“The Odd-Job Men” review: charming, light but crisp comedy for odd couples

“I don’t know my neighbors. There is a wall between us ”, reflects Moha (Mohamed Mellali), immigrant handyman, in voiceover in the third deceptively modest and gently ingenious feature film by Neus Ballús,“ The Odd-Job Men ”. “Water, electricity, gas, telephone. Our building is connected to all the others in the city and to all the other cities. And yet, we are still alone. It’s a pleasantly bittersweet summary of the central preoccupation of this twisted charm about the connection – tentatively formed and easily severed – between people separated as much by prejudice, culture, language and ethnicity as by people. walls of their apartments. And who better to observe, maintain, and repair some of these connections than the plumbers, electricians, and builders we invite into our homes to maintain our utilities, tile our splashbacks, and defrost the air conditioning.

The traveling repairman’s job is indeed strange in that it requires us to give screwdriver-wielding strangers brief but often surprisingly intimate access to our bedrooms, living rooms, and lives. Calm and vigilant Moha, who is doing a week’s internship in this small Barcelona DIY company in the hope of landing a permanent job, is certainly aware of this privilege. But the hot-tempered, long-faced, limp-bellied Valero (Valero Escolar), originally from Barcelona and harboring various prejudices towards his new, younger and fitter apprentice, seems much less struck by the philosophy of the profession. For him, there is little romance in a job he has done forever – and perhaps also feels a little bit, associating it with the inevitable disappointments and insecurities that come with middle age.

Under the swift and pragmatic administration of his wife, Valero worked for years in a two-man team alongside the affable perfectionist Pep (Pep Sarrà). Aptly named, however, Pep is in his sixties and on the verge of retirement, and so Moha, who Valero takes for a moment in a tacitly racist dislike, is trained to replace him. One of the strengths of Ballús and Margarita Melgar’s screenplay, which has evolved after a long process of workshop and improvisation with its non-professional actors, is its lived-in dialogue and keen observation of how we can each other. hide behind the language, especially when there is a language barrier: Valero, casually bragging about his own innate biases about other people, claims to be worried about hiring a Moroccan for the way customers the company will react to it.

In fact, during the week that Moha spends with him, he immediately proves a success with their eccentric selection of clients, who themselves form a representative sample of the population of Barcelona spanning all generations, professions and backgrounds. social classes. There’s the psychoanalyst who ends up giving the bickering pair a free informal session. There are the playful twins who end up locking them up for hours on a balcony. There is the old man anxious to share his secrets of longevity. And there’s the photographer who decides to use Moha as a model, showing off his slender physique (a bone of contention with Valero, who no longer fits in his costume and half-heartedly embarks on a diet) in a series of ghastly portraits.

Ballús’ latest film, the implication “Staff Only”, also dealt with racism and intercultural incomprehension, only there it was the white family from Barcelona on vacation in Senegal who were the fish out of the water . This time, it is technically the lot of Moha, since although being more or less the manual of the “good immigrant”, it is after all in trial period in a foreign country and anxious to prove itself. But “The Odd-Job Men”, in a slightly comical tone established by René-Marc Bini’s playful score and transposed into DP Anna Molins’ clean and cold imagery, is perhaps even sharper in its deconstruction of Valero. .

Played with utterly believable Escolar anti-energy (he and Mellali, both plumbers in real life, jointly won the Best Actor award in Locarno), this ordinary man, full of ordinary angst is a snapshot. extraordinarily well drawn from middle-aged discomfort. and how a certain type of man can transform his dissatisfaction with himself – his aging body, his declining social status – into a world that keeps changing without his wanting to. If he’s not careful, this preemptive defense posture could calcify into a much more rigid set of intolerances than he’s displaying now. On the flip side, perhaps prolonged exposure to a calming, upbeat presence like Moha’s could pull him the other way: Ballús’s warm film is too wise to suggest something as casual as the fact that these two DIY enthusiasts will end up repairing each other. , but that at least offers hope that they can sort out a temporary fix that should hold out until the proper work can be done.

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