Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Primos: A Hilarious Tale of Personal Discovery by...Spain?

by Chris Baldwin

A young man from Madrid, Diego, travels to the north coast with his cousins in what seems merely one of those “everyone finds their true self” comedies, but Primos is really a reflection of Spain's own search for itself as a country.

To begin, this movie depicts a shift in Spanish mores. For instance, cohabitation rather than formal marriage is becoming increasingly common, such as with the case of José Miguel and Toña. If they do get married, they would likely use a church, but many young Spaniards have little use for institutionalized religion apart from similar ceremonies, as the movie reflects by only showing a church at the very beginning. Elsewhere in the movie the characters say that they do not particularly mind that their significant other sleeps with someone else now and then, as long as they are honest about it. While that is certainly not the norm, I personally have run into several people in Spain who had similar perspectives.

The financial crisis is not readily apparent in the film, but Spanish resentment at the European Union's fiscal demands can be seen through José Miguel, whose nurse-girlfriend has been making him medically dependent on her. This sort of treatment is how many Spaniards feel regarding the European Union, rather than interpreting any actual desire to help.

The EU dominates Spain's economy in a way that Spaniards feel is selfish and ineffective, but the movie facts that Bachi reflexively recites point to the cultural dominance of Hollywood in Spain. All of the movies he mentions are classic American movies, and one of the characters even mentions a desire for a stronger Spanish cinema at one point. Similarly, the song the cousins sing at the end is by the Backstreet Boys. Primos takes place recently enough to include at least one reference to a famous Spanish director or song, yet pop culture remains dominated by the United States, leaving Spain somewhat on the defensive for cultural recognition in its own country.

Though the movie is ostensibly about the cousins, this image depicting dialogue (including both disagreement and reconciliation between old and young and between rich and poor) as well as the person most closely tied to cultural imperialism in Spain more fully represents what I believe the movie is trying to say.
Bachi's estranged relationship with his daughter is another reason why he is important for the movie. Such a relationship mirrors feelings in general between the older and younger generations, specifically those generations divided by the end of the dictatorship (Spain became a democracy three years after General Franco's death in 1975 after ruling for 36-39 years). The movie is not explicit in this regard, but such conflict between the old and new is definitely present in Spain and is visibly present in the misunderstandings between Bachi and Clara.

The movie also shows increasing mobility among young Spaniards. The cousins do not face any real problems with making a spontaneous six hour drive from Madrid to the north coast. Such mobility was not unheard of 30 years ago, but has grown increasing common due to investments in the freeway and rail system. Most Spaniards still feel strong links to their ancestral towns, but this mobility, potentially re-framed as restlessness, is visible.

Primos shows a Spain that is trying to establish itself. Spain finds itself financially dominated by Europe, like José Miguel is by Toña, and culturally dominated by the United States. There is an increasing divide between younger and older generations, with the main dividing line being the end of the dictatorship, as represented by Bachi and Carla. Diego internalizes all of these conflicts, the mutual exclusivity of which is embodied by Martina and Yolanda. Hopefully Spain will follow Diego's example and decide on a steady path to follow.

Chris Baldwin is a double major in History and Spanish with a minor in Portuguese, for which he received a FLAS scholarship through the European Union Center. After graduating, he will pursue a doctorate in History and ultimately plans to become a professor with a focus on Iberian history. Languages feature prominently in his personal interests, and so in addition to those previously mentioned, Chris also studies Catalan, Basque, Esperanto, Latin, and Irish and is involved in Catalan and Esperanto language and culture groups on campus. His other primary hobby is a fictional world, similar in principle to that of Tolkien, in which he can explore historical and linguistic principles in a creative setting.

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