‘Perdiendo El Norte’ (2015) couldn’t exist apart from the Great Recession and the EU’s chronic imbalance between its northern and southern members. Although this is ostensibly a romantic comedy (and it’s very funny indeed — streets ahead of Hollywood), the film has a serious theme, attested to by the fact that Yon González and Blanca Suárez (two of Spain’s most famous actors) star in the main roles, of Hugo and Carla.
Hugo and his friend, Braulio, are very well qualified in Spain: both have Masters degrees. Hugo is trying to find a job in finance, while Braulio is working in scientific research. For various reasons Hugo fails to find a permanent position and Braulio’s research funding is cut, so both have to look elsewhere. A chance advert (which turns out to be rigged) on TV entices Hugo and Braulio to try their luck in Berlin, which they believe to be a city full of opportunity which will welcome the two highly qualified Spaniards with open arms.
When they actually arrive there, of course, it’s another story. Hugo and Braulio end up living in a Spanish emigrant community in Berlin and the two eventually find jobs in the service sector, after being brushed off by German professionals, mostly, it seems, for being Spanish.
At this point the viewer’s sympathy seems drawn out, and I was left wondering about the EU’s dream of everyone being Europeans before they are citizens of their own country. In this film it’s manifestly not the case. Hugo and Braulio are the victims of forced migration, who come to Merkel’s homeland ironically because the EU has screwed up Spain’s finances.
Now of course it’s the Spanish — Hugo and Braulio — who have to pay the price for Germany’s financial mismanagement.
However, the film isn’t content to remain focusing on the sadnesses of forced migration. A romance develops between Hugo and another Spanish emigrant, Clara. Eventually the lies Hugo has told his parents back in Spain (that he’s doing extremely well in Germany) begin to crumble and Hugo is forced to be honest about what he really wants in life.
It eventually transpires that Hugo was only trying to get the financial job he was looking for because of his parents’ expectations. His father tells him how he and his generation back in th 1970s and 1980s were duped into believing that mortgages were great and having lots of money was a good thing. But the financial crisis has thrown all of this into relief and these things become a burden, not least because the good times encouraged Hugo’s parents to live an unsustainable life.
So Hugo’s dad tells him: ‘do what you want, not what you can’.
Eventually, Hugo becomes a voluntary migrant and returns to Germany for different reasons than those which inspired him to go to that country in the first place.
The film offers a fairly light-hearted glimpse into the world of the Spanish ‘lost generation’ — those in their twenties who are struggling to find work that they want to do, not what they can or have to do.
Ultimately though, the film’s ‘soft’ conclusion runs the risk of overshadowing the political and economic injustices which have caused this dilemma in the first place. Because it’s wrong that young people in any European country should feel that they have to move to a more prosperous EU country (Germany or Britain). It’s wrong that forced migration should become an accepted consequence of the so-called single market. Only when we revise what we mean by the single market, and, as Yanis Varoufakis has argued, politicise the Eurozone, will this be addressed.