Film director gives his support to peaceful demonstrations outside ministers’ homes but fears an explosion of violence
Pedro Almodóvar, the celebrated Spanish film-maker, has warned of an increasingly violent mood in his recession-hit country as he throws his weight behind a popular movement determined to stop banks evicting vulnerable people who can no longer pay their mortgages.
“I think the country as a whole is worried about social unrest breaking out. I certainly am,” he said as Spanish unemployment hit a national record of 27% last week. “Every day that goes by, I get the impression that there is further provocation to make it explode. That doesn’t mean I am inciting anyone to violence. It is quite the opposite. I would invite everyone to react, but in the most peaceful way possible,” he added.
Almodóvar said be backed a controversial, if peaceful, campaign of protests outside ministers’ houses that prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative People’s party (PP) government has likened to the behaviour of the Nazis.
“The people being thrown out of their homes have children too,” said Almodóvar, whose friend, the former Socialist prime minister Felipe González, had called on protesters to respect the family homes of fellow politicians. “And those children see their parents or brothers and sisters dragged down the street by the police.”
Almodóvar, who has a new comedy, I’m So Excited!, coming out in Britain this week, says he, like many other Spaniards, is frustrated with a double-dip recession that started four years ago. The crisis has hit young people hard, with unemployment for those aged under 25 running at 57%.
Even Rajoy’s government, which claims Spain is on the mend, admits the economy will not grow again until the end of this year at the earliest. Analysts say jobs will begin to be created once the economy achieves 1% growth, but that is not expected until 2016, when the government says unemployment should still be around or above 25%.
With 3 million Spaniards now living in extreme poverty with income of just €3,650 (£3,000) per person per year, Almodóvar says new laws are badly needed to protect the vulnerable. “The period between when the people become aware of what is going on and when laws are passed is a delicate one,” he said. “It is a shift that could be violent, though it shouldn’t be.”
Some 80 families a day are having their homes repossessed in a country where four out of five people live in homes owned by their family. Interest rates on mortgage arrears have been charged at up to 25%, with the European court of justice last month condemning some charges as abusive and illegal.
Although 1.4 million Spaniards signed a petition asking for people to be allowed to cancel mortgages by handing their house keys to the bank, campaigners complain that a new law going through parliament only permits that in rare cases.
Yet some claim that banks are more to blame than mortgage-holders for Spain’s crisis. It was their loans to building developers that forced Rajoy’s government to ask for a £41bn bailout for them last year.
Almodóvar sees the years of Madrid’s party-crazed movida, which coincided with Spain’s transition to democracy and saw his start as a film director while working at the state telephone company, as a halcyon time of unfettered freedom and unbounded optimism.
“It has taken me 30 years to realise it, but this country is socially conservative,” he says.
Even the former Socialist prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is no longer a hero. “It is not just disappointment. His last four years were a monumental disaster,” the director says.
Almodóvar’s film is partly shot at one of the great symbols of Spain’s economic collapse, the new but abandoned airport in his birth region of La Mancha.
“Who wants to fly there?” he asked. “Somehow they convinced my fellow Manchegos that people from across the world would catch flights straight to the heart of La Mancha.”