News from the debt crisis in Spain and the rise of a global response
Scrap iron, not oil
Por DIAGONAL English

By J.M. Lander / translated by Christine Lewis Carroll

La mujer del chatarrero examines in depth the dehumanisation of European societies.

Photo: frame from La mujer del chatarrero

I don’t know how much a kilo of scrap iron costs. It’s not on the news a lot, only the scares concerning the price of oil. Oil is rich people’s business and scrap iron the poor’s. You can earn a lot of money with oil, considerably less with scrap iron. You have to sweat like a beast of burden in the rubbish dumps to earn 980 marks of scrap iron. It’s a lot when you only have two arms, however Herculean they are. Hazif is the central character of the film La mujer del chatarrero and he knows!

It’s the sum he urgently needs to fix an unfortunate abortion that has left his wife bleeding to death. The hospital, not at all hospitable, refuses to save her life without the money up front. Hazif has no money. Nor a national health card. Just two little girls as charming as they are mischievous. His family is a modest gypsy family which endures the freezing cold not thanks to the central heating of the modern world but to the bundles of firewood collected with difficulty from the woods. Nobody thinks of them. Only the Bosnian film director Danis Tanovic. He follows them feverishly in their helplessness with his Samaritan camera. We don’t know if his intention is documentary or fictional but what does that matter if the spectator feels that what he sees is real? Injustice is real too.

This film doesn’t need to indicate “based on true events” to be credible. Every picture is painfully true, each one a blow with a mallet. His Oscar-winning film En tierra de nadie transmitted the same sensation, denouncing the spectacle of war. The difference now is his black humour has become black pain. The moral apathy with which the scrap merchant is received by the doctors invites us to reflect on how low we have fallen as a civilization.

The anthropologists of Atapuerca maintain that the help given to a fellow human being in need represented a key gesture in the process of human evolution. What is happening now is that we are returning to the period before the ‘Homo antecessor’! The law of the rich is what prevails. Observed from the optimal perspective of art, this law is full of contradictions. Arrabal already dramatised the absurdity of waste in a car cemetery. In the film, the scrap merchant declares bitterly: “Why is it always the poor who suffer? Hazif doesn’t talk a lot, but when he does, it’s as if he were ancient. His strength of character recalls the qualities of the characters of the Greek tragedies. His distressed wandering in search of help is not only Euripides’s introspection but also Aeschylus´s fatalism. The spectator feels his lament, which is directed to the heavens as much as to himself, is completely justified. In a way, the scrap merchant, like the heroes of the tragedies, faces an adverse fate written by the stars. The only difference resides in the fact that while the victims of the capricious inexorability of the Greek tragedies came from well-off families, the other protagonist of the film, called Senada as if she were a Patrician, comes from the gutter. This makes her misfortune even more moving. The scrap merchant fights more than humanly possible to save his wife because the fate dealt out by the monetary gods, as inflexible and severe as any god of Antiquity, sentenced him at birth. It is the price he has to pay for selling scrap iron and not oil.

[This article was originally published in Spanish on October 6th, 2014]




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