odd-Job Men demonstrates the difficulties that some men face in communicating with others when work has finished for the day.
The Odd Job Men is screening at the London Film Festival.