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Sechs Tage unter Strom / The Odd-Job Men

Director: Neus Ballús (Spain). Year of Release: 2021

A young man approaches a small office for a plumbing firm. Is he in the right place? He’s come for a job interview. A man working there says there’s no interviews going on here. When the would-be new worker mispronounces the name of the company he’s looking for, he’s told that it must be somewhere else entirely. Moha is from Morocco and is desperate for a job so he can move out of his shared house. Valero is a bit of a racist and scared of change.

They end up working together – for a week at least. Valero’s wife Pacqui does the company’s admin, and takes a shine to Moha. Besides which, the firm’s only other worker, Pep, is approaching retirement and they desperately need support. They describe themselves as plumbers but the English title of the film is more apt. They are odd-job men who do everything that is needed of them from fixing sinks to installing an elaborate (and faulty) sprinkler system.

Moha is taken on for a week long trial, as suggested by the German title, which can either be translated as Six Days Under Power or Six Days Under Pressure. On the seventh day, they are allowed to rest. The three workers are played by Mohamed Mellali. Valero Escolar and Pep Sarrà, who as well as sharing their characters’ first names are apparently themselves plumbers / odd-job men. The borders between fantasy and reality have started to blur.

Valero worries that the they’ll lose trade because the customers will be wary of dealing with a foreigner like Moha. The reverse seems to be the case. We see Moha not able to get on with his job because an elderly customer won’t stop banging on about his health régime. As the installation of an air conditioning unit, the (female) photographer insists on taking Moha away from his work so she can take suggestive photographs of him and his drill. Moha is just too popular.

They pass the week getting into scrapes – being locked out on a balcony, or installing a home automation system for a psychiatrist who performs a session where Valero and Moha explains why they just don’t get on and Moha eventually storms out. Moha also muses on his slightly Thatcherite views of those even less advantaged than himself: “why would someone poor want WiFi, when they don’t have electricity”-

Pep eyes the prospect of imminent retirement, and by Wednesday isn’t even present on the job. This may be as well. He gets enraged by the shoddy work of builders whose work he is supposed to repair, and looks very much in need of a deserved break. Valero also has his worries, and not just about his migrant co-worker. He has a wedding to attend on Saturday, and for some reason his suit has shrunk. Valero reluctantly, and much too late, starts to go on a diet.

Meanwhile, Moha starts to lose patience with his flatmates, fellow-Moroccans who spend the day at home watching football and mock Moha for his attempts to integrate. The ask him “why would they accept you when they haven’t accepted the ones who came before you?” They have a point, but Moha carries on with his Catalan lessons and attempts to make his job work.

Nothing really happens in the film, which for sure isn’t the worst thing, but means that despite its obvious charm, it can be a frustrating watch. It is billed as a comedy, but there are few laugh out loud moments. It’s more a wry look at life as it is experienced by most people. This is a great antidote to the recent rush of films that expect us to be moved by the trivial dilemmas of a bunch of poshoes, but that does not of itself make for a great film.

What is Sechs Tage unter Strom like? It’s all right. Not bad. Nothing special but diverting enough. It obviously addresses some important issues like migration and class, and it does this competently and without making too much of a fuss. At the same time, the observational style sometimes makes it less dynamic than it could be. We watch a series of stuff happening, one after another, and then an hour and a half has passed and it’s all over.

It may have got lost in translation, but there didn’t feel to be enough in the film about Moha’s double exclusion from local society. Valero may dismiss him, telling him to “learn Spanish”, but the language which he is learning to try to fit in is Catalan. I know you should usually criticise a film for it’s contents, not what is missing, but I’d have found a little more concentration of migrants in an area which feels itself alienated from the Spanish State could have added something substantial.

So, go to see Sechs Tage unter Strom. It’s all right, and there’s much worse out there. At the same time I somehow felt that the exciting possibilities that it opened were never fully explored.

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