The Odd-Job Men, 2021.
Co-written and directed by Neus Ballús.
Starring Mohamed Mellali, Valero Escolar, and Pep Sarrà.
A peculiar team of three handymen has to face a series of eccentric clients. Their everyday job becomes a surrealist and exhilarating experience.
The latest venture from Catalan filmmaker Neus Ballús (The Plague) probably won’t end up on many of 2021’s must-see lists of world cinema, but that’s not to damn its modest accomplishments with too much faint praise. While straight-forward and predictable, The Odd-Job Men is also a refreshingly slight sliver of character-driven comedy that actually has something to say.
Set on the fringes of Barcelona, Ballús’ film follows Moha (Mohamed Mellali), a Moroccan transplant starting a week-long work trial with a small plumbing outfit, seeking to replace outgoing retiree plumber Pep (Pep Sarrà). But the transition is complicated by the passive-aggressive protests of Pep’s partner Valero (Valero Escolar), who doesn’t consider Moha a keen fit for the job, and clearly harbours some unsavoury opinions about Moha based on sheer appearances alone.
At its core, The Odd-Job Men is a film about learning to deal with change and co-exist with others from different backgrounds. As a Moroccan man now living in Spain, Moha doggedly tries to integrate, even learning Catalan in an attempt to better communicate with the company’s many Catalan-speaking clients, who Valero alleges aren’t much fond of “outsiders.”
But Moha faces resistance from his disruptive, unsupportive flatmates, and most of all Valero himself, who can’t turn down an opportunity to pick apart Moha’s work and second-guess his suitability. This is juxtaposed against Valero’s own internal life, as he struggles with his diet while racing to slim down and fit into a suit for an upcoming wedding. He evidently loathes the ravages that time has inflicted upon his body – especially compared to his well-kept, much-loved older colleague Pep.
Though Ballús’ film often feels more like a thin sketch than a fully-formed feature, there is a sure scrappy charm to be savoured here, most likely due to the story being modulated and iterated upon organically during shooting. Shooting the film in chronological order allowed Ballús to switch-up the story on-the-fly.
With its almost mock-doc aesthetic – the press liner notes even call it “a documentary film structured like fiction” – it’s easy to imagine how the story could be translated into a TV sitcom not unlike The Office, and hell, Valero isn’t a million miles away from being a Spanish David Brent.
While there’s a clear desire here to highlight the difficulties of immigrants integrating into society, especially with the prejudices of native citizens being so widespread, this is more often than not a broad dramedy that deploys a lightness of touch to convey its message. It never dares to get too real.
The colourful cast of characters is the easy highlight, clearly aided by the filmmaker’s decision to select three non-actors to play the plumbers; better yet, they’re actual plumbers selected from a pool of hundreds. Ballús spent two years getting to know the men, and that familiarity evidently drove them to give entirely lived-in, wholly authentic performances. That’s not to ignore the sharp turns from the various folk who the trio ends up servicing; each new customer adds a welcome sprinkle of flavour and personality.
The easily digested message about seeking understanding across dividing lines isn’t majorly profound or unique, but across a snappy 85-minute runtime, Ballús weaves a quietly charming yarn that bows out long before its appeal runs dry.
While perhaps low-key to a fault, sometimes a gentle jaunt like The Odd-Job Men just does the trick.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.