Valero and Pep are repair men who operate a small business on the outskirts of Barcelona. When a young immigrant named Moha is given a week’s probation with a view to work with them, he immediately hits it off with the firm’s community of eccentric and demanding clients. Like its protagonists, this movie gets the job done with tender comedy that gently pokes fun at prejudice and masculinity.

  • Year: 2021
  • Runtime: 85 minutes
  • Language: Catalan, Spanish, Berber Languages
  • Country: Spain
  • Director: Neus Ballús
  • Cast: Mohamed Mellali, Valero Escolar, Pep Sarrà

Review by Alice Owens

The walls separating the apartments are symbolic of the divisions between them, ethnic, lingual and reverse-ageism. The knocking down of a wall is a metaphor for Moha’s struggle to break down the barriers, also foreshadowing the end of the film.

Much of the humour is in their interactions with customers: an elderly man, obsessed with healthy eating and exercise provides the unassertive Moha with a list of health foods that guarantee longevity; badly behaved twins lock them out on a balcony; a female photographer encourages Moha’s to pose for her. Ironically, Valero takes possession of the health food list as he is trying to slim down, to fit into his suit for a wedding.

Moha is the central character, as we are privy to his thoughts. He is profound when he surmises that all of the cables in the apartments are connected, as are cities, countries and continents, but he still feels alone.

The acting is natural and authentic, the homes and businesses true to life. Pep is the perfectionist, eternally critical of the work of others. Valero, holding racial prejudice, is blunt, opinionated and testing; stating from the outset that the customers will never accept Moha. On the contrary, the clients take to the polite young foreigner in spades.

The viewer wonders if Valero will soften his stance. Will he eventually bury the lump hammer and accept his new Moroccan workfellow as his apprentice?

Review by Glenda Cimino

The Odd-Job Men is a comedy, in Catalan with some Spanish and Arabic dialogue, and with English subtitles. When I watched it, I assumed it was fiction. It is not, nor is it a documentary. It is something inbetween, due to the unusual filmmaking practices and background of its writer/director, Neus Ballús.

The Odd-Job Men refers to the three central characters, Valero [Valero Escolar] and Pep [(Pep Sarrà)] who work in a small plumbing and electrical company in Barcelona. They go to people's homes and fix whatever is broken. Valero has worked for years as part of a two-man team alongside

skilled perfectionist Pep, who is now in his 60s and ready to retire. He and Pep interview Moha (Mohamed Mellali), a young, fit Moroccan man, who really needs a job. He is given a one-week probationary trial with the company, and the film takes the viewer through where they work, who they meet, and what happens during this week.

Valero, who is older, conscious of being overweight, short-tempered, and caustic in his speech, does not want to work with Moha. He sets out to prove Moha is not up to the job. A Barcelona native, Valero projects his racist prejudices onto others, arguing that Catalans will not like Moha coming to their homes and that Moha will not know how to relate to them. In fact, Moha shows that he is thoughtful, easygoing, and able to relate well to people from various backgrounds, more so than Valero. For Valero, this is just a job he has done forever, and he seems a little resentful not only of Moha, but also of the hand that life has dealt him, experiencing the usual disappointments and insecurities of middle age.

During the week, Moha is a hit with all of the varied clients they visit, which include people of all generations, occupations, and social classes. There is the 100-year-old man who insists on sharing with Moha the dietary and exercise secrets that keep him fit; a psychoanalyst who probes into the conflict between Valero and Moha; two mischievous young twin girls who lock both men on a balcony for hours; a photographer who comments on Moha's looks and physique, and insists on photographing him even though he demurs that he needs to get back to work. Valero by contrast is struggling unsuccessfully to lose weight to fit into a suit for an upcoming wedding.

It was a surprise to me that the characters were plumbers in real life, too. The screenplay written by Ballús’ and 'Margarita Melgar' evolved from workshopping and improvisation with the cast. But they never rehearsed the scenes in the film so that “everything that happens is a surprise for the protagonists: they don’t know whom they’re going to meet in a given scene or what fault they’re going to have to fix, and nor do they know what should actually happen. But they have to be ready to take the plunge and feel the emotions that crop up.”

Review by Peter Clarke

Its Original title is “Six Days in a Row” in Catalan, written, directed and edited by Neus Ballús. A Distinta Films production (Spain), it opens as if we were voyeurs sneaking a look at two workmen (Valero Escobar and Pep Sarrà, non-professional actors) doing a repair job under a sink. Or rather, one man is and the other is poking around the room snooping, picking up things, weighing himself on his customer’s scales, which actually points up one of the story lines in the film. The names of the characters in the film are the same as the forenames of the actors’ real names; two of them were plumbers in real life before becoming actors; the cast is largely members of the public and not actors.

The star of the film, in my view, is the capturing of the urban landscape of Barcelona which, without words captures the claustrophobic living in multistorey working class spaces there. It was beautifully shot by Anna Molins .

The film tells the story of Moha (Mohamed Mellali, also a non-professional actor), an immigrant tradesman from Morocco and his week-long trial for the job of replacing the older man in this tiny house repair company who has decided to retire.

Intimations of xenophobia, in-group out-group biases, resentments by what could be regarded as the “old codger” (Valero) of the piece who feels quite threatened by the appearance of the “whipper snapper” (Moha) appearance and his ongoing attempts to put him down and have hm removed. It so much reminds me of the workmen I know and worked with in Ireland in the ’50s and ’60s.

Ballús’ methodology is very interesting. 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 forbade 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.

One of the wonderful devices that the film uses is the voiceover (in Arabic) of Maha as he reflects on his experience of arriving in Barcelona, his search for work and his reflections on the customers, his boss and the two other Moroccans that he lives with. We are captivated by his wish and efforts to assimilate and be accepted, initially to get the job and then to become part of Catalan life. We learn of this from his voice over commentary.

Another delight that the film captures is through the vagaries of their customers and the way in which their interactions with the tradesmen are funny, touching, intentionally over the top, with an underlying melancholy .

Now, if you are looking for a coherent story line which clearly explains and articulates the plot, this is not the film for you. There is a whimsical quality about the script, which is deceptive. The short scenes come and go abruptly without obvious context and we are left with huge gaps to fill from our own experience and imagination. All the same, there are subtleties to guide us to where we need to go to fill in the story line. It has the qualities of a Joyce or Virginia Woolf, streams of consciousness but which flit from scene to scene like set pieces in a soap but without explanation.

It is a film well worth coming out to see.