Years before Covid would eventually plague the entire world in a reckoning of stricken malady, I remember the sweet Summer days of joining my family on a brief vacation. On this trip in particular, we went to Barcelona, where the livid metropolitan cityscape had a unique impact on my susceptible tween-taste. From Gaudi to lavish culinary delights, the city instantly fascinated and fuelled my every interest, with varying degrees of cultural enthusiasm. Throughout the districts and museums, one thing felt omni-present — the presence of the working class on my trip. With the exception of the occasional tourist trap, the majority of the landmarks my family attended were largely occupied by bored international individuals seeking for a momentary escape from daily routine. Since my journey, I was always subliminally curious about the commonwealth situation in Barcelona. Years later, now covering Locarno as a journalist, the film entitled ‘The Odd-Job Men’ finally provided that missing societal perspective. The beauty and existence of a film such as The Odd-Job Men is purely designed as a cultural tool; an additional worldview on a community of people that is rarely shown in the daily limelight of mainstream broadcast media.
With an enticing premise to boot, Neus Ballús’ realist comedy details the fateful week-long job-trial of a young immigrant dubbed Mohamed. On his journey of societal acceptance, Ballús explores the dynamic between his two co-workers, through various vignettes detailing their random plumbing and electricity maintenance gigs. Adding to the depiction of under-represented Barcelonés neighbourhoods, the majority of the scenes featured are predominantly shot handheld. This directional choice mimics a documentary-esque aesthetic, where Ballús is quite literally reflecting her own reality with fiction; a narrative deeply inspired by her father’s occupational quarrels and misadventures. Even the character names of the central trio are neither changed from reality, as the actors are literally portraying a reflection of their own identity.
Clever technical integrations are riddled throughout Ballús’ latest, providing a substantial amount of thematic ground against The Odd-Job Men’s middling core. Whilst it revels with great enthusiasm in the small intricacies of daily routine, Ballús’ well-intentioned vision unfortunately falls for the clutch of tiresome repetition. The film shifts from amusing hijinks to redundant dramatic stakes consumed by broken-record comedic beats and needless banter in a matter of fifteen minutes, where the end of the film’s first act marks the beginning of Ballús’ exhausting simpleton shtick. Obvious thematic messaging aside, there’s not much outside of the occasional observation on evolving gentrification within the film’s weightless portrait of the working class; all accompanied by a grading orchestral score. It’s a film that could have sufficiently worked better in a shorter-format; set over the span of 24 hours instead of one-long miscellaneous week.
To reiterate, even with its messy direction and its overstuffing of needless supporting characters, it’s difficult to fully denounce Ballús’ admirable attempts at highlighting the purely universal. The Odd-Job Men is a crowd-pleaser, for better or for worse. At the end of the day, it’s all up to the customer to decide whether this handymen odyssey is worth further commendation or another paint-job, with its audacious themes celebrating the communal differences between next-door neighbours.
The Odd-Job Men screened at this year’s Locarno Film Festival in the Concorso Internazionale competition. The film is currently seeking international distribution.