• First Film Competition



Antonio Llamas, Jorge Rojas, Alejandro Pérez Castellanos

The first scene shows Madrid as the capital, Madrid the majestic, the proud, Madrid on a grand scale. The grandiose Madrid dreamt up by city planners of past and present centuries. A prosperous city of image and power. In the background, another Madrid unfolds, an invisible city, a commonplace with no particular features, which forms the very subject matter of Mitología de barrio. It is a city of outer suburbs, where massive urban projects are spread out endlessly, repetitive blocks that are shared by most of its inhabitants, far from the business or tourist centres. A city seen from the viewpoint of its inhabitants, in contrast to the terrifying overhanging perspective of the aerial shots of the planners that intersperse the film.
The torpor of a summer afternoon, with its frozen, sun-drenched temporality, reveals deceptively deserted spaces. Wide still shots come to life with insistent characters who seem to be lost in space: dogs out for a walk, a man standing in and in front of the landscape, another running across the frame. From one scene to the next, these burlesque skits seem to haunt the city as much as they inhabit the dreams of the main character: Mr Tang, in his small local shop. With no specific location, as the film unfolds, it gradually takes shape as a generic and singular mental map of the suburbs. With its own mythology, as depicted by the three young members of the “espíritu escalera” collective. The city is also revealed throughout as prone to creeping gentrification. Far from the centre, from power, and without it, as the closing montage ironically underlines.

Nicolas Feodoroff

Antonio Llamas, Jorge Rojas, Alejandro Pérez Castellanos

‘A suburban mythology’ offers a very original approach to the architectural and human reality of the Madrid suburbs. How did this project come about? What were your first intuitions? How did the film come about?

Mitologia de barrio was born without knowing that we were making a film. It was a need to go against time, we wanted to make a living archive of the entire periphery of Madrid. We had the intuition that we wanted to make a project in the opposite way to the usual: to film material with which to write a story. We had the impulse to explore in depth the city where we were born and raised. We set ourselves some rules: to get lost aimlessly in each neighbourhood, to always film under a sunny sky and to record places that would never have a postcard as a tourist postcard. What to film? We didn’t know, we discovered it as we walked. And we walked for five years, without haste.
Madrid is a big city, which, like any other western and capitalist city, has its ‘centre’ as a place of transit of goods, people, tourism, money… However, ‘the periphery’, ‘the outskirts’ is the majority and where almost all the inhabitants live. We have also grown up in its neighbourhoods and we are witnesses of how the city is unstoppably transformed, against our will and against our own daily life. This transformation of the neighbourhoods is a reflection of the different interests and needs of the bourgeoisie. Mitología de barrio is born as an impulse to rescue under our memory and our imagination something of those places that we inhabit and that do not stop changing without return towards a future that under the imposed conditions will not be more positive.

The core of the film is a grocery shop run by a Chinese family. Strange things and supernatural phenomena happen. Why choose this place, these people, as the centre of the film? Why this musical fantasy fiction, and how did you work it out with the characters?

One day our microphone batteries ran out while we were shooting, and we went into the nearest shop to buy batteries. When we went in we found a man behind the counter playing a wind instrument we didn’t know about. He invited us to film him playing. It was magical because such an ordinary and seemingly nondescript place turned into a strange and fantastic corner. It was clear to us that we had found the only interior in the film.
Food shops are a common sight in any city neighbourhood. Invisible places, which we entered and left mechanically. We were excited that inside one of these places we could generate fantasy and another reality far from simple buying and selling.
We thought that Mr. Tang could be the main thread of the story, a prophet who carries a message that the rest are unaware of, sheltered in his own particular trench.
Working with them was very easy because we got close to their own reality, their love of music, and their experience as a worker in one of these shops.

Around this centre, you set up a kind of minimal choreography which, in wide, fixed shots, associates a series of human figures with urban spaces. What guided you in the creation of this fragmentary cartography, bordering on the burlesque? The writing of the film relies a lot on play and variations of scale, between scale models and the deserted vastness of suburban spaces. Can you comment on this choice?

We didn’t want to be city council or government officials. We wanted to lose ourselves in reality, but to talk about it from the deformation of apparent reality, as mythology has always done. We worked with the neighbours and passers-by in these neighbourhoods, sometimes simply leaving the camera and hoping that through waiting and observation small gestures would emerge that would elevate the documentary to science fiction, and other times intervening directly in the scene, proposing improvised roles to the neighbours and even intervening in the landscape ourselves.
Starting from the concept of an impossible tourist postcard, we felt that we could capture a journey where certain issues would become visible, such as the hostility and isolation of public spaces against the people who inhabit them, the atmosphere of frustration or permanent crisis…

The film opens with a prologue consisting of a kind of advertising clip of the city of Madrid, in total counterpoint to what you develop next, in both form and content. Where does this prologue come from, and can you explain this choice?

These images belong to a public television programme in Spain which consists of showing cities flying over them in helicopters while an omnipresent voice, which seems to be God’s, talks to you about them. In short, it is power flying over cities and describing them. This almost dystopian voice, threatening and ridiculous at the same time, seemed to us to be a good source for the film’s journey.

Music and sound play a fundamental role in the film. Dissonant music, sounds chosen and spatialised in the manner of Tati or Jerry Lewis. Can you explain your approach to sound?

During the years that we filmed the city’s neighbourhoods, we only took the camera’s reference sound with us. We felt it was important not to deploy a full film crew on the walks. Not having that ‘real sound’ helped us not to be condemned to it and helped us to be able to fantasise as much as possible with the sound in post-production to build the tone and rhythm of imagination and reverie.

The film ends in a surprising way, breaking with what has gone before: a populated shot, set in a precise political moment and context. Would you like to comment?

Walking through one of Madrid’s neighbourhoods during one of the heaviest historic snowfalls this city has ever experienced, we came across this image and clearly felt that it would form part of the film. Without wanting to over-explain any of its possible meanings, there was something in that sense of titanic collective effort, behind the bars of a great inhospitable field, that was in keeping with the film’s narrative. On the other hand, the anthem of the European Union, together with one of the speeches of the Spanish Head of State (King Felipe VI) seemed to us to be a playful way of continuing to point to this conflict between people and power.

How do you go about writing and directing a film as a trio? Can you summarise your career and tell us about the birth of your filmmaking trio?

For us, making films collectively is something very natural and at the same time the result of a very conscious decision. We’ve shared a friendship and affinity for years, and that’s where the films we make are born, and not the other way around.
Espíritu escalera’ is the film collective we created some time ago, in which we put projects together and tackle them together, occupying different roles depending on the nature of each project. ‘A suburban mythology’ in fact could never have existed if we hadn’t made it collectively, sharing intuitions, debates and affinity.

Interview by Cyril Neyrat

  • First Film Competition
11:0026 June 2024Cinéma Artplexe 3
14:1529 June 2024Cinéma Artplexe 3
16:3030 June 2024Cinéma Artplexe 3

Technical sheet

Spain / 2024 / Colour / 70'

Original version: Chinese, Spanish
Subtitles: English, French
Script: Antonio Llamas, Alejandro Pérez Castellanos, Ximo Peris, Jorge Rojas
Photography: Jorge Rojas
Editing: Fran Marise
Music: Guillermo Rojo, Ivankova
Sound: El Pertigosaurio El Pertigosaurio, Emilio Pascual

Production: Jaime Gona (Gonita), Eva Bodas Gómez (Entre las piedras)
Contact: Eva Bodas (Entre las piedras)

Antonio Llamas (1992), Alejandro Pérez Castellanos (1998) and Jorge Rojas (1990) are three filmmakers born in Madrid (Spain) who form part, together with other colleagues, of the Espírituescalera filmmaking collective.
So far, their different projects have travelled to numerous international festivals, such as DOC Lisboa, Busan International Short Film Festival, Viña del Mar International Film Festival, Malaga Festival, Documenta Madrid, MÁRGENES, D’A Film Festival, Curtocircuito, Focus Script of the Cannes Film Festival, etc. They have also participated in exhibition and artistic exhibition spaces such as MATADERO Madrid, Tabakalera Donosti, La Fábrica de Armas in Oviedo and the Architecture Biennial in Rabat and Venice.
Currently, the Espírituescalera collective is in the midst of developing different film projects, such as the feature films La muerte no pudo con él, Laguna El Ministro or Los Atlantes, as well as in post-production of other projects such as Dulcinea, La Llorona or Sistema Nervioso.