Based on playwright Lluïsa Cunillé’s Barcelona, Map of Shadows, Ventura Pons’s richly textured nocturne, Barcelona (A Map) is an intimate and atmospheric rumination on urban architectures and shared spaces as integral projections of anonymous, emotional landscapes. Ostensibly capturing an evening in the life of an elderly couple, Rosa (Núria Espert) and her dying husband, a former opera house stagehand named Ramon (José María Pou) who have decided to evict their tenants in order to have the privacy of the entire house to face the final days of his terminal cancer, the film is an understated and insightful exposition into the nature of alienation, transformation, and passage. Composed of a series of encounters as Ramon and Rosa alternately pay a visit to each of the tenants in order to confirm the eviction during the coming week, the conversations serve as an illuminating reflection of the couple’s own sense of irrelevance and isolation. A conversation between Ramon and a French language instructor, Lola (Rosa Maria Sardà) questions the practicality of cultivating proficiency for a culturally exclusive (if not outmoded) foreign language in a society that is increasingly homogenized, indistinct, and assimilated – a separateness that also reflects on the place of Catalan culture within the context of a Spanish national identity (and in particular, within Barcelona’s multicultural landscape). The theme of obscurity and frailty is also suggested in the paradoxical image of the couple’s only male tenant, a handsome, young security guard named David (Pablo Derqui) who is first seen applying liniment to his leg after a track and field injury as Rosa knocks on his door. Abandoned by his wife and relegated to working graveyard shifts after the shopping malls have closed for the evening, David is also a figurative ghost resident of Barcelona, patrolling in the shadows of deserted public spaces with an unloaded gun. Paradoxically, even the couple’s pregnant tenant, a cook named Violeta (María Botto) reflects this anxiety, as the viability of her unborn child becomes clouded by the uncertainty of the father’s less-than-ideal genetic legacy (a compromised heritage that is also alluded in Rosa’s complicated relationship with her younger brother, Santi (Jordi Bosch)). Within this pervasive sentiment of impotence and obsolescence, the couple’s idiosyncratic act of role reversal in the final chapter may be seen as an act of empowerment – a symbolic transfiguration into their own self-created afterlives – where spiritual liberation exists in the anonymity of costumes and interchangeable identities.
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