EEFF REVIEW: The Odd-Job Men (2021)

On the outskirts of Barcelona, a home repair business is going through a period of change. For Valero (Valero Escobar), it means saying goodbye to his long-term partner Pep (Pep Sarrà) who is retiring. At the same time it means trying to adjust to new employee Moha (Mohamed Mellali), a Moroccan electrician who is to be Pep’s replacement.

The Odd-Job Men is a somewhat slight film. It relates a week in the lives of Valero and Moha. Poor Moha does his best: he is polite to clients, strives to earn Valero’s respect, and spends his evenings taking Spanish classes to better fit into his new home country. Valero meanwhile does the opposite: he resents that Pep is leaving, and forcing him to adjust to a new partner. He is hyper-critical of Moha as well, not to mention depressed about his weight and seemingly intent on making everybody around him suffer as much as he does. The week is filled with incident and misadventure, but the incidents are modest and the misadventures minor. It is enough, however, for both men’s patience to stretch and find its limit.

The tiny nature of The Odd-Job Men enables writer/director Neus Ballús (with co-writer Margarita Melgar) to work with a light tough and a delicate sense of character. It may be slight, but it is also intricately developed. With low emotional stakes there is so much more room to introduce beautiful little wrinkles and details to Valero and Moha. Ballús has cast her film largely with what usually get called non-professional actors (which always strikes me as a foolish term, given both Escobar and Mellali became actors as soon as Ballús hired them). In this case she is using real-life plumbers to play fictional ones, and through an improvisation process she has ended up with a film that, despite its odd absurdities, feels grounded and realistic.

Valero and Moha’s week touches lightly on all manner of social issues. Their clients deliberately span a wide range of economic backgrounds from rich to poor. Moha is a window into the immigrant experience, and Valero into passive racism – he claims not to dislike Moha because Moha is black, he argues their client will. Just as there is a light touch to developing character and story, there is also a gentle manner used in resolving them. It is charmingly scored by René-Marc Bini. It is sensibly brief at just 85 minutes – it never outstays its welcome and never drags.

This is not a comedy likely to make you laugh out loud, but rather one that invites warm smiles, and a comfortable recognition of certain kinds of people and behaviour. It creeps up on you.

The Odd-Job Men is currently screening at the Europa Europa Film Festival. For more information click here.

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