The documentary that got out of hand
“Work in Progress” (En construcción) is a 2001 documentary film by José Luis Guerín with the interesting concept of a Barcelonian neighborhood being reconstructed. It’s an overstatement that could least years, but you have to investigate to properly appreciate the pass of time. Since we don’t get to know the place in such depth, maybe the movie demonstrates the inhabitants are so linked to the past that structural changes are only superficial.
The racial and age variety lets an open view of the low social class without stereotypes: workers, unemployed and retired; kids, younglings and elders; sons, mothers and grandparents. Even if the imaginary forms indirect familiar structures, I think the biggest mistake of the documentary is becoming formulatic and repetitive trough a day-night loop.
Observational documentaries need two hours of length to properly represent their content and I’m grateful the information isn’t overexplained. But the pass of time isn’t that noticeable and the speed of changing topics in thematic blocks instead of chronological.
Another aspect I dislike is the clearly fictionalized scenes like the cheesy and out of place romantic subplot between the laborer and the balcony girl. The piece is full of scenes and subplots that wouldn’t change anything if they weren’t included. It’s not surprising that Guerin let the camera record everything and didn’t know what to do until postproduction.
Some humanizing scenes of generations
Even if “Work in Progress” has too many characters and plots without correlation, some of the scenes are moving. Fictionalizing worked before entering the day-night loop. Non-fiction was way more interesting and credible, when people can naturally talk even if they mistake words. Some situations are lovable, interesting anecdotes and good photography for urban places. But these situations are a minority in an unfocused two hour documentary.
The best part on my opinion was when bones were found under the place, a scene with many interactions between neighbors. It contrasted the childish ideas of the kids and how the adults think way more about death. Over the thematic point of view, the camera used a static support at the other side of a fence. I find fascinating the stilt shot of many generations looking downwards while questioning their lives, futures and death. Digging bones up is a bizarre event nobody could expect, so the surprise is also transmitted to the viewer.